May (No. 496)
Wine consumers and markers: are they speaking the same language?
Dr Sue Bastian , University of Adelaide
Wine is a product characterised by several extrinsic and intrinsic elements including its somewhat unique ability to stimulate the human taste, olfactory and tactile senses in specific ways. The wine value chain of today is long and as a result producers have largely lost direct contact with the consumers of their wine products. Hence communicating the sensory characteristics of wine more effectively than ever before has arguably increased in importance.
Not surprisingly then, the use of specific words to describe the taste, aroma and mouthfeel of a wine product has long intrigued the research community. The realms of sensory evaluation and perception, as well as language and cognitive skills have been explored in this regard. The complexity of discerning certain aromas, tastes and mouthfeel sensations has led to several examinations of the phenomena of so-called wine taster expertise and their ability to recognise and describe wine flavours.
Most wine consumers are of course untrained. Increasing consumers’ wine knowledge has been part of an overall marketing thrust of the industry. Perhaps of equal if not more importance is a better understanding of the vocabulary untrained consumers use to describe wine.
Few research studies have included untrained tasting panels to understand how sensory descriptors are used. Lawless (1984) tested the descriptive wine sensory skills of trained and untrained tasting panels, yet provided some information cues to the subjects. A study by Gawel (1997) provided subjects (trained and untrained experienced wine tasters) with peer-generated descriptions to match to wines. So far no study has collected the unprompted descriptions and terminology used by the every day and untrained wine consumer to convey his or her perceptions about wine.
NOTE: The complete article can be found in the May issue of The Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker.