Editor’s Note: You’ll find more media coverage for the book here.
In her new book Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much, Natalie MacLean talks about being a supertaster. The book has just become a national bestseller and she’s here to tell us more about supertasters.
So what is a supertaster and why are women more likely to be one?
Dr. Linda Bartoshuk, at Yale University School of Medicine, discovered the supertaster phenomenon in 1999. Women are more than twice as likely as men to be supertasters. Women have more fungiform papillae, the tiny structures on the tongue that hold taste buds.
How did Dr. Bartoshuk discover supertasters?
Dr. Bartoshuk dipped a thyroid medication on study participants’ tongues to test their sensitivity to bitterness. She divided the population into three groups: non-tasters with limited palates (25 percent), tasters with average palates (50 percent), and supertasters with very sensitive palates (25 percent).
Supertasters possess more than a hundred times more taste buds per square inch than do regular tasters. She compares this to having five hundred fingers rather than just ten, noting that supertasters live in a “neon world of taste.”
How does being a supertaster relate to tasting wine?
This doesn’t mean that we’re better tasters — that comes with practice — but it does mean that we’re more sensitive tasters.
For me personally, it’s probably why didn’t start drinking alcohol until I discovered wine in my late twenties. I grew up in a Scottish family in Nova Scotia where beer and whisky were the popular adult beverages. However, I found both too bitter.
That’s why the smooth, juicy pinot noir is my fave wine whereas wines with a bitter finish, like Italian Amarone that many people love, don’t appeal to me. It’s also why I don’t like olives and other bitter foods.
Does this impact the wines you recommend?
As a professional wine critic, I recommend wines that I love and don’t love because I recognize there is a wide array of taste preferences among my readers. So if it’s a terrific Amarone, I’ll recommend it and give it a high score. I just won’t be opening it for myself anytime soon.
How did you discover you are a supertaster?
Tim Hanni, a sensory taste specialist and Master of Wine in California, measured the density and number of my taste buds for an article I was writing.
Being a supertaster also means being extra-sensitive to your entire environment. Hanni knew without my telling him that I cut the tags out of my clothing, prefer tea over coffee, and have thermostat wars with family members.
Is there a way for viewers to find out if they’re supertasters?
Yes, there are lots of home test kits that you can order online. Some people also test their children to see if that’s why they won’t eat their vegetables. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it helps with understanding it.
You can find the wines Natalie recommends, both bitter and sweet, as well as her new book Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much at her website nataliemaclean.com.