Thursday, 7 November 2013

Can You Taste Wine like the Pros?

You’ve just landed yourself a date with a really cute girl who lives in your apartment building. You’ve managed to get lost in a conversation about wines as she was talking about a nice “aperitif” and how “unctuous” her new batch tasted. She is clearly a wine expert, so you try to impress them by talking about the local vineyards that you’ve heard of. While lost in the elegance of her words, you agree to a wine tasting with her this Saturday! The only problem is that you presented yourself to be a wine connoisseur, yet you’ve never bought a bottle worth more than $8. Can you pull off this masquerade and impress her with your wine “knowledge”?

     Doubtful, at least according to some recent research. Wine and winemakers have been around for thousands of years, and a lot has changed in the industry over this time. Fine wine is highly valued and not a common treat for the average consumer, as it can be quite expensive. But is the price of fine wine really justified by its taste? Do we need to be “wine experts” in order to truly enjoy fine wine? A recent study conducted by Allesandro and Pecotich examined the ability of wine amateurs and experts to determine the quality of wines that they taste tested. University students represented the amateur wine drinkers, while the expert wine drinkers were members of a professional wine tasting society. The researchers were interested in the differences between amateurs and experts decisions when determining wine quality, price, value and intent to purchase. They predicted that the wine label would influence amateur decisions, but not expert decisions because they have a better grasp on wine tasting.

This one is from France, so it must be good!

     Just because a wine is from a reputable country does not mean it’s a high quality wine. A wine producing country has numerous winemakers, and not all of them produce fine wine. The research showed that wine experts did not base their quality judgements on the wine’s country of origin, but amateurs did. For amateur wine drinkers, the country of origin was played a large role when determining the quality of the wine they tasted. A wine from China, an unpopular wine producer, was typically viewed to be of lower quality than a wine from a reputable country such as France or Italy.

I can taste the work that went into this wine, definitely an expensive cabernet.

     The wine industry standard is to rate each wine on a scale of 0-20, with points being given for appearance, aroma, and taste. The study showed that amateurs were unable to accurately determine the quality of a wine by its taste. Although amateurs were able to detect subtle differences in flavours and aromas, they were typically unable to explain the differences they tasted. Meanwhile, experts had no problems rating the quality of the wines they tasted, likely because they are familiar with the industry rating standard.

     As the researchers suspected, amateurs (most of us) were poor at gauging the quality of a wine because they tended to use the label as the basis of their decisions. This research is also important for winemakers and distributors when creating and marketing a new wine label, so they can better reach their target consumers (whether amateurs or experts).

     So what does this mean for your date on Saturday? Come clean about your “little white-wine lie”. An amateur wine drinker lacks the experience that an expert has, and by trying to base your quality predictions off of the wine label or taste differences you’ll look more like an amateur. Don’t try to pull off this masquerade on Saturday because she’ll catch on to it, and she’ll think you’re the lowest of the merlot.

-Myles Maillet

D'Alessandro, S., & Pecotich, A. (2013). Evaluation of wine by expert and novice consumers in the 
     presence of variations in quality, brand and country of origin cues. Food Quality and Preference, 28(1),      287-303. doi:10.1016/j.foodqual.2012.10.002

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