Wine Preferences are Dictated by Past Alcohol Consumption Patterns

For nearly 30 years, research has suggested that there is a learning curve of wine preferences, starting off with new wine drinkers consuming sweeter wines and lower alcohol white wines, and eventually moving toward more complex red wines.¬† More current research suggests that learning through these past experiences and behaviors may guide current and future consumption patterns.¬† Somewhat related research has shown that past drinking experience in high school had a significant and positive influence on drinking patterns during college.¬† Similarly, ‚Äúbinge drinking‚ÄĚ has been shown to be associated with the age of first drinking wine and spirits.

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Even though this type of wine preference and behavior research has been studied for over 30 years, no studies have examined current wine sensory preferences based on consumers’ past alcoholic beverage preferences and behaviors.  The main objective of the study presented today was to evaluate whether consumers’ red and white wine preferences can be explained by their past alcoholic beverage consumption patterns or not.

Methods

Study participants were chosen from the general population throughout Adelaide, South Australia and were divided into two age groups (30-40 years old, and 50-60 years old).  Criteria for being a study participant included the consumption of at least one bottle of wine per week.  Participants were excluded if they worked in the wine industry, or if they were (or possibly were) alcohol-dependent.

Data were collected to two separate stages: the first being the participants drinking histories in the form of a questionnaire; and the second being a sensory evaluation where participants tasted different types of red and white wines.

For the participants drinking histories and current drinking patterns, the following information was evaluated:¬† socio-demographics, frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption, the type of beverage (and type of wine), ‚Äúbelief evaluations‚ÄĚ, and wine involvement for each phase of drinking history.¬† Other questions asked were current wine consumption patterns, average glass volume, and the weekly drinking frequency and quantity.

Drinking history phases included: Phase 1 (start of drinking history to age 29 years); Phase 2 (30-45 years); and Phase 3 (46-60 years).  Due to the age of the participants and the ages selected for each phase, participants in this study were all either Phase 2 or Phase 3 drinkers.

Based on previous knowledge of the general progression of wine sensory preferences, the following categories were examined for wine: sweet to non-sweet, and light to heavy.  20 white wines and 20 red wines were selected to cover the sweet to non-sweet and light to heavy dimensions of wine sensory characteristics.  Trained panelists blindly sorted the wines into three categories for each of the two dimensions: sweet, mid-sweet, not-sweet; and light, mid-light, heavy.

The participants returning for the sensory analysis were divided into two groups, with one group tasting the white wines (72 Phase 2 participants and 76 Phase 3 participants), and the other group tasting the red wines (63 Phase 2 participants and 72 Phase 3 participants). 

Each participant evaluated nine wines, and indicated their acceptance of the wine on a 9 point hedonic scale.  Each wine was presented blindly, without any label information available.  Tastings were carried out in individual air-conditioned booths.  Crackers and water were available for palette cleansing.  Participants were told to sip and spit, and afterwards underwent an alcohol intoxication test before leaving the facility.

Participants were also asked to rank each wine from the least sweet to the sweetest, and also the lightest to the heaviest, the results of which were compared to the results concluded by the trained panelists who chose the wines to begin with.

Participants also filled out believe evaluation questionnaires to determine the importance of various factors that could influence one‚Äôs acceptance of a particular wine.¬† Participates were shown a statement to which they indicated how much they agreed or disagreed.¬† For example, for the factor of ‚Äútaste‚ÄĚ, one statement could read ‚ÄúI usually drank the wine at the time because of its taste‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúAt the time, taste was important to me when choosing an alcoholic beverage‚ÄĚ.¬† With the first statement, participants would indicate how much they agreed or disagreed.¬† With the second statement, participants would indicate how important or unimportant it was to them.

The belief evaluation factors that were studied in this analysis were: 1) ‚ÄúSocial & Pleasure‚ÄĚ (social life, parties/celebration, fun/relaxing time, outdoor BBQ‚Äôs, business meals); 2) ‚ÄúDetail‚ÄĚ (region of origin, new experiences with wine, knowledge of wine, grape variety, experts‚Äô opinions, country of origin); 3) ‚ÄúRegular‚ÄĚ (regular meals at home, complementing food, health benefits, routine/habit, taste, treat); 4) ‚ÄúIntimate‚ÄĚ (family or friends‚Äô suggestions, higher prices for special occasions, intimate dinner, dinner with friends); 5) ‚ÄúSensory‚ÄĚ (dry, sweet, light, heavy); and 6) ‚ÄúValue‚ÄĚ (price, value for the cost).

Results

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† White wines were analyzed by 148 participants (75 male, 73 female) and red wines were analyzed by 135 participants (73 male, 62 female).
  • ¬† ¬† ¬† White wine consumers were able to distinguish between the sweet and non-sweet wines.
  • ¬† ¬† ¬† White wine consumers could not distinguish wines on the light-heavy dimension.
  • ¬† ¬† ¬† Red wine consumers were able to distinguish between both the sweet-non-sweet dimension and the light-heavy dimension.
  • ¬† ¬† ¬† There were no differences in acceptance scores in either of the dimensions.
  • ¬† ¬† ¬† Multiple linear regression analysis showed that current wine acceptance is a function of past consumption history.

o   There was a tendency for past consumption history to influence white wine acceptance, whereas more recent consumption history influences red wine acceptance.

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† More recent consumption history belief evaluations were important for predicting current wine acceptance.

White Wines

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† Phase 2 participants‚Äô (younger) mid-sweet and mid-light white wine scores were positively predicted by the previous phase total number of drinks of white wine consumed and also the male gender.

o   In essence, men consuming more white wines in their younger years preferred wines mid-sweet and mid-light in the current time period.

  • ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†¬†Phase 2 participants‚Äô sweet and mid-light white wine scores were positively predicted by the previous phase total number of drinks of white wine consumed, and negatively predicted by income, previous red wine consumption, and the most recent ‚ÄúRegular‚ÄĚ belief evaluation score.

o   In essence, participants consuming more white wines in their younger years, with lower income, less red wine consumption, and less regular consumption of wine preferred sweet and mid-light white wines in the current time period.

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† Phase 3 participants‚Äô (older) sweet and light white wine scores were positively predicted by the most recent ‚ÄúRegular‚ÄĚ belief evaluation score, the male gender, and the previous phase total number of drinks of beer, and was negatively predicted by the most recent ‚ÄúValue‚ÄĚ belief evaluation score.

o   In essence, men currently consuming wine in regular situations, who historically consumed greater amounts of beer, preferred sweet and light wines in the current time period.

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† Phase 3 participants‚Äô sweet and heavy white wine scores were positively predicted by the previous phase total number of spirits consumed, and was negatively predicted by the belief evaluation factors ‚ÄúSensory‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúRegular‚ÄĚ, their current employment situation, and their previous beer consumption.

o   In essence, participants consuming more spirits in their younger years, currently not consuming wine in regular situations, less employed, and less beer consumed in their younger years preferred sweet and heavy white wines in the current time period.

Red Wines

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† Phase 2 participants‚Äô not sweet and heavy red wine scores were positively predicted by living with others, and negatively predicted by income, the number of people living at home, and the current consumption of spirits per year.

o   In essence, participants who lived with fewer numbers of people, lower income, and less spirit consumption per year, preferred not sweet and heavy red wines in the current time period.

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† Phase 2 participants‚Äô mid-sweet and heavy red wine scores were positively predicted by age and the current number of spirits consumed per year, and negatively predicted by the number of people living at home.

o   In essence participants who were older, consuming more spirits per year, and living with fewer numbers of people at home preferred mid-sweet and heavy red wines in the current time period.

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† Phase 2 participants‚Äô sweet and heavy red wine scores were positively predicted by education.

o   In essence, participants were higher education levels preferred sweet and heavy reds in the current time period.

  • ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†Phase 3 participants‚Äô not sweet and mid-light red wine scores were positively predicted by the current amount of white wines consumed per year, the belief evaluation factors of ‚ÄúDetail‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúSocial & Pleasure‚ÄĚ, and negatively predicted by current red wine consumption per year and the ‚ÄúRegular‚ÄĚ belief evaluation factor.

o   In essence, participants consuming greater amounts of white wine per year, who prefer to know more details about the wine itself, who drink wine in many different social situations, who drink less red wine per year, and who do not drink wine as frequently in regular situations, preferred to drink not sweet and mid-light red wines in the current time period.

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† Phase 3 participants‚Äô sweet and light red wine scores were negatively predicted by income and the current numbers of beer consumed per year.

o   In essence, participants consuming more beer and who do not take in as much income as others preferred sweet and light red wines in the current time period.

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† Phase 3 participants‚Äô sweet and mid-light red wine scores were positively predicted by the belief evaluation factors ‚ÄúDetail‚ÄĚ, ‚ÄúValue‚ÄĚ, and ‚ÄúSensory‚ÄĚ, and the number of people living at home, and were negatively predicted by the belief evaluation ‚ÄúRegular‚ÄĚ factor and the current number of beers consumed per year.

o   In essence, participants who prefer greater detail in their wines, a great value for the money, more people living at home, consuming wine not frequently in regular situations, and consuming more beers per year preferred sweet and mid-light red wines in the current time period.

  • ¬† ¬† ¬† Phase 3 participants‚Äô sweet and heavy red wine scores were positively predicted by the ‚ÄúRegular‚ÄĚ belief evaluation factor, and negatively predicted by the ‚ÄúDetail‚ÄĚ belief evaluation factor and income.

o   In essence, participants who drink wine during regular situations, who do not prefer to know many details about the wine, and who have lower income preferred to drink sweet and heavy reds during the current time period.

Conclusions

According to the authors, this study is the first attempt to explain wine sensory preferences based on past alcohol consumption information and associated behaviors.  Based on their analysis this historical consumption and behavior information explained a medium to high percentage of the variation of the population.

Major results indicated that consumers have a stronger association between white wine sensory preferences and alcohol consumption history compared to red wine.  The study also found that current wine preferences are better explained by drinking history when the participants were older (in Phase 3).  Another important piece of the puzzle found by the study was that white wine’s acceptance is more influenced by an individuals’ past drinking history, while red wine’s acceptance is more influenced by an individuals’ current drinking habits.  Based on these results, it is likely that marketing strategies will be more effective for red wine than white wine, since red wine consumption appears to be more tied to current habits.

I‚Äôd love to hear what you all think of this study and the results!¬† Also, if you think I made any mistakes with my ‚Äúin essence‚ÄĚ assumptions, feel free to discuss!¬†

Source: Melo, L., Delahunty, C., and Cox, D.N. 2011. A new approach using consumers‚Äô ‚Äėdrinking histories‚Äô to explain current wine acceptance. Food Research International 44: 3235-3242.

DOI: 10.1016/j.foodres.2011.08.016
I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!