With the holidays upon us and the weather turning colder, November and December offer plenty of opportunity for sharing and enjoying wine. With such a seasonal emphasis on choosing, buying and drinking(!) wine, we started to wonder just how many of us can truly say we know what goes into making an excellent bottle.
Fortunately, Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle, authors of new book A Natural History of Wine, are here to help guide you through your wine choices this Christmas. These two make quite the pair when it comes to the popular beverage. Both of them scientists – Rob, a molecular biologist and Ian, a palaeoanthropologist – they have explored every aspect of wine from explaining what the complex drink is made of to its effects on our mind and body.
In this four-part series for the YaleBooks blog, Rob and Ian share their wisdom and explain how you can get the most out of wine this festive season.
A Beginner’s Guide to Wine, Part I: What Does the Price Tag Tell us?
by Rob DeSalle, co-author of A Natural History of Wine
One of the more interesting nuances about wine and its enjoyment is that our brains trick us into liking or disliking a wine even before our senses take the wine in. For instance, as most readers will know, the price on a wine bottle has a substantial influence on the perception of the quality of a wine. Several well designed and clever neuro-economics experiments have shown that the uninitiated or naive wine buyer is strongly influenced by the price tag on a bottle and not what is in it.
Another tricky experiment done by neuro-economists, asked two groups of wine buyers two different questions. One group of naive wine buyers was asked prior to encountering a new wine, to remember their most pleasant experience with drinking wine. The second unfortunate group was asked prior to the encounter with the new wine to conjure up a negative experience (usually involving getting sick from drinking wine). Not surprisingly, the group with the positive experience planted in their brains enjoyed and ranked wines higher than the group that had the idea of ‘puking’ planted in their minds. There also have been studies done on how the label on a wine bottle influences purchasing behaviours. It turns out that label colours should be yellow, brown or black and the shape should be rectangular or hexagonal. Finally, naive wine drinkers also prefer to drink wines with hard to pronounce names. The naive wine drinker should beware of all of these pitfalls of wine buying because marketers are also aware of them, and of course will take advantage.
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Ian Tattersall is curator emeritus in the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), New York City. Rob DeSalle is curator of entomology in the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, AMNH.