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Friday, May 3, 2019

How We Choose Wine

The viticultural libation is as timeless as love and life. The Romans did it. Indeed, Roman soldiers were required to drink a minimum of one liter of wine per day. The Greeks invented the god of wine, Dionysus and Jesus made wine from water.

Like water, wine is a global constant and the altered consciousness achieved by consumption has been considered religious since its origin. I think the mass consumption of wine traces back to medieval urban areas and the lack of clean water.

Wine is safe.

Enter Galileo Galilei. That’s right, the guy who placed Earth around the Sun vs. the center of the universe, was known for referring to wine as “sunlight, held together by water.” Indeed, he told us that "while physical attributes of the planet are present, they are perceptually nonexistent until they have been interpreted by our senses”(The Neuroscience of Wine, by Ian Tattersall & Rob DeSale, Nautilus).

The axiom applies to wine.

As the scientific rebel remarked, “A wine's good taste does not belong to the objective determinations of the wine and hence of an object, even of an object considered as appearance, but belongs to the special character of the sense in the subject who is enjoying this taste.” - a fancy way of saying the taste is subjective to the taster and the influences on the taster.

So the eternal question - What makes one person like wine when another may not? Well, science once again steps in. Researchers at the Stockholm School of Economics and Yale University, as well as a,  follow up study by the California Institute of Technology, revealed some heady results.

One experiment involved placing subjects in an MRi machine, connected to a hose that five separate Cabernet Sauvignon would be administered. Each subject was told the price of the wine before each tasting. The experiment proved that perceived cost is a factor in choosing preferences.

What is more interesting is that a region of the brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex was hyperactive in every subject while making a choice - it seems we use the same area of our brains when deciding about wine. The experiment revealed that preferences for wines are influenced by what we believe the wine costs and that the assessment takes place in a specific part of our brains.

Additionally, neuroeconomists discovered our perception of 'good' or 'bad' tasting wine is HEAVILY influenced by all sensory input, sight, taste, smell, touch, etc. But the suggestion has the most influence - when you taste 'dirt' and a wine person says, "that's mineral", your perception can be persuaded to the positive.

And there's more, although we already know this: Studies show that our perception of the quality of the wine is influenced by the label.

Galileo's theory is apropos. We apply our opinion based on subtle and not so subtle, sensory input - for wine, life and the way we interact with the world around us.

The next time you're at a wine tasting, try the experiment for yourself by tasting BEFORE the profile is described and without over examining the label.


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