Genetic Wine Preference and Bitter Taste Perception

I recently received my DNA testings results from 23andMe, a Silicon Valley company whose mission is to be “the world’s trusted source of personal genetic information.” At $399, the 23andMe Full Edition isn’t cheap, but I’m very pleased with the service. My report was overwhelmingly positive with few red flags to look out for. While I haven’t started a family yet, I believe my data will be beneficial for my future family. I have two criticisms of the service:

  • Spit collection process is confusing – The kit they send includes two sets of directions – one from 23andMe and one from ORAGENE-DNA, the company that makes the collection kit. the 23andMe direction are almost a copy of the ones from ORAGENE-DNA, but it’s still confusing. I had to explain the process to other family members who I ordered the kits for.
  • Online site’s UI is a bit confusing – Genetics isn’t a simple topic so I know designing an easy to use site for delivering test results is a difficult task. That said, I believe they can make significant advancements by segmenting the data representation into two groups – easy to understand high level summaries and an advanced view with detailed descriptions and analysis.

How does this relate to wine and your preference for different grape varietals? According to my test results, I “can taste certain bitter flavors.” This is based on the gene TAS2R38. Here is a description from 23andMe:

Gene that encodes a taste receptor capable of detecting PROP and related bitter compounds. Has two main versions: PROP taster and PROP non-taster.

Friend, Master Sommelier, and television personality, Andrea (Immer) Robinson has long said that taste is personal. She often says to, “drink what you like” and “trust your palate.” Genetic testing, as offered by 23andMe, is proof that there is no universal palate and taste is truly personal. I’m sure there are additional genes yet to be discovered that further shape our taste perception. So, that wine that I think has a bitter finish and unbalanced tannins might be truly fantastic to someone who doesn’t have bitter taste perception – neither of us is wrong.

Of course there are psychological issues that affect wine selection and perception. A few years ago, Constellation Wines ran a study that “found that wine consumers fell into six categories, dubbed by the study as Enthusiast, Image Seeker, Savvy Shopper, Traditionalist, Satisfied Sipper and Overwhelmed.” That said, even at a more basic level, it’s becoming more and more clear that genetics shape our food and wine preferences.

If I were a chef, I’d consider starting my meals with an amuse-bouche that helped to determine the taste preferences of dinners. How about 4 small bites that feature bitter, non-bitter, high salinity, and low salinity. Then, tailor the cuisine to each diner’s palate – now, that’s a cool idea…

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