Enjoying wines made with native grapes may be a learned response.

Concord, Niagara, and Catawba grapes, which are mostly grown in eastern North America, have a sweet, ultra-"grapey" taste and aroma. Through sensory tests with wine drinkers in Pennsylvania and California, researchers in the college have found that consumer preference or aversion to wines made from these native grapes may depend on early exposure to the fruits.

Wine experts and discerning consumers often find the strong grapey taste of Vitis labruscana grapes objectionable. Prior work suggests increased exposure to a food product can increase liking, noted John Hayes, associate professor of food science in the college.

"This research suggests that liking or accepting that 'grapey' aroma presented by native labruscana grapes may be a learned response," said Hayes.

To judge "liking," researchers assessed the preferences of 47 wine drinkers in Pennsylvania, 48 wine drinkers in California, and 37 wine experts in California through a series of taste tests.

To gain insight into whether the liking of "grapey" aromas was learned, researchers asked all participants to self-report consumption of other related food products such as grape juice and grape jelly made from Concord grapes. It turned out that Californians had very little exposure to grape-flavored foods while Pennsylvanians were very familiar with grape flavors.

"The study's results support the notion that methyl anthranilate may not be undesirable and may in fact be a flavor that is enjoyed by many Pennsylvania consumers," said Demi Perry, a master's degree student in the Department of Food Science when the study was conducted. "And that's a good thing because native grapes are still, by far, those most commonly made into wine in the Keystone State."

--Jeff Mulhollem

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