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Fancy Names Can Fool Wine Geeks Into Paying More For A Bottle

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Fancy Names Can Fool Wine Geeks Into Paying More For A Bottle

Fancy Names Can Fool Wine Geeks Into Paying More For A Bottle

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK, quick quiz here. Which do you think costs more - a bottle of Gnarly Head wine, or a bottle of Tselepou? OK, what about Cupcake versus, say, Rose de Provence? Research suggests the name on the label can affect how much consumers will pay for a bottle of wine.

Charles Lane, from member station WSHU, brings us this report from wine country in the Hamptons.

CHRISTOPHER TRACY: Here, take a sniff of that, it's a muscat that was skinned from the grape. It smells wonderful.

CHARLES LANE, BYLINE: Yeah, it does.

TRACY: Right?

LANE: Rows and rows of oak wine casks represent years of science and sweat for Christopher Tracy, the jovial vintner behind Channing Daughters Winery. All these barrels, lined up like little wine-bellied soldiers, will eventually get bottled. And all of Tracy's hard work will have to be summed up in a name - in this case, Blaufrankisch.

TRACY: Blaufrankisch, B-L-A-U-F-R-A-N-K-I-S-C-H.

LANE: Not the easiest thing in the world to pronounce, especially when you're sitting with all your friends at a fancy restaurant. But Tracy chose that name because of its connection to the grape's history.

TRACY: What it is, what the grape is, what the place is, what the soils are like; and I think the name reflects that, too, whether it's a varietal name of a grape, or it's the name of a chateau from a particular place.

LANE: And he has a couple other tongue twisters, too.

TRACY: Tocai Friulano. We have another one called Refosco. The true name of Refosco is Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso.

LANE: These names will run you between 20 and $40. And it turns out, the doozies might make him more money. That's according to a marketing experiment done by Antonia Mantonakis, a wine researcher at Brock University in Ontario.

ANTONIA MANTONAKIS: Participants not only reported liking the taste of the wine better if it was associated with a difficult-to-pronounce winery name; but they also reported about a $2 increase in willingness to pay.

LANE: But here's the fun part - and remember this the next time you're stuck talking to a self-proclaimed wine aficionado. The more Mantonakis' test subjects knew about wine, the more easily they got duped into thinking difficult wine names equaled pricier wines. She says that's because wine geeks are super excited, and they'll hunt for just about any subtle difference they can find, like a rare or unique-sounding name.

MANTONAKIS: And if something is rare and unique, then - well, maybe it might be a higher value, and it may be something that is more special.

LANE: So that's how you trick a wine geek. For the rest of us, all it takes is a bottle of Elephant on a Tightrope. Also, Mad Housewife, Mommy's Time Out, Menage a Trois - or Monogamy, if you prefer. Then there's also this whole "fat" wing to the cellar that we get sold on - like Fat Bastard, Fat Monk, Fat Bird, Fat Fish. And who doesn't love Cupcakes.

MANTONAKIS: Well, I have to say, I am a little bit of a Cupcake addict. I mean, I thought that was really cute and funny, when I first saw it.

LANE: Wine names that are cute and funny - Mantonakis says those are the ones that lure so-called low-knowledge consumers. Along with E&J Gallo-sized shelf space and a pretty picture, we're looking for comfort and something familiar.

MANTONAKIS: Does it look interesting? And if it looks interesting, it might be fun, and it might be the kind of wine I'm looking for.

LANE: Out at the Hamptons, Tracy has one of those, too. He calls it Mudd. But he's says it's not about talking down to us low-knowledge drinkers, or talking up to the wine geeks; rather, just another way to tell the story of a place or experience.

TRACY: That's often, too, why people have such romantic notions of wines they had far away, overseas, on vacation. You're in a particular place to soak in all of the story; and then - be able to go back and then get that bottle, and be able to have a piece of that story again, and then maybe even be able to share it with your friends and family.

LANE: So if the experience you're looking to share is from an exotic, hard-to-pronounce vineyard, don't be too quick in paying a premium for it. Because both Mantonakis and Tracy agree - the funny and fat wines can be just as good.

For NPR News, I'm Charles Lane.

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