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The Impact of Various Influences on Our Appreciation of Wine

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Our perception and the reality of wine are influenced by many factors. Wine is not a monolithic sensory adventure. Each sip creates results in a confluence of taste and smell on our tongues, in our mouth and in our nose. This experience may differ with each sip of a glass of wine, and each bottle of wine.

Our enjoyment of a glass of wine relies on our dominant senses of taste and smell. Scientific studies have analyzed these senses and their interconnectivity in creating an individual’s unique perception of wine. But are these senses absolute measurements of our understanding and perception of wine? Are they providing an unadulterated insight into a wine’s natural tastes and aromas? Or are there outside influences on our appreciation of wine?

Are there intrinsic, non-sensory components of our overall experience in tasting wine? And, if so, do these factors go beyond the science of our physiology?

The short answer is a resounding yes.

The psychology of our appreciation of wine plays a role that is as influential as our natural senses. Beyond our sensory self-analysis, our opinion and evaluation of a wine is impacted by external influences. These tend to be subtle and may confuse, even override, our senses of taste and smell.

Herein, several psychological influences on our perception of a wine.

  1. History. If you make the effort to learn about the background and longevity of a long-standing winemaking family, your perception of their wine may be influenced beyond its taste and smell. A psychological bias is created for a family succeeding over several generations in the same land and culture. “It must be a good wine if this is the fifth-generation winemaker.”
  2. Culture. If you’re of the Pepsi Generation or the “Got Milk?” era, your wine preferences have been strongly influenced by the advertising media. These, and similar, products influenced Americans’ palates to prefer creamy and sweet foods. This is why the American palate differs greatly from the Western European palate. Generally speaking, Americans tend to prefer sweeter, less acidic wines; Western Europeans, more complex, drier styles.
  3. Ratings. If the wine experts rate a wine highly it must be good. Before we imbibe the first sip of a rated wine, our brains have established a bias to a critic’s opinion. The psychological impact on our brain neurons can override our basic sensory perceptions.

When wine critic Robert Parker introduced the 100-point rating system in the 1980s, Americans fell in line with an objective means of appreciating wine, although wine appreciation is overwhelmingly subjective.

  1. Mother Nature. I’ve blind-tasted wines that my senses of taste and aroma concluded were a particular grape, even from a particular wine region. Lo and behold, Mother Nature tricked my senses. The wine that convinced my senses it was a Merlot-based French Bordeaux blend was actually a Pinot Noir from Oregon. It can happen, much to the chagrin of my sensory receptors; bait and switch occurs regularly in our cerebrum.
  2. Expectations. A study in the Journal of Marketing Research concluded (confirmed?) that many individuals’ expectations are easily managed. When presented with two wines of widely disparate prices to sample, participants preferred the wine they were told had the higher price, even though the prices of the wines were reversed.

More telling, the tasters reached the same conclusion when the wines in the glasses were identical. “Expectations truly influence neurobiological responses,” write the authors.

Just as a color palate influences, but does not dominate, the image an artist depicts on a canvas, so too our sensory palate influences, but does not dominate, the canvas of our perception of wine.

Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and Program Director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at nantonaccio@theexaminernews.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.

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