Color blindness

The process of wine tasting begins with the “pop” sound of uncorking a wine bottle and the distinctive sound of the bubbles as they make their way into a glass. Hence the process of wine tasting begins with the sense of hearing. Other insights that help enjoy the whole experience of wine tasting include the sense of smell, taste, and of course, sense of sight and touch.

Having mentioned the sense of sight, one question that is causing so much buzz and almost always pops up in wine conversation is whether there is a connection between color blindness and wine tasting. People (especially wine tasters, producers, and connoisseurs, among other wine enthusiasts) are keen on finding out if color blindness affects their judgment of good wine — because wine tasting is regarded as a “ritual” of sort and practice they hold in high regard.

And this ambiguity leads us to the million-dollar question;

How does color blindness affect wine tasting?

To help us understand the decision-making during wine tasting process, it is essential to grasp how the human senses help to categorize the complexities of wine. Basically, the human senses are categorized into the physical and chemical senses. Combined, they play a central role in delivering an exceptional wine experience.

The physical senses help to perceive or detect stimuli around (audition and vision), while their chemical counterparts help detect and respond to chemical compounds — these senses include olfaction and gustation. While the olfaction involves picking up and analyzing the smell (like the aroma of different wine flavors), gustation involves the gustatory receptors (found in the oral cavity and tongue) to identify the taste.[1]

Then there is the sense of touch; the sip of wine during the wine tasting involves the sense of touch combined with the sensation of heat or cold (temperature) and the “mouthfeel” that helps to decide whether the wine is astringent, syrupy, or fizzy.

How the senses work

It is imperative to focus on the sense of vision and other associated implications to correlate the color blindness and wine tasting. It is already known that human senses work in the form of a chain reaction. One sense sets off the other until the desired reaction is achieved.

It all begins with a sensation, signal, or stimulus, which could be the aroma or flavor of wine, the color of the wine, and the taste. These signals are received by receptors that are located in the different organs. The receptors convert the stimulus they receive into electrical signals and relay them to the brain.

The brain decodes and processes the information and stores it. If the signal isn’t strong enough, the brain searches its own archive/database. Suppose one has had a similar experience in the past or made use of similar information. In that case, the brain subconsciously compares the information with what it has in its database and then helps to make an informed decision quickly. While all of these may seem like a lengthy process, it happens at lightning speed — they happen so fast that one can react within a short time.

Recall how fast you reacted after sipping on hot tea? That’s how fast our senses respond to stimuli.

Colors of wine

The chain of reaction explains why one almost immediately has an idea of the likely outcome of wine tasting by looking at a cue. Hence it is clear to understand that color blindness impacts wine tasting.

What is color blindness?

In simple terms, color blindness (also known as color vision deficiency or poor color vision) is a condition where one cannot see colors like a normal person. This happens when the photoreceptors in the retina (the cones) fail to work correctly or are missing altogether.

What this implies is that one begins to see color differently. Take the rainbow, for instance; the cones enable one to see the different colors in the rainbow. A color-blind person may not be able to see all the colors.

According to scientific findings, color-blind are often unable to distinguish between colors — they perceive specific colors as shades of yellow or blue.

Color blindness can either be full-color vision deficiency (Trichromacy) or color vision deficiency (Dichromacy). People with color vision deficiency or dichromats have challenges seeing certain colors (depending on the type of color deficiency one has) — red-green color deficiency (which hinders you from seeing red and green), blue-yellow color deficiency or monochromacy/full-color blindness; where your vision can be likened to watching a black and white television.[2]

How color affects the perception of the taste of wine

While the different aromas or flavors influence perception about the taste of wine, the color of wine (white, rose, or red) also affects the decision about the taste of wine. During the wine tasting process, the wine tasters and connoisseurs will already have an idea of what red wine tastes like; they tend to have expectations even before tasting them — as such, creating room for bias.

We taste wines with our eyes first. Think, See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, and Savor (the five S’s of wine tasting.)[3]

Since the color of wine gives a clue to the age and condition of wines. Therefore, role of the vision or the sense of sight in wine tasting cannot be shoved aside.

Color blindness plays a role in wine tasting. It doesn’t hinder one from enjoying the full experience that wine tasting offer. Hence, the need to recall blind tastings. Even when people see the color of wine, their perception of the taste of wine may not be the reality. This is as proven by findings from the famous University of Bordeaux and Brochet experiments.[4][5]

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References

  1. Five Senses Involved In Wine Tasting”. 2022. Winetasting-Demystified.Com. https://www.winetasting-demystified.com/five-senses.html#:~:text=The%20main%20senses%20involved%20in,so%20much%20its%20analytical%20tasting.
  2. Color Blindness: Types, Causes & Treatments”. 2022. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/11604-color-blindness.
  3. The Five S’s Of Wine Tasting: See – Swirl – Sniff – Sip – Savor – Pippin Hill”. 2022. Pippin Hill. https://www.pippinhillfarm.com/blog/the-five-ss-of-wine-tasting-see-swirl-sniff-sip-savor/.
  4. Wine-Tasting: It’s Junk Science”. 2022. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jun/23/wine-tasting-junk-science-analysis.
  5. News: Wine Snob Scandal (Seattle Weekly)”. 2022. Web.Archive.Org. https://web.archive.org/web/20070930210308/http://www.seattleweekly.com/2002-02-20/news/wine-snob-scandal.php.

Photo attribution

Topi Pigula, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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