What Wine-Tasting Can Tell You about Content Writing


Wine aficionados flock to tastings to discover some rare gem of a vintage or sample the best bottles from a little-known winery, but numerous studies suggest that many aspiring oenophiles have trouble telling white wine from red by taste alone. In his New Yorker article, “Does All Wine Taste the Same,” Jonah Lehrer describes an experiment at the University of Bordeaux – an epicenter of wine knowledge – in which a white wine was served with just enough food coloring to masquerade as a red. The same white wine that was described as crisp and light in its natural state was perceived as “jammy’ and filled with “red fruit” notes when it wore its red disguise. These results aren’t uncommon, either; time and again, experts presented with blind taste tests do little better than chance when ranking a flight of wines from least expensive to costliest.

Here’s where the data gets interesting for SEO content creators and marketing teams: Tasters may miss the mark on expensive versus cheap wines and even red versus white, but they unerringly use a different vocabulary to describe their top and bottom picks. Inexpensive wines, or at least those that tasters believe are inexpensive, get generic descriptions; “light,” “crisp” and “sweet” are terms that crop up frequently. Wines perceived as high-end, by contrast, draw specific and evocative praise that appeals to the senses.

The same wine that got a token “crisp and fruity” description when poured from an inexpensive bottle becomes “as crisp and cool as autumn’s first apples” when a taster believes it’s an exotic and costly vintage. Tasters will expend extra effort to savor a red wine they see as valuable, delving deep into its presumed complexity and pulling out notes of coffee, chocolate or cherries to describe the richness of flavor they detect. They note the wine’s legs, its color and its body – things no one bothers to notice about a merely adequate table wine.

Researchers attribute the differences to the power of suggestion, but blind taste testers may have a point. When they already believe the wine they’re drinking is valuable, they look deeper into it to confirm that value. They’re finding notes of cherry and fig not because they’re imagining them, but because they’re paying closer attention. They detect subtle nuances in an inexpensive white wine tinted to look like an expensive red one because they’re using contextual cues beyond taste to tell them what they’re drinking. A deep red hue, a prestigious label and the server’s air of expectation transform the wine.

Wine isn’t the only product that relies on contextual cues to tell customers what to make of it. The snap of a Chanel lipstick tube and the thump of a high-end car’s door have been engineered to sound solid and rich. Fine chocolates come nestled in satin boxes instead of covered in thin foil. Labels on costly clothing are made of thick suede or glossy stock instead of flimsy paper. These subconscious cues tell buyers the product is a cut above without ever addressing price.

Every word on your website, blog or product catalog is a cue, too. Content defines whether customers perceive you as a luxury brand or the economical alternative, a proven leader in your industry or a newly arrived innovator. By steering away from the terse, vague language people might use to describe a generic table wine and toward specific, meaningful, lifestyle-oriented language, you give your customers the subconscious cues they need to see you in your best light.

For wine drinkers, expectations help define the reality of what they see, smell and taste. It’s no different for your website visitors, blog readers and social media followers. Give them reasons to savor your writing at length, and you’ll rise in their estimation.

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