Taste perception higher with lower alcohol wines

Taste perception is increased when we drink lower alcohol wines rather than those with a high abv according to a new study by Spanish neuroscientists.

As reported by Discover magazine, lower alcohol wines produce more brain activity in taste processing areas than higher alcohol wines.

As part of the study, published in scientific journal PLoS ONE, 21 participants underwent MRI scans in order to measure their brain activity.

During the scan, participants tasted samples of different red wines via a tube placed in their mouth. Wines were paired in twos, with each tasting session featuring one low alcohol and one high alcohol wine.

The pairs of wines were similar in character and flavour profile, the main distinguishing feature being their difference in alcohol level.

While higher alcohol wines are thought to be more powerful and full bodied, the results showed stronger brain activity to low alcohol wines compared to high alcohol ones in the part of the brain responsible for taste perception.

In fact, there were no parts of the brain where the higher alcohol wines caused stronger brain activity.

While lower alcohol wines aren’t actually stronger or more flavoursome than their high alcohol counterparts, the study found that participants paid more attention to the flavours they offered than those found in the high alcohol wines.

“The low alcohol wines induced a greater attentional orienting and exploration of the sensory attributes relatively to high alcohol content wines,” Ram Frost, leader of the study, told Discovery magazine.

“Our findings support the view that lower alcohol wines have a better chance of inducing greater sensitivity to the overall flavour expressed by the wine,” he added.

3 Responses to “Taste perception higher with lower alcohol wines”

  1. paul says:

    Ok. Define high abv, low abv. Quantify it.

  2. Steve says:

    I am not a fan of high alcohol wines, that said, I have some questions about the study before an all encompassing statement can be made as a fact.
    Drinking wine while laying down does not let the juice linger in the mouth but rather mostly on the back of the tongue.
    No food is another issue.
    What was the impact on the other issues that effect flavor of wine-Mouth-feel and aroma’s?
    To a lesser degree, but nonetheless present, is the impact of visual processing of wine color.
    “Paid more Attention to flavors” in low alcohol wine…that is an interesting statement that is puzzling. No answer is given as to why or was it a design flaw?
    In the tested low alcohol wine-how was the low alcohol content of the wine achieved-spining cone tech, winemaking, lower brix of the fruit? What factors went into the low alcohol test samples of wine.
    High alcohol wine can have a Hot feature (as noted in Dr. Ann Noble’s research-Aroma Wheel) but with sufficient areation it does go away. That might be a hint of high alcohol for test subjects.
    Containers, especially vinyl, as in tubing that dispensed the wine to the subjects mouth can have an affect.

    They turn out a lot of wine research from Spain but I am left cool on this one and as I said I am not a high alcohol wine lover.

  3. Margaret Falconer says:

    I see the above comments were made four years ago, the day after the article was posted online, and none have been made since, so perhaps no-one is that interested, but the comments struck me as somewhat critical of the study and I thought I should put forward my own recent experience of drinking low alcohol wine.

    I only read the article after having some low alcohol chardonnay semillon without even realising it was low alcohol, noting the big difference in taste to the usual high alcohol wine I drink, and wondering why that should be so. I googled something like ‘Why does low alcohol wine taste different to high alcohol?’ and the above article came up.

    I’m no expert on wine, I either like the taste of a particular wine or I don’t, and I bought the Australian chardonnay semillon while it was on offer at Tesco, thinking it would be nice and refreshing in the hot weather we’ve been having recently. I saw when I bought it it was low alcohol but then I put it with some other bottles of wine I have and left it for a week or so. When I put it in the fridge to chill I didn’t look properly at the label and I forgot it was low alcohol. The point I’m making here is that when I opened up the wine and took my first sip, I expected it to taste like high alcohol wine.

    It didn’t; the taste was much stronger, fuller, more fruity. Actually I didn’t like it at all and I won’t buy it again, but the study seems right to me – taste perception is increased with lower alcohol wines.. I drank the wine sitting up like I normally do, I drank it out of the same type of glass that I normally do, I didn’t drink it through vinyl tubing, and I don’t know enough about wine to draw conclusions based on colour.

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