Delicate nose, plenty of cheek: the bitter truth

The flavours described so effusively by top wine critics - oakey and redolent of pickled onions and cinnamon - may not be shared by consumers who simply buy products based on the opinions of experts, a researcher suggests.

Winemakers and critics surveyed in Canada were found to be much better able to sense a test chemical as intensely bitter, compared with average consumers who were not bothered by the taste, the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture reported.

''Wine experts are more likely to have a very exquisite, acute sense of taste that the rest of us can't sense,'' one of the report's authors, John Hayes, the director of the Pennsylvania State University's sensory evaluation centre, said. ''Some of that is biology.''

Because consumers may not have the same tasting ability, they probably do not benefit as much from drinking highly rated wine, Mr Hayes said. Still, there may be a psychological lift.

''If you think the wine is supposed to be good, you're going to enjoy it a lot,'' he said. ''But to me, the simplest rule in wine is if you like it drink it.''

The work builds on earlier data finding similar ''super tasters'' among chefs and food experts, the researchers wrote. The bitter chemical used by the researchers was selected because it is been linked in studies to taste sensations that typically are associated with alcoholic beverages such as the bitterness tasted in scotch and beer.

The wine experts in the study experienced intense changes in taste, depending on the concentration of the chemical, as well as differences in mouth sensations, the research found.

With thousands of wineries and varieties to choose from, consumers depend on experts to help make purchase decisions for wine. While comments about flavours may be useless to the average consumer, people still want help identifying the best wines, Mr Hayes said.

He conducted the study with Gary Pickering, a wine researcher at Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario.