This is an interesting and small (144 pages) book by Jérôme Douzelet, a chef and owner of a nice hotel cum restaurant, and Gilles-Eric Séralini, a molecular biologist, political advisor, an activist on genetically modified organisms and foods, who got several times in trouble with Monsanto. Still, this did not refrain me from reading the book, which sets out to show that, at blind tastings, people can detect the flavor of pesticides in wine and/or in fresh water in which a certain number of pesticides were diluted at the same concentration as in wines. And indeed, in blind tastings, subjects seem to be able to identify the flavor of specific “ingredients.” The book is written in French, but a summary can be found in the paper by Gilles-Eric Séralini and Jérôme Douzelet (2017). But I started reading the book with the list of poisons used in the wine “industry.” They are listed in alphabetical order with, between brackets, comments on nose and mouth: Boscalid, fungicide (taste of chlorine, evokes the smell of burning); Cyprodinil, fungicide (burns in the throat, bitterness, astringent); Fenhexamid, fungi- cide (taste of chemical candy, strawberry, chocolate, chlorinated vanilla, cardboard); Folpel and Phthalimid, fungicide (volatile alcohol, dries the palate, pecks the tip of the tongue, bitterness); Glyphosate, weed killer (acidic, burns, blocs detection in the mouth, pecks in the throat); Iprodione, fungicide (irritates, burns, tastes of old plastic, bleach, burnt tire, but also some vanilla); Iprovalicard, fungicide (astringent, taste of chlorine, or chemical drug, mold, but also taste of nuts); Polyethoxylated, tallow amine, used in Roundup and other friendly pesticides and weed killers (drains and blocks papillae, rough, but also scents of flowers); Pyrimethanil, fungi- cide (taste of earth, dust, pine, menthol, aspirin, bleach); and, of course, the best was kept for the end, Roundup, weed killer (putrefied wood, benzene, dries the mouth and the tongue, burns or pecks). Most of this tastes good, indeed, and the authors should be congratulated for having taken the pain to describe the characteristics (nose and mouth) of each poison when it is diluted in fresh water (see more later). The authors claim that, to their knowledge, the experiment they ran was “the first where humans [could] identify pesticides by taste.”1 They met with some 70 other wine professionals and organized a series of blind tastings, each of which consisted of two wines (one bio, the other “normal”) from the same (seven) regions, similar terroirs (as long as terroir can be defined), the same grapes, and the same vintages. Before the blind tastings were held, all wines (16 times two, for bio and “normal”) had been tested in two professional labs to dis- cover which pesticides and heavy metals they contained. Samples of “water” were prepared by mixing the pesticides found in the wines coming from some 30 vine- yards. The glasses of “water” contained the exact same dosages as those found in the wines. The blind tasting of each couple of wines was organized as follows: Step 1. Tasting the two wines, and choosing which one was preferred, and why. Step 2. Detecting pesticides in “water.” Each taster was presented with glasses of “water,” containing the quantity of one of the pesticides the taster had detected in the wine.
Step 3. Tasters had to recognize the pesticides tasted in one or both wines of Step 1. They also had to briefly describe what they noticed, with as much precision as possible. The results of the 195 blind tests that they ran in 2017 and that are discussed in the book are as follows: (a) in 77 percent of the cases, the bio wine was preferred; (b) 57 percent of the tasters were able to match the taste of pesticides in the “water” and the one in the (usually non-bio) wine, but could not necessarily put a name on the pesticide, with the exception of Fenhexamid, however, they fully acknowledged that pesticides changed the taste of natural aromas; and (c) the idea of tasting diluted pesticides in water at the dosage that is found in wines led to sensations that permeate the brain and eventually made it possible to recognize them in wines. According to the authors, some of them taste as artificial strawberries, others as old beards of smokers, or beards of old smokers. To my understanding, the main idea was to determine whether wine tasters, once they are slightly trained, can find and distinguish the tastes of these poisons, and the way I understood the book, the message is fivefold: (a) pesticides change the taste of wines, (b) it does not take very long for experienced tasters to distinguish that the wines they taste contain pesticides they can discern, and how each pesticide tastes, (c) professional wine tasters should be trained to detect pesticides, (d) professional wine critics should perhaps dwell on those additional flavors in the papers they write, and make consumers aware of what they drink, and most importantly, (e) never provoke or mess with Monsanto.2)
Though I used to be quite skeptical about bio wines, after having read the book, my advice would be to go for bio, even if the wine does not taste like the old beard of an old smoker. In fact, a paper published in this Journal analyzed this question empir- ically (Delmas, Gergaud, and Lim, 2016) and reached the same conclusion.
2 Seralini had to retract a study on Roundup that he published in 2012 in Food and Chemical Toxicology 50 (2012), pp. 4221–4231. It is worth reading what happened in an article published by the French newspaper Le Monde, and translated into English. See The Seralini Affair—or the secret history of a torpedo, avail- able at https://www.gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/17908-the-seralini-affair-or-the-secret-history-of-a- torpedo. In a few words, the editor of the journal in which the paper was published and later retracted, considered that “no definitive conclusions could be drawn from the inconclusive data,” but forgot to mention, as he should have, that he was “bound by a consultancy contract to Monsanto.” Note, however that, at the time, Nature considered the way Seralini behaved after he had made his discovery to be “a public-relations offensive,” and several “food safety and regulatory agencies condemned the paper.”
Université libre de Bruxelles