Have you ever had a 92 point wine and thought it was most excellent–just because you knew it got a 92? If so, then you are not alone since that was the finding from a recent study by Michael Siegrist and Marie-Eve Cousin from ETH Zurich published in the journal Appetite. They gave 163 volunteers a taste of 2006 Clos de los Siete, a $15ish wine from Michel Rolland’s Argentina property and rated 92 points from the Wine Advocate. They told some of the participants the score beforehand, others not, and a told a third set that the wine got 72 points. Science Daily reports on the findings:
The analysis of the test results revealed that the test people who had been given the ratings with 92 or 72 points before the tasting rated the wine differently to those who weren’t given the Parker rating until afterwards. In the first two groups, the test people who had been given negative information rated the wine considerably worse than those who proceeded on the assumption that the wine was good. Those who knew beforehand that the wine had been given 92 Parker Points also found the wine better than those who only discovered the rating after they had tried the wine.
The information not only influences the sense of taste, but also how deep we are prepared to dig into our wallets: again, the test people with negative advance information were prepared to pay the least.
The researchers feel their initial hypothesis has been confirmed and conclude that the opinions of wine critics do have an impact on a wine drinker’s sense of taste. Surprisingly, the subjects did not change their opinion if they received the information after tasting. “People therefore were not simply trying to show themselves in a good light; the information really did alter their sense of taste”, says Siegrist.
The results are not surprising, really. But it’s too bad the the synopsis doesn’t elaborate on what the group with no prior information thought about the wines.
I do wonder if the study is somewhat backward looking as consumers are getting more independent. Consider the Sierra Carche incident; if Robert Kenney would have just accepted that it was a 96, he would have drunk it and moved on. Instead he went to the trouble of overnighting a bottle of it to the critic in question. While a third party endorsement can certainly sway a wine consumer to a one-time purchase, increased consumer savvy has arguably led to greater independence, leaving wine evaluation as something contested and not accepting scores as given.
Siegrist et al. Expectations influence sensory experience in a wine tasting. Appetite, 2009; 52 (3): 762 DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2009.02.002