Almost two months after io9’s Robert Gonzalez flatly declared wine tasting (and the industry surrounding it) “bullshit,” NPR’s The Salt has created a guide to wine-tasting that’s firmly backed up by science to make sure aspiring wine lovers aren’t just blowing smoke. The gist is that even though it may be impossible to objectively rank a wine on a scale from 1 to 100 or even distinguish between red and white in a blind taste test, the presence or absence of certain compounds means that your friend isn’t full of it when she claims her pinot has “notes of vanilla.”
The tips start off simple: If a wine’s been stored in an oak barrel, it’ll taste like oak, courtesy of whiskey lactones. And if it’s been soaked in American oak, it’ll taste vaguely like vanilla, thanks to a compound called, you guessed it, vanillin. On the less intuitive side of things, wines made with unripe grapes smell faintly like green peppers (both contain pyrazines) and wines that have undergone a process called malolactic fermentation taste a bit like imitation butter (the bacteria involved in fermentation secrete diacetyl, also found in movie popcorn).
To help readers apply their newfound knowledge of wine chemistry, NPR also has a few helpful tips to train one’s palate. Whether you’d actually want to “take a cheap, flavorless wine and then spike it” with one of the compounds above—say, a few drops of vanilla extract or imitation butter— is another question entirely. But hey—it’s science!