The Psychology of Wine

On Vines and Minds is an excellent summary of the history and psychology of wine (pdf/html).

Some topics of note:

  • Music radically influences our purchasing habits: classical music increases the amount we’re willing to spend while characteristically French music sways us toward wine from that region (similarly for German music/wine).
  • Colour affects the brain’s response to odours; as demonstrated when an odourless red die was mixed with white wine, fooling ‘Masters of Wine‘ into explaining its ‘nose’ using terms reserved for red wines.
  • Describing a wine has a drastic effect on how we later perceive that same wine, as shown when non-experts matched experts in identifying wines during blind taste tests‚Ķ unless they had to describe the wine¬†between tasting sessions.
  • Perceived price influences the amount of pleasure we derive from wine: fMRI scans have shown more ‘real’ physiological pleasure when tasting a wine labelled as more expensive compared to others at lower prices (even though it was the same wine throughout the study).

Another round-up of wine psychology‚ÄĒalbeit a slightly less comprehensive one‚ÄĒcomes from Freakonomics, where they point out that there is a zero (or even slightly negative) correlation between the perceived quality of a wine and its price when non-experts undergo blind taste tests. The article also notes:

  • This correlation is even stronger with champagne: a study showed a $12 sparkling wine from Washington was preferred nearly two to one to $150 Dom Perignon when the labels were removed.
  • People dislike a beverage if it contains a typically offensive flavouring, even though it actually improves the flavour: adding a small amount of balsamic vinegar to beer will slightly improve its flavour, but tell people it’s added before a tasting and few will prefer it to an untainted version; inform them after a tasting and they’re indifferent; don’t inform them at all and the majority prefer the tainted beer.
  • Hardy Rodenstock, one of the most infamous wine counterfeiters, fooled experts all around the world into purchasing fake 18th-century wine he claimed Thomas Jefferson once owned. His ruse was eventually uncovered by a private investigation financed by millionaire Bill Cock (who Rodenstock duped), using a horde of former FBI and MI5 agents. Interestingly, Rodenstock managed to dupe experts by¬†“getting [them] shitfaced” (to quote the wine critic Robert Parker) prior to tasting the fake wine.¬†(The story of the fraud¬†is a lengthy‚ÄĒbut fascinating‚ÄĒread.)

Finally, these two complementary studies could make for an interesting business model (think: wine bar serving cheap yet expensive looking wine, loud music, food available):

In conclusion you could say that this quote encapsulates everything you need to know about wine:

Wine does not live in a vacuum and it is sampled and savoured in the context of our life experiences.

P.S. Don’t forget the second cheapest wine syndrome.



One response to “The Psychology of Wine”

  1. Hi Lloyd,

    Have been busy working on see what you think.

    hope you are well