Course Profile: Professor Hildegarde Heymann's class on Sensory Evaluation of Wine (VEN 125 & 125L)

Students evaluate aromas of wine in class
Students evaluate aromas of wine in class

Sensory Evaluation of Wine (VEN 125). In this course students are exposed to normal human sensory variation in all of the senses. Professor Hildegarde Heymann underscores the fact that we all live in our own sensory world and that as winemakers we need to know where we lack sensitivity or where we are overly sensitive. This then leads into how one can use humans as measuring devices. She stresses that because of the variability in the human senses we need to use sensory good practices in all aspects of our studies from the design of our experiments through statistical data analyses and data interpretation. 

The class covers the differences between objective analytical sensory evaluation and subjective consumer sensory evaluation, and when to use which one. This then segues into the basic sensory tests, how to perform them, analyze the data and most importantly how to interpret the results using product knowledge and common sense. 

Though most (if not all) of the students in the class will never work as sensory scientists, as winemakers they will be consumers of sensory data and they should know how to ask sensory questions to vendors and how to interpret the information provided by these vendors, many of whom use sensory data to sell wine making related paraphernalia. Additionally, they would need to be able to use the information in publications and talks on the relationships between sensory and chemical data sets. 

In mid- to large-scale wineries the relationships between consumer liking and wine attributes are frequently drivers in the blending process. Winemakers must understand how these data are derived and what it tells them in terms of winemaking needs, so a lot of time is spent focusing on these data sets. 

Lastly, the course covers wine quality. Professor Heymann asks each student to create their own definition of wine quality, while simultaneously realizing that this concept has many facets and components. 

In the Sensory Evaluation of Wine Lab class, Dr. Heymann also teaches students to learn to trust their noses and tongues and to determine their specific anosmias and hyperosmias. She does this by having them smell approximately 300 reference standards (some make duplicate appearances) over nine weeks. This is done with labels, blind coded and by the use of matching unknowns to knowns. In the last week of the quarter, they receive 30 to 40 reference odorants and are asked to identify these as part of their grade. 

Students are also taught how to do sensory-related studies, showing the practical winery uses of sensory-descriptive analysis, and how to analyze and interpret the data. They write up to 11 posters during the quarter on sensory data analyses. 

Lastly, since it's important for aspiring winemakers to familiarize themselves with differences in wines, at the end of each laboratory session they are asked to evaluate six so-called savor wines -- these wines are specifically selected for the class to show some facet of winemaking, pricing or region.