Do Wine Names Make a Difference?

According to a recent NPR piece, “Fancy Names Can Fool Wine Geeks Into Paying More For A Bottle,” a marketing experiment done by Antonia Mantonakis, a wine researcher at Brock University in Ontario, found that:

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 was interested in which factors influence taste perception.  The hypothesis?  That consumer’s would perceive a higher value for wines from wineries with more difficult-to-pronounce names. The research suggests that consumers not only liked the taste of the difficult-to-pronounce wine better but also a exhibited a higher willingness to buy and a higher willingness to pay a premium. The most surprising finding, however, was that this was especially true for “participants who have a higher knowledge about the product of wine.”

I’m actually not all that surprised. People like to feel “informed and sophisticated” when ordering wine says Barbara Nowak, one of the Saucy Sisters radio hosts, wine entertainers and authors, in an article on pronouncing wine names.  Nowak sent out a survey asking for nominations for the most difficult-to-pronounce wine words. Her conclusion:

There are a whole lot of wines NOT being ordered because no one knows how to say their names.

I also wonder if there is a demographic factor. For example, might younger wine drinkers be turned off by difficult-to-pronounce wine names because they sound snobby?

Other research has shown that consumers use the “ease of processing” as one variable in making judgements on a wide range of products. We also know that wine purchasing often involves a fairly complex decision-making process that involves factors that do not often come into play or are paradoxical when purchasing other products. For example, we know that an ‘organic’ label is actually a turn off to wine consumers.

But questions remain whether the name is more important than other variables, say, price or brand or grape varietal. I would venture to say yes – that price or brand or grape varietal, production methods are the necessary elements of good wine. A difficult-to-pronounce name might be the icing on the cake so to speak. I stand by my conviction that many  difficult-to-pronounce wineries, such as Sokol Blosser and Mulderbosch, produce great wines at good prices and I’ll just never know what their name has to do with it.

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