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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Grape expectations: how the proportion of white grape in Champagne affects the ratings of experts and social drinkers in a blind tasting

Vanessa Harrar1*, Barry Smith2, Ophelia Deroy2 and Charles Spence1

Author Affiliations

1 Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3UD, UK

2 Centre for the Study of the Senses, University of London, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU, UK

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Flavour 2013, 2:25  doi:10.1186/2044-7248-2-25

Published: 29 November 2013

Abstract

Background

Champagnes (or sparkling wines that are made using the ‘méthode champenoise’) are composed of white and/or red wine grapes. Their relative proportions are thought to contribute to a sparkling wine’s distinctive flavour profile, but this has not yet been tested empirically. We, therefore, conducted a blind tasting experiment in which the participants had to report the perceived proportion of white grapes in a range of seven sparkling wines (including six Champagnes).

Results

The participants, including four expert, six intermediate, and five novice Champagne tasters, were unable to accurately judge the percentage of white grapes in the wines. Instead, the perceived proportion of white grape was correlated with the dosage and alcohol content of the wines. The hedonic ratings for the Champagnes did not correlate with price. Further, the more expensive Champagnes were only appreciated by the expert tasters.

Conclusions

Dosage and alcohol content appear to be the two attributes that tasters rely on when judging the contribution that different grape types make to the distinctive flavour of a sparkling wine. In the case of Champagne, flavour perception relies on a complex combination of factors including alcohol content, dosage, price expectancy, and experience with the product. The present results have implications for marketing Champagnes; they might be better if focused on the distinctive characteristics of each cuvee, or simplicity (blends versus non-blends), since these might be easier characteristics to detect than the proportion of white versus red grapes.

Keywords:
Blind tasting; Blends; Sparkling wine; Grape colour; Champagne; Expertise