In the planning phase, those involved in the project took into account how language formats individual thought and collective culture. The last decades emphasized aromatic descriptors at the expense of other sensory modalities, but recent studies challenge this approach, since olfactory notes may speak more about the genetic background, the experience and the culture of a person applying them than about a specific molecule within the wine itself. For this reason, WSG has decided to rebalance the focus and put tactile and mouth-feel descriptors center stage, since these may prove more communicative. Regardless of experience or culture, for example, few would confuse thin with thick, or rough with smooth.
Geometry is another universal language that ATRP intends to put to good use. While a component assessment can (and often does) determine varietal identification, ATRP hopes to assign sensory-evoked shapes to soil and climate signatures that will enable an individual to pinpoint the fine nuances of different terroirs.
“Most dry Alsace Riesling Grands Crus check the same boxes in an analytical tasting grid. They unfortunately all resemble each other if you use analytical tasting methods,” states Julien Camus, WSG President, Founder, and leader of the Architecture of Taste research project. “Although they all belong to the same ‘family,’ assessing each wine from a tactile and geo-sensorial standpoint highlights the individuals within the ‘family.’ We’re hoping to introduce geometry together with other textural elements to assess origin more effectively.”
The research project is also experimenting with some non-traditional assessment criteria such as ‘perceived energy‘ and ‘message/signal‘, on the basis that the body intuitively knows the nature of what enters it.
“Our body intuitively knows if a wine is nourishing and benevolent or if it will be hard on the stomach,” says Camus. “Natural selection has taught us what is good for us. We need to pay more attention to the global intuitive signals our bodies give us. If we put our sole focus on wine’s structural components, we may miss the bigger message.”
The name of the project alludes to this. Wine is greater than the sum of its parts. If a person stands too close to a cathedral all she or he sees are the building stones. From a distance, by contrast, the viewer sees an architectural masterpiece that, in its totality, transcends the material from which it was constructed. The Architecture of Taste research project hopes to look at wine from new and different holistic perspectives of this sort.
“Our current research is very encouraging. We are seeing little deviation in the descriptors selected on blind tasting panels… intimating that these descriptors are communicative. We are also finding that when using our assessment grid, certain sets of descriptors correspond to certain terroirs. There are patterns that are statistically significant,” states Camus.
What is next? More oenological research, sensory analysis experiments, blind-panel tastings, statistical analyses and an expanded set of assessment criteria to encompass salinity, bitterness, umami, and yes, ‘minerality’— each within the context of how the body responds to stimuli, and how our brain verbalizes those perceptions into associative and appreciative descriptors.
The first large-scale panel tasting using the Architecture of Taste research project’s new tasting grid will take place in Alsace in September of 2021. Participants will include wine producers, sommeliers, wine retailers and journalists as well as serious wine hobbyists. An update on how the new tasting methodology is received as well as statistical findings will follow.
Julien Camus is directing the Research Project and has put together a multi-disciplinary, advisory committee of professionals including Gabriel Lepousez, neuroscientist; Benoît Marsan, wine chemist; Marc-André Selosse, botanist and mycologist; Thibault Boulay, historian and vigneron; Clémence Corbière, historian and sommelière; Pascaline Lepeltier MOF, restaurateur and wine writer; Andrew Jefford, journalist and author; and Lisa M. Airey, CWE, wine educator.
This project has been inspired by and builds upon the pioneering geo-sensorial tasting concepts developed and promoted by, among others, Henri Jayer, Jacky Rigaux, Aubert de Villaine, Jean-Michel Deiss, Claude & Lydia Bourguignon, Bruno Clavelier, Stéphane Derenoncourt, Didier Daguenaeau, Partick Baudoin, Anselme Selosse, Pascal Agrapart and Alexandre Chartogne.