Ok, geeks; REMAIN CALM.
That’s the message we need to repeat to our geeky wine selves after reading the article “Science has spoken: Big wine doesn’t mean more flavour” by Beppi Crosariol in The Globe and Mail.
In case you missed it, the scoop is that a rather cleverly executed experiment involving 26 “relatively inexperienced wine consumers” who tasted wine and had their noggins MRI scanned revealed that those tasters had a bit more brain activity happening when the wines that they tasted were lighter-bodied and lower in alcohol.
To the tape:
“Contrary to prevailing wine-industry wisdom that most consumers prefer brawn to finesse, the scanner revealed startling images. There was greater activity in the taste-processing regions while the subjects drank the lighter wines. The implication: Lower alcohol encourages stronger attention to aroma and flavour nuances.”
Is this finding interesting? Hell yes.
Is it definitive enough that we can draw any serious conclusions from it? HELL NO!
Also, even if we did draw conclusions from this study, I am not sure those conclusions are where are focus should actually be trained…
Twenty-six participants does not a safe conclusion make. Aside from the fact that the study would need to be repeated to have any scientific weight behind it, the Globe and Mail article brushes casually over one very important aspect of the study involving how the participants rated their enjoyment of the wines:
“Curiously, the average rating for wines in each pair was the same. In other words, participants reported enjoying the light and strong wines equally. It was only under the scanner that the subconscious betrayed a different story.”
So… this would mark only about the one trillionth example of the human brain outsmarting itself and twisting its perception of the sensory inputs we absorb all around us. The question we might logically to ask next is this:
Which one wins – the brain activity or our decision to tell ourselves that we like the bigger wine anyway?
Answer: it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter because our collective tastes when it comes to the highly regulated product of alcoholic beverages will more likely be defined by what’s available to us. To illustrate this, come walk with me on a short journey of speculative reasoning, one step leading to the other more or less in logical sequence:
- Certain critics with a preference for stronger wines gain popularity ->
- It becomes easier at retail to sell wines with accolades vs. those without them ->
- The “bigger” wines sell better ->
- It becomes easier to import/distribute/purchase bigger wines than lighter ones ->
- Consumers are exposed to fewer lighter wines and more “bigger” wines ->
- Through limited/shrinking choice at retail and on premise, consumers convince themselves that they “like” bigger wines (without necessarily questioning if there are alternatives) ->
- Repeat cycle at step 2.
The question isn’t whether or not people will like different wine styles, or which are inherently superior/more interesting/better/whatever. The real question is, what are you going to do to help break the cycle?