GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Wine labels influence our decisions about buying wines, but they also affect how we assess wines we taste, a new Swiss study shows. Seeing the label may have up to a 60 percent impact on our evaluation of a wine we taste, Pascale Deneulin, senorial analysis professor at the Changins Agroscope federal research station, told Agri magazine.
Vision is our most developed sense
Vision is the sense we use the most frequently, and it’s therefore the most developed, so it’s not surprising that it should influence our overall perception, she told Agri, a bi-weekly agricultural magazine for French-speaking Switzerland.
The study was carried out by Agri, with help from the Changins station near Nyon. The question asked was what is the extent to which a wine label influences our sensorial perception of the wine, and our judgement of it.
“We can say that the perception of a wine by someone judging it, whether positive or negative, has a strong influence on whether he or she buys it. If the consumer has the option to taste a wine, there is a chance the decision about buying it will be changed,” Agri concludes. The study showed that, in 52 percent of cases, if the judges had tasted a wine and seen the label, they said they would buy it.
In 42 percent of cases, seeing the wine’s label prompted the judges to change their opinions about wines already tasted.
A need for blind tasting – and for consumers to know why
The study seems to confirm the importance of blind tasting for objective evaluations of wines, but it also underscores the gap between consumers, who are sampling wines after seeing the bottles, and wine competition judges, who taste blind and do not see the labels.
It should encourage more wineries to reconsider whether their labels fit the image they want to impart. A study done in 2013 for Swiss Wine Promotion by the MIS research firm shows that 42 percent of consumers buy most or all of their wine at supermarkets, up from 38 percent in 2008, when a similar study was done. Specialty shops account for 18 percent, with 24 percent of purchases made at wineries. The rest of Swiss wines sales are made through a mix of channels: wine fairs, clubs, by correspondence and online.
The share of wine purchased online and by correspondence (typically using reply cards from winery mailings) has barely shifted, with regular purchases by correspondence remaining at 3 percent and online at 2 percent. More consumers (11 percent) are buying the “occasional” bottle by correspondence or (7 percent) via the internet.
Three Lake Geneva region Pinot Noirs, 15 judges
Three very good Pinot Noir wines from around the Lake Geneva area were used for the study: one by Noémie Graff at Le Satyre in Begnins on the western edge of the lake; another from Domaine Burignon, Ville de Lausanne, above St Saphorin in Lavaux; the third by Anne Müller in Yvorne at the cellar with her name, to the east of the lake.
The wines were first tasted blind, then with their labels showing, then with a false label. The 15 judges – 8 men and 7 women, all ages – took part in the three tests during a full day of tasting. The blind tastings were done first, with the bottle presented in a random order. They were given seven descriptions to note on a scale from 0 to 10: fruitiness, acidity, bitterness, sugar, alcohol, agressive tannins and overall appreciation.
The judges used the same criteria to evaluate six wines during the second test. This time they had the same three wines as before but once in a bottle with the correct label and once in a bottle with the wrong label. They were also asked to comment on the labels, noting the weak and strong points of each, and to indicate whether or not they would buy the wine based on the label.
The last test involved lining up 20 labels, including the six they had just seen, based on their own criteria, then to select words to characterize the groups they created.
The wine producers, asked to comment after the test, were mostly happy with the results, which nevertheless offered some surprises. Anne Müller’s wines, the least appreciated and considered the least fruity of the three during the blind tasting, was considerably better appreciated once the labels were shown.
There are, of course, several other factors that enter in here, one of which is that Anne Müller makes biodynamic wines, and these may need to be tasted differently, with the bottle open for longer than the others, based on my own experience.