When you encounter an outstanding bottle, it’s the first sniff that lets you know that something special is happeningby / July 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Which emotions do wines conjure up? This is not an idle question. As I write, sensory scientists and branding executives are trying to work out the answers in order to develop a deeper relationship between wines and consumers. In marketing speak it’s about getting beyond liking.
After all, it’s rather disheartening for wine makers when their year-long work to produce the best wine they can from grapes grown in a particular soil in a given season meets with a simple thumbs up or down. To get beyond hasty verdicts and encourage greater consumer engagement with a wine it may be necessary to forge emotional connections between the consumer and the bottle. The easiest way to do this is to create a story.
This has to be done carefully, for while the story behind a wine or a bottle can add to the interest and pleasure of drinking it, the craft-obsessed makers who tell us everything on the back label, from who turned on the wine press to who filled the bottles, often leave the public cold.
How else can wine produce emotions? Obviously there are the emotions that come from the alcohol: the exhilaration, the warm sentimental feelings. Kant thought that wine softens people’s characters. But without moderation this soon tips into overconfidence and melancholy.
The look of a wine can hold many attractions for a drinker. When a white wine has a limpid, crystalline purity, its gleaming surface can be enticing, as can accompanying sounds and visuals. The sound of a popping Champagne cork, which often precedes celebrations, can raise expectations. And what of the pale pink bottle of Provençal rosé lifted from the gleaming ice bucket: the condensation running down the side, the sunlight on the glasses? All these cues can induce pleasure.
Odour, of course, is the most obvious trigger of emotions. Smell, unlike our other senses, projects directly to the amygdala, a centre in the brain for emotions and memory—a sniff can bring back vivid memories.
There is evidence to suggest that wine can have a similar effect. In a recent study published in Food Research International, Australian scientists used a tool called the Australian Wine Evoked Emotions Lexicon to gauge the effect of information on people’s experience of drinking wines. They allowed subjects to chose terms like: “adventurous,” “calm,” “enthusiastic”—which don’t sound quite like emotions to me—along with “contented,” “happy,” “panicky,” “sad,” “irritated,” “tense” and “embarrassed,” which do.
Participants first tasted wine in a blind study, then a week later in a setting where they had just a little information about the wine and third, they were given extensive information. The study found a slightly more positive reaction and appraisal of the wine when more information was provided. The study also noted that more information gave participants “a substantial increase in willingness to pay.
This is all very well but when you encounter an outstanding bottle, it’s the first sniff that lets you know that something special is happening. Then the first sip provides that heart-stopping moment when everything goes still. Transfixed by the wine and gripped by feelings of euphoria, it is like a blood transfusion, telling us something very good is happening in the body. There is nothing aggressive. Each sip of this precious liquid is like a caress. Those are exceptional experiences, and they marked by heightened emotions that will always induce a smile and make the heart glad.