Study: points influence consumer perceptions!

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

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28 Responses to “Study: points influence consumer perceptions!”

  1. Another great reason to ignore the points.

  2. Great article. I have never paid any attention to point scale ratings. Only to regions/varietals where I have found good buys, or to compelling descriptions about a wine compared with its price point.

  3. Points affect things like perception and price???

    No way!!!

  4. I probably agree with the study’s idea. I take this as only a single data point. I think you nedd to use at least a dozen wines and then you change your tasting groups around to check for consistency. I sell wine for a living and when I taste I do not want to know the price beforehand. I generally do not taste blind in my store. I would certainly like to see them extend their study.

  5. Reminds me of Ariely, Shiv, and Cameron 2005 ( and the Plassmann et al. 2008 fMRI wine price study.

    The Ariely article is discussed by Rob Walker in Buying In pages 160-161.

    Thanks for sharing this study.

  6. This goes to show the power of the placebo affect. Its truly amazing to see the influence of mind over matter.

  7. I’m with Craig. Just goes to show that points are generally not worth paying attention to. It makes a lot more sense to take the time to figure out what you like, and develop your own palate instead of slavishly buying up wines based on proclamations from Parker, Tanzer Laube, et al.

  8. This is why blind tasting is so important, it doesn’t allow for the influence of labels or ratings!

  9. Thanks for including this, Tyler. It just goes along with my thoughts I made regarding your tasting of Sierra Carche recently.

  10. If you are venturing into a new city, do you choose a hotel or restaurant “blindly”? No, you do some research, principally trying to find out how folks who resemble you demographically reviewed various properties. You go to Trip Advisor or Zagat mostly, knowing that there are enough voters to make the popularity compilations valid. Points or stars are important so you aren’t buying a pig in a poke. Of course there has to be trust that the methodology is rigorous.

  11. Unfortunately, tasting a wine is not like buying a hotel room. As a pratical matter, points and stars are useless–except for marketers. It isn’t just that people taste differently (they do); it’s that everyone brings their own prior experience, both sensory and intellectual, to the tasting. Actually, I can’t begin to summarize this in a sentence or two. Check out Jamie Goode’s “The Science of Wine.” Chapter 21 is titled “Wine and the brain: making sense of flavour,” and it is as good an explanation as I’ve found of why points and stars are really not useful in an individual’s evaluation of a wine.

  12. IS this study like the 1 drop wine tasting test. I mean if you no knowing about wine then yeah a score will cloud your opinion but for someone who at least knows wine, and knows that a RP score of 72 is really “bad” wine. Then they wouldn’t be judged, however when I tasted a 92 or higher wine I am trying to see how close to there notes I taste, sometimes not even close like the 98 Points Viognier that was pffft like mid 80s

  13. Wine Mule — But Jamie still uses points in his own reviews!

    Weston – I don’t know how much they were given but I assume more than the fMRI study–it couldn’t really be less!

    I’d still like to know that the control group thought of the wines…

  14. I wonder how many folks, hearing the wine received 72 points, rated it higher just to go against the score?

  15. This is one of the most interesting aspects of wine (thanks Dr. Vino!) – some people are swayed by points and others are not – some people like New World style while ours abhor it – everyone’s ability and sensibility to wine is slightly different -a wine tasted on one occasion may not taste as good or as bad tasted at a different time. Bottomline – I don’t think that you can really rate a wine accurately for everyone based on taste (although I do believe that you can accurately rate flaws in a wine universally). Really .. .how do you discern whether a wine is 89 or 90, or 91 versus 92?

    All of the above said, I do find having some review of a wine beneficial when the producer and the bottling is unknown AND the reviewer is familiar (i.e., I am familiar with his/her reviews and have tasted many of those wines) – I know then at least a bit more on whether I may like it or not. But at the end of the day, the jury is still out until I actually taste the wine.

  16. […] a uno studio pubblicato sulla rivista Appetite, che scopro leggendo Dr. Vino, la verità è questa. Lo studio ha dato a 163 volontari un bicchiere di Clos de los Siete 2006, un […]

  17. I’m going to be an outlier here and say that points are NOT worthless or irrelevant.

    Just because a study comes out and points out the obvious does not mean the system is ‘broken’ folks . . .

    If that is the case, no one should pay any attention to OTHER things put on labels or reviews – appellation, variety, alcohol levels, etc. ALL of these have an effect on how the wine we consume is perceived – whether you accept that or not.

    What’s important is to use the points as one person’s view on a specific wine – caveat emptor. If you taste the wine and agree, then that’s what matters to you . . . and only to you. If you disagree, then great – a conversation can then ensue where you can compare your notes with the reviewers and see why . . . Different tastes or different ‘bottles’?

    I just am not a fan of ‘knee jerk’ reactions and I think in this case, that is what is happening here . . .

    Just my $.02 this morning . . . rip away!


  18. Larry … can’t rip away .. that’s kinda what I was saying above – you just did a better job getting to the point! 🙂

  19. Larry – the things that you mention on the label are facts. Scores are not facts; they are opinions. Some consumers, such as the ones in this study, seem to accept scores as fact. That more consumers should see them as opinion seems the most fruitful discussion. And it seems that you agree with that. No?

  20. To read some of the comments above, you’d think the appreciation of vino is wildly relative, when we know that cream rises to the top and there can be broad consensus on the assessment of a wine’s appeal. Yes, there is the Hodgson study discussed on Vinography and 1 Wine Dude, so we aren’t dealing with a commodity that consistently generates agreement. Which makes the evaluation of our favorite beverage so intriguing. Nonetheless, we can all name a dozen wines that can be ranked at the top of a list most years.

    I start from the premise that certain wines will command higher scores among a cross section of tasters. I like to cite CellarTracker as the superior mode of rating. It follows the Wisdom of Crowds methodology to arrive at a sweet spot for such wines. Our wine society tastes blind, then we compile and average out the scores. The august Vintners Club in SF uses only a simple ranking to list the first place through 12th. This is the way to do, IMHO.

  21. Dr. Vino,

    Yes, what is on the label are ‘facts’ . . . and I say this because they are ‘facts’ that oftentimes do not get checked. Alcohol levels? They are ‘somewhat’ accurate but not always so . . . Varieties? Remember – you have a 25% ‘fudge factor’ to add any other variety in with your ‘labeled’ variety and still call it what you want – and you do NOT have to let the consumer know that you added ANYTHING else.

    My main point, though, had more to deal with perceptions. Many see an alcohol level on a bottle and pre-judge that wine . . . Period. Or they see a variety from a specific place and sometimes say ‘it can’t be good because it’s ____ from _____, and I know that better ____ are made in ______.

    There is so much subjectivity that takes place at ALL facets of the wine industry . . . Period.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that one should not blindly follow a reviewer and his/her points . . . but that’s the world in which we live . . . How many ‘New York Times Best Sellers’, for instance, are on YOUR purchase list?!?!?

    Interesting read as usual, and looking forward to hearing from others!


  22. I don’t think the point of the study is that points are worthless as a guide of quality, and I say this as someone not at all a fan of the current system, but rather that many people are inclined to want to look like they agree with the expert. That doesn’t mean that the expert is wrong, just that no one wants to disagree with him/her. This is probably true in many things other than wine, who wants to say that they think the expert is wrong if they themselves are not an expert?

    If the expert is right, great, but unfortunately, wine is a subject where it’s pretty hard to be “right”. But this shows why the current system, despite this flaw, isn’t going anywhere. It sells, period. Retailers, the big drivers of the current system as the primary purchase point for customers, aren’t going to abandon something that works this well. And so wineries will have to continue to have a strategy for the ratings game and importers and distributors will have to continue to make sure they can move their stock to the retailers who want stuff they can sell.

  23. I’m not sure wether this study proofs that the scores influences consumers’ perceptions, but only their “scoring” capabilities. It´s not the same.

  24. If you gave the same set of subjects a precis of reviews, some of which read like the wine is nectar of the gods and some of which read like the wine is neglected garbage, they will be similarly influenced by what they read. It matters not whether there are points or words to influence them, they will be influenced by sources they trust.

    Tom Merle likes Cellar Tracker and Trip Advisor. I like other sources that I think are more expert. In older studies, this effect was called The Demonstration Effect. Call it what you like, use whatever source of supposedly good judgment you like and you will see influence.

    In point of fact (pun intended), the reason why thousands and thousands of folks listen to critics, in wine and elsewhere, is that they are looking for guidance and tend to believe it when they see it.

  25. “Wine Mule — But Jamie still uses points in his own reviews!”

    Jamie is no fool. But just because something makes good business sense doesn’t make it right.

  26. Yes, there is always influence. This is why the evaluations are read. But who wields that influence?

    Power to the people… who have to pay for their wine.

  27. If you want to see a good demonstration of this kind of propensity for bias, check out Chris Riccobono does a video blind taste test of three wines…some rated high, some rated low. You’ll be surprised.

  28. Unfortunately this is not something we did not know already.. Read for more


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