Over the last few decades, wine makers have been producing wines with a higher alcohol content, assuming that they are more appreciated by consumers. To test this hypothesis, researchers used functional magnetic imaging to compare reactions of human subjects to different types of wine, focusing on brain regions critical for flavour processing and food reward. Participants were presented with carefully matched pairs of high- and low-alcohol content red wines, without informing them of any of the wine attributes. Contrary to expectation, significantly greater activation was found for low-alcohol than for high-alcohol content wines in brain regions that are sensitive to taste intensity, including the insula as well as the cerebellum.
Wines were closely matched for all physical attributes except for alcohol content, thus the authors interpret the preferential response to the low-alcohol content wines as arising from top-down modulation due to the low alcohol content wines inducing greater attentional exploration of aromas and flavours. The authors state that their findings raise intriguing possibilities for objectively testing hypotheses regarding methods of producing a highly complex product such as wine.
Source: What Can the Brain Teach Us about Winemaking? An fMRI Study of Alcohol Level Preferences. Ram Frost , Ileana Quiñones, Maria Veldhuizen, Jose-Iñaki Alava, Dana Small, Manuel Carreiras. PLoS One. March 18, 2015.