Sunday, April 10, 2011

How (Or If) You Wear Underwear May Provide Insights to Wine Preferences

Individual sensory sensitivity manifested in strange ways.

My research colleague, Dr. Virginia Utermohlen MD, and I are proposing that the range and intensity of sensations we experience varies, often dramatically, from one person to the next and these individual differences play an important role in determining individual wine preferences. It is well known that people often argue about the characteristics and qualities they perceive in a wine—it's as if they were not tasting or smelling the same thing. This disagreement is known to occur among experts, even when they are sharing from the exact same bottle. We propose that these differences in perception often stem from sensitivity variables. Furthermore these variables are evident in a spectrum of individual attitudes and behaviors and may even influence the development of our personality traits.

Someone who is extremely sensitive to touch is usually more sensitive to other sensory stimuli: light, sound, taste, and smell. This insight helps explain a lot of things people disagree on in life, from the temperature in the room, to the use of cilantro in a recipe, to the volume of the television, to the sheets that you sleep on.

Virginia and I were recently reviewing data collected from wine consumers and discussing how heightened taste sensitivity is manifested in many other behaviors related to sensory sensitivity—ranging from finding the right thermostat settings to the need to cut tags out of clothing because it is so irritating. She inquired, “Have you ever asked people if they wear their underwear inside out?”

“Dear god”, I asked, “what on earth for?” Virginia went on to explain that a common behavior of ultra-sensitive people, who tend to prefer sweet or very light dry wines, is to invert their undies due to the irritation from the seams against their skin. Or, she said, they oftentimes just abandon wearing undergarments altogether. Inquiring minds want to know, so I have begun asking this question at events and wine tastings where I conduct our Taste Sensitivity Quotient (TasteSQ) interview.

During a TasteSQ interview at a recent wine tasting in San Francisco, I tried the question for the first time with a gentleman who hit all of the other questions for a Sweet (ultrasensitive) taster dead-on: can’t stand coffee (too bitter), loves salt (a sign of more taste buds, not less), and experiences a horrible, bitter and metallic taste from artificial sweeteners. And yes, he loved sweet wines and could not stand the horrible taste of dry wines. I proceeded to make assertion after assertion on things like his need to cut tags out of his clothes, how loud restaurants completely ruin even the most delicious food, and that his Mother experienced severe morning sickness with him. He was amazed. Feeling this was the perfect chance I asked, “Do you ever wear your underwear inside out?” He almost fell over. It was evident, and he later confirmed the answer, saying “Yep – how the h*** did you know THAT?” His friends were quite amused.

It was a simple deductive process. People who love sweet or delicate wines are typically what we call Sweet or Hypersensitive tasters. They share common traits such as hypersensitivity to light, sound, smell and, in this case, touch. In fact, they live in a vivid cacophony of sensations that other people cannot even imagine. This means they tend to seek out wines that are sweet or delicate, and they require the wines to be low in alcohol and ultra-smooth tasting.

A common behavior of these ultrasensitive individuals is to turn their undies inside out or to abandon wearing them at all. With my insatiable curiosity fired up I am delving deeper into this phenomenon and finding people who abandon undies altogether are reticent to share the information, but their stuttering and blushing give away their secret. Another connection to the term “blush wine”? Kidding.

Sweet and Hypersensitive tasters, who have the most taste buds and share an aversion to bitterness, high alcohol, and tannin will seek out wines that are often sweet, such as Moscato or White Zinfandel, or delicate dry wines, like dry Riesling or Pinot Grigio. They seek out and enjoy the very wines abandoned by the wine critics and wine community in general. Light, delicate, smooth and fragrant.

Boy, this assertion is going to get my detractors’ panties in a wad. That is, if they are wearing any.


Antonio White said...

A great article Tim. You continue to amaze me with the far reaching identifiers you can gather by paying attention to what your drinkers drink.

Ulf Karlholm said...

Amazing! And comical too. Will have to try to learn more about fellow wine tasters and if the guys are walking with undies inside out..

Great article!

Choo-Choo Charley said...

Very interesting. Bit sorry about your career path of tracking underwear, but it has affected my lifestyle.

I do not wear underwear, but sense wearing inside-out underwear might improve a proclivity for endorsing wine.

I have resolved my conflict by buying new underwear, washing it, turning it inside-out and wearing it outside my trousers.

Choo-Choo Charley
Allegany, NY 14706

Andy Starr said...

Tim, brilliant out of the box thinking, especially in an industry that tends to revere in-the-box thinking.

Interestingly, there is substantial research that hypersensitivity to light, sound and touch is a marker for gifted learners as well. Those with exceptionally high aptitude for learning quickly are often picky eaters and have to have shirt tags removed.

So, might that mean that hypertasters are smarter than tolerant ones?

ChrisO said...

I LOVE this! You are an inspiration and continue to challenge me to think out side the box! Now I finally have proof that my keen sense of smell is directly tied to the fact that I wear my undies inside out.

K. Sullivan said...


Correlation does not imply causation.

The article is a fun read and provocative.


Christian Miller said...

"People who love sweet or delicate wines are typically what we call Sweet or Hypersensitive tasters. They share common traits such as hypersensitivity to light, sound, smell and, in this case, touch."
That's very interesting. It suggests that it is the brain processing of the signals, rather than the receptors themselves, that cause this high sensitivity. Is the volume control on their amps set to 11?

The no-underwear correlation doesn't make sense to me. Isn't the fabric of, say, jeans more irritating than underwear tags?

Tim Hanni MW said...

Hi Christian,we still have so much to learn! :-) It is the seams on the undies that is irritating to some so it would seem quite logical that jean material and especially seams would be even more irritating. The tip on the 'inside out' phenomenon came from my research colleague at Cornell and upon further investigation I found a lot of the hypersensitive people related to it AND mentioned that they often, not always, abandon the fruits of the loom altogether. Now we have to look at other variables like material. Many people abandon the underdrawers due to unsightly lines and bulges.

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