A cheeky little wine

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“Our human brain has been designed to believe itself, wired so that prejudices feel like facts, opinions are indistinguishable from the actual sensation.” Jonah Lehrer, Proust was a Neuroscientist

Jonah Lehrer’s book is an impressive whistle-stop tour through the world of literature, art, music and even food. Lehrer argues that neuroscience is just catching up with the writers, composers and chefs he discusses. What they knew intuitively, neuroscientists are beginning to be able to confirm.

In one example, Lehrer talks about how subjectively we perceive tastes, and how our expectations about a flavour dictate our perceptions. I love the research he cites to illustrate the point: Frederic Brochet (2001) invited wine buffs to give their expert opinion on a particular red and a white wine. The experts declared the red to be full of “jamminess” and “crushed red fruit”. Brochet omitted to mention that he had simply poured two glasses of the same white wine and coloured one red.

In a second experiment, Brochet served the same average Bordeaux wine in two different bottles. One was labelled as a Grand Cru, the other as a vin de table. You can guess what’s coming. The ‘experts’ deemed the Grand Cru to be “ageeable, woody, complex, balanced, and rounded” and dismissed the vin de table as “weak, short, light, flat, and faulty”. We definitely tend to judge a wine by its label, a book by its cover.

I’m being taken out to dinner this evening as a birthday celebration. I thought I was going to enjoy the food. In fact, it’s more likely that I’ll judge the food by the way we are greeted, the lighting, the temperature, the way the table is set and the design of the menu.

Being aware of our biases and beliefs comes in handy when being wined and dined. It doesn’t go amiss when we go into a meeting, before we pick up the ‘phone to make a call or start to do a creative piece of work. Notice your expectations and maybe challenge them too.

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