Comparing the effects of vision, smell and taste in red wine quality judgments by experts: sensory cues, mental imagery and verbal representations as drivers of consensus in the multisensory space

In this study, we evaluated the contributions of vision, smell and taste to red wine quality judgments by expert wine tasters. Whereas previous studies specified the modulating effects of gustatory traits [1], culture and expertise [2, 3], our objective was to gain a better understanding of the perceptual mechanisms, with special consideration of the psychological representations that predict consensus in red wine quality judgments. To this aim, we compared wine tasters’ responses in unconstrained (i.e., all senses involved) and constrained wine tastings (i.e., unisensory: “visual”, “smell” and “taste”; multisensory: “visual-smell”, “visual-taste” and “taste-smell”) over six wine tasting sessions. In each session, wine tasters rated the quality of 20 red wines from a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO, premium vs. secondary wines), starting with an unconstrained tasting and then followed by a constrained tasting. We also collated predictors based on wine tasters’ responses to self-report questionnaires that assessed vividness of mental imagery in visual, smell, taste, somesthetic and wine contexts. Using a series of vocabulary tasks, we also evaluated whether lexical capacity predicts consensus in red wine quality judgments. 

Overall, our results showed a coherent quality concept across unconstrained and constrained wine tastings, with a clear quality distinction favoring premium wines. However, principal component analyses suggested a better quality judgement consensus with unisensory vision cues compared to all other sensory conditions. Going further, regression analyses also revealed specific drivers of red wine quality judgment consensus that are based on age, vividness of wine mental imagery, lexical capacity and consensus, as well as unisensory smell consensus and to a lesser degree, multisensory visual-taste consensus and unisensory taste consensus. 

Common experiences with wine, as well as the number of years tasting might promote strong vividness for wine representations (images and vocabulary), which in turn help predict wine tasters’ inclusion to the consensus involved with red wine quality judgments. Taken together, this study gives us an insightful look at the individual knowledge base, as well as the experience and representational cues that could delineate expert status. Further research in this direction could help promote informed teaching curricula in professional training and expert wine tasting.

[1] Saenz-Navajas, M.-P., Avizcuri, J.-M., Ballester, J., Fernandez-Zurbano, P., Ferreira, V., Peyron, D., et al. (2015). Sensory-active compounds influencing wine experts’ and consumers’ perception of red wine intrinsic quality. LWT – Food Science and Technology, 60, 400–411. 
[2] Saenz-Navajas, M.-P., Ballester, J., Pecher, C., Peyron, D., and Valentin, D. (2013). Sensory drivers of intrinsic quality of red wines: Effect of cultures and level of expertise. Food Research International, 54, 1506–1518. 
[3] Valentin, D., Parr, W. V., Peyron, D., Grose, C., and Ballester, J. (2016). Colour as a driver of Pinot noir wine quality judgments: An investigation involving French and New Zealand wine professionals. Food Quality and Preference, 48, 251-261.

Authors: André Caissie, Laurent Riquier, Gilles De Revel, Sophie Tempère 

Unité de recherche Oenologie, EA 4577, USC 1366 INRA, ISVV, Université de Bordeaux, Bordeaux INP, F33882 Villenave d’Ornon France 
INRA, ISVV, USC 1366 OEnologie, F-33140, Villenave d’Ornon, France. 

Email: andre.caissie@u-bordeaux.fr 

Keywords: Wine tasting, Perceptual mechanisms, Mental Imagery, Vocabulary 

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