samecompoundsdifferentflavors - Published in Proceedings of...

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Published in Proceedings of Wine Active Compounds 2008 edited by David Chassagne, Oenopluria Media, 2008, pp.98-102 Same Compounds: Different Flavours? Barry C Smith Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU, UK Abstract We can explain the different tastes of two wines by the differences in their compounds. However, we cannot explain what a wine tastes like solely in terms of its chemical compounds. The same active compounds can affect individual tasters quite differently because of differences in their thresholds of perception. Moreover, the effects of different compounds on our senses can give rise to cross-modal interactions where sensations of, say, sweetness, can be enhanced by a vanilla aroma without a corresponding increase in the wine’s sugar levels. This makes it difficult to relate the micro-chemical composition of a wine to the perception of its tastes or flavours. However, we can achieve a better understanding of the relation between a wine’s compounds and its taste profile once we recognize the dynamic and cross-modal nature of taste perception. The full story of the impact of certain compounds on tasters will have to take account of the cross-modal influence one sense has on another. I will illustrate the sort of account that is needed by reference to recent findings in perceptual psychology and cognitive neuroscience. 1. Introduction Perceptible differences in the tastes of two wine samples can often be explained by the difference in chemical compounds, or behaviour of those compounds, in the two wines sampled. A young and tannic red wine will not be perceived in the same way as a sample of the same wine after considerable aging. The reason is that when the polyphenols polymerize with time they form longer and longer chains until, being too heavy, they sink to the bottom of the bottle as sediment, leaving the wine lighter and rendering it softer and less astringent to the taster. We can even explain the difference in effect on the taster. The tannins coagulate the proteins in the saliva, leaving the surfaces of the mouth and tongue less slippery. In cases like these, the processes at work in the wine, and in interaction with the taster, can explain the taster’s perceptual experience. However, we seem at a loss to explain how a wine will taste simply on the basis of its chemical composition. What we have
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on the one hand is a detailed description of the compounds that make up the wine and on the other the individual subjective responses of tasters. The latter seem too variable, too fleeting, and too subjective to allow us to bridge the gap from the chemical composition of the wine to the perceptual experience of tasters. And yet it is hard to shake the conviction that it must be the micro-elements of a wine that are responsible for how it tastes. The puzzle is to understand how we can hold on to this conviction in the face of the gulf between a wine’s chemical make-up and the
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samecompoundsdifferentflavors - Published in Proceedings of...

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