Dr Patrick Vuchot
Dr. Patrick Vuchot explained to conference goers how tannins and perceptions of health are interwoven with red wine consumption.
One of the speakers at the 14th Annual Enology & Viticulture Conference in Penticton was Dr. Patrick Vuchot of the Inter-Rhone and Institut Rhodanien in Orange, France. Vuchot shared the results of a study that attempted to determine consumer preferences and understanding of the health benefits of red wine, and tannins in the wine. For the study, consumers were only given organic wine.
Vuchot noted that with only 210 people in the study the results cannot be taken as statistically significant; however the results suggest people generally consider tannins to be a good thing and moderate red wine consumption to be healthy, even if they are a little fuzzy on why for both points. He pointed out another limitation of the study, which was that consumers made their preferences known through limited questionnaires consisting of only six questions.
Tannins are a biomolecule found in many plants, but are more common in certain kinds of plants like oak trees or grape vines. Tannins are not distributed equally throughout the plant, but are concentrated in certain portions like the leave surface, grape skins or stems, where they are thought to act like natural pesticides. They can also affect plant growth.
Tannins also undertake chemical change under certain conditions, and can cause a bitter or astringent taste in very young red wine. Overtime the tannins are modified, causing the wines to mellow and improve in flavour and “mouth feel.”
In addition to tannins found in the grapes and grape plants tannins are also found in oak, which is why aging wine in a barrel helps to change the flavour.
Vuchot, in his studies, found that 41% of the tasters preferred the “woody” and “astringent” characteristics associated with modified tannins in the wine.
Beyond the presence of the tannins, consumers have certain feelings about what is healthy in wine, but little understanding of what it is that might make wine healthier or how it would affect the body. Some of Vuchot’s findings were somewhat contradictory such as a belief that the healthiest wine must have no additives or manipulation in a laboratory, even as most consumer felt that health benefits need to be scientifically proven.
While moderate red wine consumption is also seen as healthy, especially for certain age groups, few of the consumers in the study knew why it was beneficial or how the benefits were transferred to the drinker.
He noted a majority of consumers wanted “healthy” wine, a term that was frequently seen as interchangeable with “organic” wine. Similarly “natural” wine was preferred for health benefits, even though there is no definition of what “natural” means.
For small wineries the good news is that the consumer assumes their wines are healthier. This is based on a belief that small wineries are less likely to utilize commercial preparation and will, accordingly, put in fewer additives. Wine aged in barrels was also perceived as healthier, possibly because of the tannin transfer to the wine from the oak.
Healthier wine perceptions even carried over to certain aspects of the wine’s presentation. Most consumers wanted cork, but not, as it turned out, natural cork. They were expecting agglomerated cork, which Vuchot attributed to their familiarity with agglomerated cork found on cork message boards.
In Vuchot’s study the “traditional” bottle, which entails a traditional label, hand written typography and health benefits presented in simple language on the label, conveyed more “seriousness” and was perceived as being more likely to be beneficial. ■