Inferior Good: Diminishing Marginal Stupidity in Action

Friday, September 29, 2006

Expectations matter

If you serve me a white wine dyed to look like a red wine, I probably won’t know it. Everything else equal, I’ll probably enjoy a bottle labeled "Grand Reserve" more than a bottle lacking a classification. I'll probably like a wine with a classy looking label more than one sporting a cute critter. And I’ll probably like a wine more if I think it's made by a mustachioed, beret wearing old Frenchman rather than a white coat wearing beverage technician from the U.S.

At least, that’s the gist of this fascinating article by wine science guru Jamie Goode and featured in The World of Fine Wine. Mr. Goode reports that one’s perception of wine is more than just taste, smell and touch (mouth feel), for scientific research suggests that expectations are also extremely important.

Our expectations are formed by things like the wine’s appearance, other’s perception of the wine (professional reviews, friend’s comments), label information (varietal, appellation, classification), label and bottle appearance (critter label = plonk?), how recently and frequently we’ve experienced similar wine and our knowledge of wine.

Additionally, Mr. Goode notes that individuals experience the same wine differently. For example, a wine’s color may be more central to my experience than yours. Furthermore, a given individual may experience the same wine differently over time. What seems great today may seem merely good next week.

Does this mean tasting notes are useless? No, but you might consider using them more cautiously. And keep in mind that your own tasting notes are influenced by the context in which you consume a given wine, so maybe your wine opinions should be a little more tentatively held.

[Ed. Is this really breaking news?] No, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard about these types of studies and it’s true that some of the conclusions are a bit self-evident. For example, I take it for granted that my expectations influence my experience. What sets Mr. Goode’s article apart is his attempt to explain the biological process through which we experience wine, rather than simply report the findings of a few studies. I’m thinking I should pick up a copy of Wine Science and/or The Science of Wine.

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