The Vila Viniteca Tasting Panel, a pioneering project within the wine world

The first company in the wine industry to create its own in-house Tasting Panel

The Vila Viniteca Tasting Panel –a unique private initiative within the wine world– is made up of 15 professionals from our team who we have trained for two years to become expert tasters. How does the temperature of the wine influence our perceptions? How do we experience sugar and acidity? How can we best preserve a wine once opened? Should we decant the wine or not? Should we decant a champagne?  These are some of the matters that we will be examining over the course of this study.

In May 2017, we started training 15 people from the Vila Viniteca team, selected for their sensory abilities, in order to form a Tasting Panel. This resource has been put together to respond, in an objective, accurate and reproducible manner, to concerns and doubts inherent in the sensory perception of a glass of wine.

Goals

We created the Tasting Panel in order to find answers to some of the questions we had had and for which we had not yet found satisfactory answers. Which is the best serving temperature to drink a particular wine? In which glass should it be served? What is the best way to cool a wine without affecting its organoleptic properties? What happens when we decant a wine? Which wines should be decanted and how? What is the best way to preserve a wine once opened? Is glass the best material for drinking wine? What effects do the vintage and bottle-ageing have?  Does the amount served in a glass impact the perception of a wine?

We therefore had a set of specific projects aimed at broadening our knowledge, being more rigorous in the communication and, above all, improving the experience of drinking a glass of wine.

A clear and innovative vocation

We are a leading company in the wine distribution sector and an important player in Europe. Since our creation, we have had a clear vocation to spread and promote wine culture through tastings and training.  Since 2008, we have organised one of the most important blind tasting competitions in Spain, the Premio Vila Viniteca de Cata por Parejas (Vila Viniteca Prize for wine tasting as a couple). Our ambition is to continue building wine knowledge, now focusing on the sensory perception of a wine. At Vila Viniteca, we have already carried out various unusual tasting experiments (serving the wine on spoons or by drops; tasted blind, with noises or in silence; decanting sparkling wines, etc.), a wide range of experiences that break with the traditional manner of assessing a wine through the senses.  This led to us wanting to explore the world of sensory perception further, setting ourselves the goal of improving the experience of the end consumer by identifying and attempting to control all the parameters involved as far as we can.  We therefore had a set of questions that we wanted to answer through this Tasting Panel resource.

Methodology

The Tasting Panel is made up of 15 people from the Vila Viniteca team. The project was conceived and developed by a team of four people. The driving force behind this project is Vila Viniteca’s R&D department manager, Marta Puparelli, who came up with the original idea.  Marta is an agronomist graduated from the Barcelona School of Agricultural Engineering and an oenologist trained at the URV in Tarragona. Anna Cañellas, who studied at the CFA in Beaune and is graduate in International Wine Commerce from the University of Reims and Avize, joined her. She is managing the project’s logistics and participates in the methodology and validation of the reference patterns. An outside company, leader in the food safety sector and experts in the training of analytical tasting panels, assisted them both. Two advisors helped us in the development of the panel from its inception. Both are technical experts in sensory analysis with over 15 years of experience in the sector. They worked with us on the design and selection of the essential attributes when evaluating a wine using sensorial techniques and the validation of the reference patterns. They carried out the objective selection of the panel members using some demanding tests in which the candidates’ gustatory and olfactory sensitivity was assessed along with their descriptive and discriminatory capacities and their ability to use scales. The design of the training sessions was based on an extensive knowledge of wine and a standard methodology of sensory analysis.

The 2-hour training sessions took place each week in a certified tasting room (ISO 8589: 2010). Finally, each panel member went through a selection process (3 hours), training (56 hours) and validation of the panel (2 hours). All procedures used in the selection, training and control processes comply with the ISO 8589: 2012 Standard.

Sensory attributes

Sensory attributes are everything we perceive via the senses, such as the aroma of a rose or the sensation of sweetness. They are classified according to the senses with which they are perceived (smell, taste, touch and sight). We relied on our knowledge and experience to determine which parameters should include in each of the stages, as well as carrying out extensive research, interviews and consultations with experts on each subject.

Olfactory stage

One of the biggest challenges was our decision to train the panel members in the use of specific aroma descriptors, beyond the generic family, since we wanted to be more exhaustive, identifying the specific aroma within each category.  In the end, we came up with a total of 55 good aromas (belonging to different families such as floral, fruit, balsamic, spice, empyreumatic, lactic, etc.) and 10 wine defaults or defects.

These attributes are evaluated based on discriminatory tests that consist of answering the question of whether or not the sample being assessed contains the specific attribute (yes/no).

Gustatory stage

For the gustatory stage, we decided to work with three basic sensations found in wine: sweetness, acidity and bitterness. The attributes are evaluated on linear scales that consist of placing the sample assessed somewhere on a scale with values ranging from 0 (zero perception) to 10 (clearly identified and strong perception).

Tactile sensations on the palate

For tactile sensations, we investigated which attributes were the most appropriate or which were the most recurrent and we found that there is a lack of consensus in the terms used to refer to these tactile sensations.

In the end, we decided to evaluate the following tactile attributes:

  • Fluidity: the wine’s ability to slide over the tongue. Rubbing sensation on the tongue and gums.
  • Astringency: the wine’s ability to create a sensation of roughness, dryness or sharpness on the tongue, teeth and gums. Sometimes it can produce bitterness.
  • Volume: the wine’s capacity to coat the palate. Tactile sensation of the wine inside the oral cavity. We depict it graphically as a sphere.
  • Weight: the wine’s ability to produce a sensation of weight on the tongue. We depict it graphically as something filling the sphere. The heavier the wine, the fuller the sphere.
  • Sensation of fat: the wine’s ability to create a lubricating effect or a sensation of unctuousness on the palate. The sensation of oil or fat that a food or liquid can give when in contact with the surface of the tongue, whether the compounds that create this sensation are released during or after swallowing.
  • Overall persistence: referring to the ability of the wine’s aromas to linger after the wine has left the palate. It is calculated in caudalies, 1 second is equivalent to 1 caudalie.

An in-depth study was carried out to define and describe each attribute, which is evaluated on structured scales.

Visual stage

For the visual stage, we wanted to develop a colour chart by taking photos of white, rosé and red wines at different times of their ageing in bottle.  After seeking out and consulting several sources, we concluded that colour was an objective parameter and that there was no need to train the panel, particularly as there is a machine capable of analysing colours and breaking them down into RGB (red, green, blue), a chromatic model representing a colour through its varying proportions of these three colours.  However, what we do believe to be important is that the panel analyses the amount of sediment or turbidity found in the wine once served.

Conclusion

After 2 years of training, we validated the Tasting Panel using control samples in order to measure the tasters’ reliability in terms of repeatability, reproducibility, discriminatory capacity and agreement within the panel results. In March 2019, we completed all the training and reliability testing and carried out the first assessments, creating sensory profiles of specific wines and their variations related to changes in the different serving parameters including the wine’s temperature, among others.  

The results of the methodology and all the projects carried out will be published periodically on the Vila Viniteca Blog.

* Tasting panel members did not have knowledge of the wines, serving conditions, vintages, tests or any other information about the nature of the studies carried out.

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