Emotions and Wine: Finally Some Empirical Data

wine and emotionAs dedicated readers of this blog are likely aware, I’ve been arguing that we respond to wines not just with our senses but with emotions as well. (See articles here and here for example) In some cases a particular wine may directly induce an emotional response in us. In other cases, we make metaphorical associations with a wine that has emotional connotations.

Thus far I’ve been relying primarily on my own experiences and the experiences of others who report such experiences. My thesis is not that associating wine with emotions is a common activity. I don’t know how widespread it is. Rather I claim that such associations are available to us if we pay attention to them and that they enhance the aesthetic experience of wine in just the way paying attention to emotional expression in music enhances the experience of music.

Now there is some empirical data to support my thesis. The Academic Wino is reporting on a study, apparently the first of its kind, to be published in the journal Food Quality and Preference entitled “The Relationship Between Sensory Characteristics and Emotion in Wine Preferences”. The study shows that consumers do in fact make these associations between wine and emotions. Unfortunately, the study is behind a paywall and I don’t yet have access to it. But The Academic Wino helpfully summarizes it for us.

This study had two parts:  a sensory evaluation of the wines by a trained panel (11 total: 5 women, 6 men; faculty and researchers from the School of Agricultural, Food and Biosystems Engineering at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in Spain), and a consumer evaluation of the wines with an additional emotional response analysis…

The sensory evaluation by the trained panel used standard tasting methodology. The consumer evaluation is the interesting part.

For the consumer evaluation, participants were first asked to complete questionnaires on demographics and wine consumption habits. Next, they participated in a “warm-up” or “practice” tasting session with 7 wines presented [blind] at the same time.  Finally, after the warm-up, they were presented with the sample of 6 test wines briefly mentioned above.

After tasting the wines (which were presented in random order), participants were asked to rate their liking of each wine (using a 9-point hedonic scale), and what emotions were elicited by each wine (using the EsSense 25 software). Emotions were rated using a 10-cm line scale with the labels “very low” and “very high” at the ends (and everything in between).

The 208 participants were recruited from the School of Agricultural, Food and Biosystems Engineering at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, consumed wine at least once a month, and included young adults, middle aged adults and older adults. Here are some of the results:

  • “Most of the emotion terms evaluated were found to be significantly different between the wines.
  • Only 4 out of 26 terms did not show significant association with the wines (“adventurous”, “free”, “wild”, and “worried”).
  • The emotion terms “good”, “happy”, “joyful”, “mild”, and “pleasant”, were positively associated with fruity and floral aromas/flavors in the wines.
  • The emotion terms “aggressive” and “guilty” were associated with the aromas/flavors of vanilla, clove, and licorice.
  • “Aggressive” was also found to be associated with astringent characteristics.
  • Using cluster analysis, wines were found to be grouped differently when looking at sensory characteristics alone versus when looking at emotional variables alone. (NOTE:  cluster analysis shows which wines are most similar to each other.)
    • Sensory analysis grouped the wines as: 1) the verdejo white in one group; 2) the chardonnay and rosé wine in another group; 3) a Rioja Tempranillo (2012) and a Ribera del Duero Tempranillo in another group; and 4) a different Rioja Tempranillo (2013) in the last group.
    • Emotion analysis grouped the wines as: 1) the verdejo and chardonnay wines in one group; 2) the rose wine in another group; 3) the two Rioja Tempranillos (2012, 2013) in another group; and 4) the Ribera del Duero Tempranillo in the last group.”

There were some differences depending on gender and age which I will ignore for now.

The conclusions however are a bit puzzling. I’m not sure if these are conclusions drawn by the authors of the study or by The Academic Wino. She writes:

Out of 26 different emotions of focus in this study, only 4 were found to be insignificant (“adventurous”, “free”, “wild”, and “worried”), providing evidence that emotions are important in the overall enjoyment of a wine and thus preference.

It is certainly evidence that such associations are intelligible and meaningful to consumers. However, it’s not clear to me how emotional response figured into overall enjoyment. Participants were asked to rate their liking of each wine so perhaps the study correlated preferences with various emotional responses. But the conclusion has some odd implications.

If a wine conjures up negative emotions for an individual, that person is probably not going to buy that bottle of wine in the future.

This doesn’t sound right to me. The summary states that emotion terms “aggressive” and “guilty” were associated with the aromas/flavors of vanilla, clove, and licorice. And that “aggressive” was associated with astringency, meaning the coarseness of the tannins. These are all descriptors associated with big, red wines such as at least some Tempranillo. But surely we can’t conclude from this that tannic, red wines with vanilla and clove notes are unpopular because they evoke negative emotions.

In terms of relationships between emotions and specific wine styles, the study found that white wine characteristics were often associated with more positive emotions, while aged wine characteristics were associated more often with negative emotions.

It is true that aged wines are not to everyone’s taste. But among wine lovers, connoisseurs, etc. aged wines are esteemed. And in the general wine drinking public big red wines, dubbed aggressive in this study, are also much admired. So I’m a bit suspicious of the claim that wines associated with negative emotions are therefore not enjoyable. Again, as I’ve been arguing, the association is often metaphorical. We associate astringent wines with aggressive emotions but they don’t make us feel angry or afraid. It’s an association, not a direct causal relationship between the wine and an emotion. Similarly, a piece of music may express anger or fear, but we don’t feel angry or afraid when listening, and it’s that expression that we find enjoyable despite the fact the emotion may be classified as “negative”.

So we need more studies that can tease out this relationship between what is expressed, what is felt, and how these factors influence preferences.

At any rate, this is a fascinating area of research and thanks to the Academic Wino for summarizing it.

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