Is Wine Bottle Weight Associated with Wine Quality?

Just looking down the aisle at the wine shop, you all know that there are a lot of different wines to choose from.  Most of the time one does not know much about the quality and thus have to make their purchase decisions based on other factors such as brand name, price, labeling, and advertisements.  One study found that consumers focus on two main attributes when making their purchasing decisions: 1) the shape/size/color of the bottle, and 2) the type of closure and label.  To date, most of the studies have focused on the impact of labeling on purchase intention, and very few have examined the effect of bottle shape/size.

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With other types of products, studies have shown that consumers associate heavier products with better quality.  Some may think that as a result of this finding, if it applies to wine, could fool consumers into thinking the wine is a higher price/quality, when perhaps maybe it is not.  Wine bottles come in a wide variety of sizes, with weights varying from 300g to 900g (empty), with an average of 500g.  One of the few studies examining bottle weight and effects on consumers found that consumers did associate heavier bottles with higher quality wine. 

One more psychological study examined consumer preferences with vodka and found similar results.  By taking a heavy glass bottle and a lighter glass bottle and filling them with the exact same amount of vodka, those participants in the study that noticed the weight difference preferred the heavier bottle, since it was perceived as being more expensive/better quality.  The main problem with this study was that there was no statistical analysis performed, so one can’t be sure if these results were “real”.

So, does the weight of the bottle really give an indication of the price and quality of the wine inside?  The cost of the bottle itself is something to consider: lightweight bottles are weaker (generally) and more likely to break during transportation, so often times stronger bottles would be preferred.  Consumers often believe that for higher quality wines, the increased cost of glass in a stronger bottles is small when compared to the risk of breakage.

There were five overall goals for the study presented today: 1) to determine if there is a correlation between bottle weight and price; 2) to determine if there are correlations between bottle weight and vintage, color, and country of origin; 3) to determine the variation in the marketplace in regards to weight; 4) to determine if there are any correlations between bottle weight and whether the wine is “old world” style or “new world” style; and 5) to determine if consumers make any associations between bottle weight and price or quality.

Methods

The study was performed in a wine shop in Oxford, England.  Over 500 bottles were weighed with a kitchen scale with the main characteristics of the wine inside noted. 

To determine consumers’ opinions on bottle weight and price/quality, online questionnaires were sent out to wine experts, people in educational agronomy and food technology departments, as well as the general public (all in Spain).  In the email sent out, it was noted that the purpose of the questionnaire was to collect information about general wine consumption, preference, and wine knowledge.  Participants were asked to determine their level of expertise with wine, their frequency of wine consumption, and their preferred variety of wine.  Data for any participant consuming less than one glass of wine per week was not included in the analysis.

Results

  •       In general, participants thought that the weight of the bottle had more to do with price than the quality of the wine contained within.

o   Differences were found between the three consumer groups (naïve, amateur, expert):

§  Specifically with naïve consumers (and less so with amateurs and experts), there was a trend of higher quality wines being associated with heavier bottles.

  •       The weight of the bottles were positively correlated with the price of the wines, and inversely correlated with the vintage.

o   Heavier bottle = greater price.

o   Heavier bottle = older wine.

  •        Alcohol content was positively correlated with the weight of the bottle.

o   Heavier bottle = higher alcohol.

§  Red wines had higher alcohol content than white wines.

·         Therefore, the color of the wine was significantly correlated with the weight of the bottle, though this was not found in every country of origin.

  •       There were no significant differences between New World and Old World wines in regards to wine bottle weight.
  •       Results by country:

o   Australia:  The younger the wine, the lighter the bottle.

o   France: The heavier the bottle, the higher the price, the higher the alcohol, and the older the vintage.

o   Italy: The heavier the bottle, the higher the price, the higher the alcohol, and the older the vintage. (Same as France!)

o   South Africa: The heavier the bottle, the higher the price and the older the vintage.

o   Spain: The heavier the bottle, the higher the price, the higher the alcohol.  There was no correlation with vintage.

Conclusions

In general, this very short study found that the weight of the wine bottles was strongly correlated with the price of the bottle, which varied slightly from country to country and by type of wine.  The authors did not find any direct correlations between the price of a bottle of wine and its’ perceived quality. 

One major problem with this study was that, according to the authors, the methods used did not explicitly test whether consumers actually rely on the weight of the bottle to determine price and quality.  I was slightly miffed by the fact, as I would assume that a study setting out to test a particular hypothesis would actually design the experiment properly instead of going about it in a roundabout way.  However, I suppose this study could have been more of an initial observation, the results of which could help the authors determine if more detailed analysis needs to be performed, or if they are way out in left field with their ideas.  By performing the similar questionnaires first, the authors have some idea of potentially significant outcomes, the next study of which could be designed to more explicitly test these theories. 

For example, in order to explicitly test whether consumers actually rely on the weight of the wine bottle in order to estimate price and quality of the wine within, study participants would need to actually taste and rate the same wine when served from bottles having different weights.  The authors bring up one potential issue with this design in that the shape of the bottle may also play a role in determining price and quality.  Specifically, different bottle shapes have different centers of gravity, which may give the illusion that one bottle is heavier than another, even if they are the same weight.  This variable would most certainly need to be taken into account with future research.

In a nutshell, there appears to be some correlation between bottle weight and price based on simple online questionnaires, however, to really determine if consumers associate heavier bottles with higher price and potentially higher quality, taste experiments using the same wine in different size/shape bottles must be performed.

What do you all this of this study?  Please feel free to comment below (no html tags).

Source: Piqueras-Fiszman, B., and Spence, C. 2012. The weight of the bottle as a possible extrinsic cue with which to estimate the price (and quality) of the wine? Observed correlations. Food Quality and Preference 25: 41-45.

DOI: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2012.01.001
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!

10 comments for “Is Wine Bottle Weight Associated with Wine Quality?

  1. Bob B.
    May 8, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Bottle size is all about marketing and very little about wine storage, at least in my experience. The California producers of premium wines, and probably to a lesser extent those of Oregon & Washington, package in larger bottles (taller, wider or both) because those "grander" bottles exude and reinforce the premium quality they are "selling". Some producers backed off using such larger bottles, because it added to shipping costs, "repackaged" their image under a "greener" format, lowering their carbon footprints. Premium French Chateaux from Bordeaux and Burgundy don't indulge in using larger bottles to a great extent, and so that discounts the use of more massive bottles as a storage issue. In reality, most commercial wine storage cabinets are challenged accommodating the bigger bottles, as their length prohibits double stacking in some cases.

  2. Pat Mac
    May 8, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    I find that when I bottle and store my home wines that it is much easier to lay the bottles down and not affect a tipping action if you use a straight sided bottle. The tapered sides take away some storage space and might fall out of a bin that is open in the front. I have tried to bottle in magnum and larger sized and at a party the consumers always preferred the larger format. Small sampling population so it's a poor study size. I have also put the same wines into different weight bottles and get the same results. The consumer prefers the heavier weight bottle. I have also experienced the bottle weight and the effect on breakage where a lighter weight bottle will break and sometimes a heavier bottle will actually bounce. Go figure.

  3. May 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Thanks for your great comments and insights! I'd be curious to see how many wineries will switch to the lighter weight "green" bottles to adjust their image.

  4. May 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Sounds like you're ready to run your own experiment! 🙂 Thanks for the great comments!

  5. Leslie Hennessy
    May 9, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    As a wine merchant in San Francisco for 34 years we keep asking these heavy glass bottle producers- did you think that wine merchants have standard wine display shelves. Even if a wine in large format is great we pass on it. The only exception is J Sparking. That packaging sells the wine. Leslie Hennessy, Hennessy's Wines San Francisco

  6. May 10, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    I can imagine not too many people have the proper space to store large format bottles (or at least not too many of them)! Thank you for your input on the topic! Cheers!

  7. Christian Miller
    May 10, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Could you clarify the design of this experiment? There is reference to it taking place in a shop with weighed bottles, but then it appears that the consumer responses were derived from an online survey, i.e. in response to hypothetical heavy/medium/light bottles rather than being exposed to actual bottles. At any point were consumers asked for their reactions to actual bottles in hand, and if so were other stimuli (e.g. labels) controlled for? Or is the part about correlations between bottle size and price just an analysis of store inventory?

  8. May 11, 2012 at 2:20 am

    Hi Christian! Sure thing!

    The shop portion of the experiment and the online questionnaire portion were two separate events, and no time were the consumers asked their reaction to bottles actually in hand. You're spot on with your last question, in that the correlations between bottle size and price was an analysis of store inventory.

    There are definitely some things I'd like to see done differently, and one is the experiment you suggested regarding determining consumer reactions based on them physically holding the bottles and analyzing them.

    Thanks for your questions/comments!

  9. Antonio Graça
    May 13, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    Having tasted for several years at the International Wine Challenge in London, I always find it funny when we get a heavy bottle in one of the flights, as they stir some interesting reactions from tasters. All bottles are covered with a black plastic bag, so we cannot see it, but we feel its weight when pouring in the glasses. Comments such as «if they spent so much in glass, they probably spent less than necessary in what's inside» or «it's a heavie, beware» or «heavy bottle, they won't sell in Ontario» are quite common place.

    I have found that tasters coming from trade will usually mark poorer a wine from a heavy bottle than winemakers . Inversely, Old World winemakers will mark it better than New World winemakers. This, independentely of the wine's actual quality. I have no statistical significance on this observation, but so didn't the study you refer here.

    I am an Old World winemaker getting older. My first reaction at a heavy bottle is however a suspicious one. I cannot understand why spend so much in glass as it makes no difference for the main purpose of a bottle: to preserve wine. It does however create difficulties in the bottling line, it will render transportation more expensive, it will produce higher carbon emissions, it will make for more awkward storage and shop display and more expensive glass recycling. It may also account for some wrist springing or worse for foot injury if the bottle slips from someone's hand. If the producer wants to provide the consumer with a really heavy experience then he/she should bottle Magnums or Double-Magnums and the sort, i.e. bigger bottles for consumers who enjoy them. Thickening the glass on 0.750 mL bottles seems to me a really obvious trick to fool the consumer into thinking he is buying more wine than he/she really is.

  10. May 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Thank you for your comments, Antonio! That's really fascinating that you saw a difference in scores between Old World winemakers and New World winemakers! It's amazing how different styles and/or cultures differ in their preferences based on something as simple as the weight of a wine bottle!

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