It has been repeatedly acknowledged that the appreciation of wine depends to some extent on the drinker’s level of interest and their degree of expertise. Experts and non-experts (i.e. standard consumers) differ in their ability to identify the properties of wine, both in their memory of other wines they have drunk (which is useful for comparison purposes) and in the language they use to talk about wine (which affects the richness and variety of the description). The present thesis focuses on this last aspect, that is, the language used to describe the sensory properties of wine, and in particular on the understanding that standard consumers have of 64 frequently used descriptors. We have addressed this topic from a cross-cultural perspective and have worked on the assumption that opposition (i.e. heavy–light, strong–delicate, mature-immature etc) is a key configuration in descriptions relating to the sensorial characteristics of wine. In the first chapter, the framework of the problem, in terms of the cultural traditions surrounding wine, is set. The study focuses in particular on Italian wine (representing a country with a well-established tradition of producing and drinking wine), Australian wine (representing a country which is relatively new to the production of wine) and finally a part involving participants from Vietnam, a country with long established tradition of rice wine, but a certain degree of familiarity with imported grape wine which is drunk on special social occasions (see section 1.1). These three cultural areas form the basis of this thesis. Chapter 1 deals with the international language of wine from the point of view of the descriptors used by experts for its sensory properties (section 1.2). The importance of opposites in the language used and the conceptualization of wine according to experts is discussed (section 1.3). A number of studies on cross-cultural aspects relating to the description of wine in previous literature are touched upon, but these are not specifically related to opposition (section 1.4). The second chapter represents the core of the thesis from an experimental point of view. The original experiment carried out in Italy is described (Bianchi et al., 2020; section 2.1), followed by the two experiments carried out for the purposes of this thesis with Vietnamese participants (section 2.2) and Australian participants (section 2.3). The main issue concerns whether opposites can potentially play a role in modelling the dimensions evoked by common descriptors of wine, not only in the lexicon used by experts and professionals, but also with reference to non-expert consumers, considering also whether the findings hold from a cross-cultural point of view (that is, for Italy, Australia and Vietnam). We consider that it was relevant to establish empirically whether the conceptualization of the properties of wine in terms of dimensions and opposites as referred to by experts works well for standard consumers and also works equally well in countries with very different wine traditions. The motivation for this is based on the hope that once a “configuration” has been established (Paradis, 2008) it can be used to bridge the gap between experts and non-experts so that the terms and dimensions referred to are attributed the same or at least similar meanings. This is an interesting aspect to consider not only in terms of basic research, but also as applied to research relating to the marketing and advertising of wine. One of the main results of the research presented in this thesis is that in more than 80% of cases, both the Australian and Vietnamese participants were able to find what they considered to be an opposite for the target properties presented. The percentage is similar to that found in the previous study carried out with Italian participants. This indicates that opposites represent a potential common ground between expert and non-expert ways of communicating about wine, independently of people’s knowledge. The critical question regarded the extent to which the standard consumers who participated in the three studies were consistent in their choice of opposites. There was a great deal of variability between the properties in terms of how many different opposites were chosen by the participants. For the most ambiguous terms, we found that an average of 4 different opposites were identified for every 10 participants. The degree of ambiguity was slightly higher for the Vietnamese and Australian participants than for the Italian participants. The fact that this result indicates that the dimensions relating to wine are often ambiguous represents a potential source of misunderstanding. Even if wine producers carefully select the words they use to describe the characteristics of their products, standard consumers may still interpret them in a different way. Many more studies are of course needed to investigate further in order to fully understanding this phenomenon. We believe that, despite its limitations, this thesis may well suggest a useful direction for future research to follow.

UNDERSTANDING AND DESCRIBING THE SENSORY EXPERIENCE OF WINE FOR ITALIAN, VIETNAMESE AND AUSTRALIAN NONEXPERT CONSUMERS

Hang Truong;Bianchi Ivana;Burro Roberto;Savardi Ugo;
2022

Abstract

It has been repeatedly acknowledged that the appreciation of wine depends to some extent on the drinker’s level of interest and their degree of expertise. Experts and non-experts (i.e. standard consumers) differ in their ability to identify the properties of wine, both in their memory of other wines they have drunk (which is useful for comparison purposes) and in the language they use to talk about wine (which affects the richness and variety of the description). The present thesis focuses on this last aspect, that is, the language used to describe the sensory properties of wine, and in particular on the understanding that standard consumers have of 64 frequently used descriptors. We have addressed this topic from a cross-cultural perspective and have worked on the assumption that opposition (i.e. heavy–light, strong–delicate, mature-immature etc) is a key configuration in descriptions relating to the sensorial characteristics of wine. In the first chapter, the framework of the problem, in terms of the cultural traditions surrounding wine, is set. The study focuses in particular on Italian wine (representing a country with a well-established tradition of producing and drinking wine), Australian wine (representing a country which is relatively new to the production of wine) and finally a part involving participants from Vietnam, a country with long established tradition of rice wine, but a certain degree of familiarity with imported grape wine which is drunk on special social occasions (see section 1.1). These three cultural areas form the basis of this thesis. Chapter 1 deals with the international language of wine from the point of view of the descriptors used by experts for its sensory properties (section 1.2). The importance of opposites in the language used and the conceptualization of wine according to experts is discussed (section 1.3). A number of studies on cross-cultural aspects relating to the description of wine in previous literature are touched upon, but these are not specifically related to opposition (section 1.4). The second chapter represents the core of the thesis from an experimental point of view. The original experiment carried out in Italy is described (Bianchi et al., 2020; section 2.1), followed by the two experiments carried out for the purposes of this thesis with Vietnamese participants (section 2.2) and Australian participants (section 2.3). The main issue concerns whether opposites can potentially play a role in modelling the dimensions evoked by common descriptors of wine, not only in the lexicon used by experts and professionals, but also with reference to non-expert consumers, considering also whether the findings hold from a cross-cultural point of view (that is, for Italy, Australia and Vietnam). We consider that it was relevant to establish empirically whether the conceptualization of the properties of wine in terms of dimensions and opposites as referred to by experts works well for standard consumers and also works equally well in countries with very different wine traditions. The motivation for this is based on the hope that once a “configuration” has been established (Paradis, 2008) it can be used to bridge the gap between experts and non-experts so that the terms and dimensions referred to are attributed the same or at least similar meanings. This is an interesting aspect to consider not only in terms of basic research, but also as applied to research relating to the marketing and advertising of wine. One of the main results of the research presented in this thesis is that in more than 80% of cases, both the Australian and Vietnamese participants were able to find what they considered to be an opposite for the target properties presented. The percentage is similar to that found in the previous study carried out with Italian participants. This indicates that opposites represent a potential common ground between expert and non-expert ways of communicating about wine, independently of people’s knowledge. The critical question regarded the extent to which the standard consumers who participated in the three studies were consistent in their choice of opposites. There was a great deal of variability between the properties in terms of how many different opposites were chosen by the participants. For the most ambiguous terms, we found that an average of 4 different opposites were identified for every 10 participants. The degree of ambiguity was slightly higher for the Vietnamese and Australian participants than for the Italian participants. The fact that this result indicates that the dimensions relating to wine are often ambiguous represents a potential source of misunderstanding. Even if wine producers carefully select the words they use to describe the characteristics of their products, standard consumers may still interpret them in a different way. Many more studies are of course needed to investigate further in order to fully understanding this phenomenon. We believe that, despite its limitations, this thesis may well suggest a useful direction for future research to follow.
psycholinguistics, wine descriptors, sensory description, psychology
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