Wine Drinkers Will Pay More for Bottles with Hard-to-Pronounce Names

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date: 2008/03/13 | release status: NR | date created: 2008:03:15

What’s in a name? One study shows that in terms of wine, the name on the label can have a big impact on how much drinkers enjoy the taste—as well as how much they’re willing to pay. Wine enthusiasts report higher levels in both cases when the bottle has a fancy, difficult-to-pronounce name.

A year ago, a New York magazine blogger wrote a half-serious, sorta-brilliant post advising casual wine drinkers of the wisdom of judging wines strictly by their labels. Though we’ve all heard we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, book covers do usually say something about the story and writing (see: any Harlequin romance cover). Likewise, the names, graphics, and colors chosen for a wine bottle often revealed a lot about what’s inside, the post theorizes. Take, for example, what’s on display on a classic French wine bottle:

The words Appellation Bordeaux Contrlôlée Mis En Bouteille a La Propriété should tell you everything you need to know. It’s the fancy stuff, and it will taste sort of like dirt, but in a good way.

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Presumably, wine drinkers will enjoy, and be willing to pay more for, such so-called “fancy stuff.” This appears to be the case even when the wine is fancy in name (but not necessarily taste) alone.

An NPR story details the results of a marketing study by Antonia Mantonakis, a wine researcher from Ontario’s Brock University. In a series of controlled tests, participants were asked to taste various wines, then report how much they liked and were willing to pay for each:

“Participants not only reported liking the taste of the wine better if it was associated with a difficult to pronounce winery name. But they also reported about a $2 increase in willingness to pay,” Mantonakis says.

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What’s particularly interesting is that participants who knew more about wine were more likely to report that difficult-to-pronounce wines were worth more money. The assumption among wine geeks, says Mantonakis, seems to be that “if something is rare and unique then maybe it might be a higher value and it maybe something that is more special.”

The results yet again demonstrate the enormous role that assumptions—rather than actual consumer preference and taste regarding the liquid coming out of the bottle—play in how and why people choose a wine to enjoy over dinner. A previous study notes that wine critics may be bothered or impressed by certain chemicals that the average drinker never notices. And yet, it’s these subtle, virtually undetectable tastes that can influence how experts rate wines. So what? Well, so what is that these ratings are cues for wine drinkers, telling them how tasty a wine is, and how much it’s worth.

One of the study’s authors said that ratings and input from critics directly impact the drinker’s experience, with the general rule coming down to: “If you think the wine is supposed to be good, you’re going to enjoy it a lot.”

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Apparently, the presence of a fancy, difficult-to-pronounce name also indicates that the wine is supposed to be good. Therefore, in an example demonstrating the dizzying, somewhat depressing power of marketing as well as the human brain, the drinker deems that the wine does, in fact, taste good—better, in fact, than the same exact wine bearing a more fluid, easier-to-pronounce name.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.