Tag Archives: wine

Health and Alcohol Intake (Men, Women, Wine)

A longitudinal study of almost 20,000 U.S. women is showing signs that moderate alcohol consumption (“one or two alcohol beverages a day”) can lower the risk for obesity and inhibit weight gain:

Over the course of the study, 41 percent of the women became overweight or obese. Although alcohol is packed with calories (about 150 in a six-ounce glass of wine), the nondrinkers in the study actually gained more weight over time: nine pounds, on average, compared with an average gain of about three pounds among regular moderate drinkers. The risk of becoming overweight was almost 30 percent lower for women who consumed one or two alcohol beverages a day, compared with nondrinkers. […]

The link between consumption of red wine and less weight gain was particularly pronounced. […] Some studies have suggested that resveratrol, a compound present in grapes and red wine, appears to inhibit the development of fat cells and to have other antiobesity properties.

The article also notes that while moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with “better heart health”, it has also been associated with an increase in breast cancer risk.

None of this is good news for men:

Studies suggest that drinking alcohol has different effects on eating habits among men and women. Men typically add alcohol to their daily caloric intake, whereas women are more likely to substitute alcohol for food. […]

In addition, there may be differences in how men and women metabolize alcohol. Metabolic studies show that after men drink alcohol, they experience little if any metabolic change. But alcohol appears to slightly speed up a woman’s metabolism.

As before: this is still correlatory, but interesting nonetheless.

More Psychology of Wine

Most psychology studies focusing on my good friend, wine, rely on applying the scientific method to the tasting of different wines, and this is done in one, relatively simple way: blind tasting.

Finance blogger at Reuters, Felix Salmon, isn’t a fan of blind tasting, and after reading his eminently-quotable piece on the subject I tend to agree. The problem, according to Salmon? We know that wine has a lot to do with context and, in tasting wine, objectivity is overvalued.

This from Bob Millman:

It should be obvious to any thinking person that blind tastings necessarily favor–on a group vote basis–wines which offer immediate pleasure and gratification. Left to their undirected devices, the senses will almost always gravitate to the obvious and miss the subtle

and this from Salmon:

If you know exactly what it is that you’re tasting — a young first-growth wine, for example — then you can taste it in that light. Similarly, if you know that you’re looking at an Ad Reinhardt painting, you’ll be willing to spend a few minutes with it so that you can appreciate its subtleties. If you didn’t know it was a Reinhardt, then you’d probably just read it as a black monochrome and move on.

In that article it is noted that professional wine taster Robert Parker does not taste wine blind because of these issues, and in a later article Salmon discusses how at one event, when Parker was persuaded to taste blind a selection of wines he had previously rated, he scored a once-reviled Bordeaux as his favourite of the evening. The following quote from the piece looks at the futility of (inherently subjective) wine ratings:

Wine is not a fungible commodity, where one bottle is always the same as the next — quite the opposite. But the fact that wine changes, from bottle to bottle and from month to month, rather defeats the purpose of [rankings and] magazines such as Wine Spectator.

The Frontal Cortex continues by saying that “our sensations require interpretation” and that “we parse their suggestions based upon whatever other knowledge we can summon to the surface”.

This point was brought home when, in 2004, Gourmet looked at the growing craze of Riedel wine glasses noting that what receptacle is used to drink wine from really does have a massive influence on how we perceive its taste and smell. This is mainly because,

Riedel and other high-end glasses can make wine taste better. Because they’re pretty. Because they’re delicate. Because they’re expensive. Because you expect them to make the wine taste better.

Researchers are now starting to look at this directly by running experiments on how the haptic qualities (feel) of a drinking vessel affects our perception of its contents.

Those who like to touch [high autotelics] are least influenced by touch in taste evaluations. Indeed, in a taste test of the same mineral water from both a flimsy and a firm cup, it was low autotelics [those who don’t like to touch] who gave the most negative evaluations of the taste of the water in the flimsy cup.

The results were similar when participants were just told about the containers in a written description and did not actually feel them: Low autotelics expressed a willingness to pay more for a firm bottle of water, while high autotelics did not.

So keep all this in mind if you’re a red wine fan when you next order fish: it’s now been shown that low-iron red wines are a perfect complement to some types of fish, so don’t let your pesky subconscious get to the wine first.

As Lawrence Rosenblum of Sensory Superpowers says, “you drink what you think”.

The Psychology of Wine

On Vines and Minds is an excellent summary of the history and psychology of wine (pdf/html).

Some topics of note:

  • Music radically influences our purchasing habits: classical music increases the amount we’re willing to spend while characteristically French music sways us toward wine from that region (similarly for German music/wine).
  • Colour affects the brain’s response to odours; as demonstrated when an odourless red die was mixed with white wine, fooling ‘Masters of Wine‘ into explaining its ‘nose’ using terms reserved for red wines.
  • Describing a wine has a drastic effect on how we later perceive that same wine, as shown when non-experts matched experts in identifying wines during blind taste tests… unless they had to describe the wine between tasting sessions.
  • Perceived price influences the amount of pleasure we derive from wine: fMRI scans have shown more ‘real’ physiological pleasure when tasting a wine labelled as more expensive compared to others at lower prices (even though it was the same wine throughout the study).

Another round-up of wine psychology—albeit a slightly less comprehensive one—comes from Freakonomics, where they point out that there is a zero (or even slightly negative) correlation between the perceived quality of a wine and its price when non-experts undergo blind taste tests. The article also notes:

  • This correlation is even stronger with champagne: a study showed a $12 sparkling wine from Washington was preferred nearly two to one to $150 Dom Perignon when the labels were removed.
  • People dislike a beverage if it contains a typically offensive flavouring, even though it actually improves the flavour: adding a small amount of balsamic vinegar to beer will slightly improve its flavour, but tell people it’s added before a tasting and few will prefer it to an untainted version; inform them after a tasting and they’re indifferent; don’t inform them at all and the majority prefer the tainted beer.
  • Hardy Rodenstock, one of the most infamous wine counterfeiters, fooled experts all around the world into purchasing fake 18th-century wine he claimed Thomas Jefferson once owned. His ruse was eventually uncovered by a private investigation financed by millionaire Bill Cock (who Rodenstock duped), using a horde of former FBI and MI5 agents. Interestingly, Rodenstock managed to dupe experts by “getting [them] shitfaced” (to quote the wine critic Robert Parker) prior to tasting the fake wine. (The story of the fraud is a lengthy—but fascinating—read.)

Finally, these two complementary studies could make for an interesting business model (think: wine bar serving cheap yet expensive looking wine, loud music, food available):

In conclusion you could say that this quote encapsulates everything you need to know about wine:

Wine does not live in a vacuum and it is sampled and savoured in the context of our life experiences.

P.S. Don’t forget the second cheapest wine syndrome.

Menu Consultants (or: Tips to Hack Restaurants)

A short piece in Time profiling Gregg Rapp: a “menu engineer” who optimises restaurant menus to maximise profits.

The first step is the design. Rapp recommends that menus be laid out in neat columns with unfussy fonts. The way prices are listed is very important. “This is the No. 1 thing that most restaurants get wrong,” he explains. “If all the prices are aligned on the right, then I can look down the list and order the cheapest thing.” It’s better to have the digits and dollar signs discreetly tagged on at the end of each food description. That way, the customer’s appetite for honey-glazed pork will be whetted before he sees its cost.

On a similar theme, another article looks at how using obscure terminology and unusual or hard-to-read typefaces can influence diners.

All this talk of influence, food and psychology reminds me of the little-known second-cheapest wine syndrome. The following from a Harvard Law Record article:

Restaurant owners will often price the wine they buy cheapest at wholesale as the second-cheapest wine on the menu. Why? Because people generally don’t order the cheapest wine and thus often turn to the second cheapest. Price that one higher, and you get a bigger marginal profit. Presto—restauranteur as microeconomist!

Higher Price Makes Cheap Wine Taste Better

Obvious stated, still fascinating. Mind Hacks: Higher price makes cheap wine taste better:

A new brain scanning study has supported what we’ve suspected all along, more expensive wine tastes better partly because we expect it to.


What the volunteers didn’t know was that there were only three different wines, and two of them were tasted twice. One one occasion it was described as costing $90 a bottle, on another as costing $10 a bottle.

The volunteers rated the ‘more expensive’ wine as significantly more likeable despite being identical to the ‘cheaper’ wine.

I’m sure the same must work when the upper end is more my price range (£15 is an expensive bottle of wine for me!).