Wine Preference Linked to Genetics: Study Finds Liking White Wine is Associated With a Specific Gene

Many people tend to have a preference for either white or red wine, even if that preference is slight.  Myself, I enjoy both, with my preference changing depending upon a variety of factors.

While these preferences have been around for as long as wine has been in existence, very little is known about why these preferences occur and more specifically how they might be regulated in the human body.  There have been some studies looking at overall alcohol consumption habits and genetics, though much of this has been focused on intake and not necessarily preference.  For example, studies have found that the genes TAS2R16 and TAS2R38, and variations thereof, may influence alcohol intake itself, but not

Photo courtesy Flickr user MIKI Yoshihito

Photo courtesy Flickr userMIKI Yoshihito

whether or not someone is more likely to be dependent upon it. Additionally, the perception of alcohol (determining that it is there, as opposed to whether or not it tastes good) in humans has been associated with the OR7D4 and SCNN1D genes, as well as variations on the OR2J3 gene.

While some studies have found genetic links to alcohol intake and identification, it is not known how genetics might play a role in alcohol preference.

The study presented briefly today, published in 2015 in the European Journal of Human Genetics, aimed to perform a genome-wide study on various populations to determine if there are any possible genetic links toward wine preference, specifically toward the liking of white wine.

[Super] Brief Methods

A total of 5 populations were studied, including three from various areas in Italy, one from the Netherlands, and one from Central Asia. A total of 3885 individuals were included in this study.

Red and white wine preference (or “liking”) was determined for each individual participant by questionnaires.  Smiley faces were included in addition to words, taking into consideration that English was not the first language of some of the participants.

Genotyping (SNP arrays) was performed on all participants, and statistical analysis applied to determine if there were any associations between wine preference/liking and individual’s genetics.

Selected Results

  • Average “wine liking” was highest in the three Italian populations (and all very similar to each other) while the Central Asian population score was the lowest.
  • There was a significant association between white wine preference and rs9276975, located on the HLA-DOA gene (an MHC molecule).
    • This association was determined to be only related to white wine preference, as other food preferences were compared against this gene and none were found to be associated with it.
  • No associations were found for red wine preference in the genes studied.
  • The association between white wine preference and rs9276975 was higher in women than in men.
    • Specifically, this association was 2 times greater for women than for men.


The results of this study suggest that having a preference for white wine may be in part controlled by the HLA-DOA gene, specifically the rs9276975 SNP region.  Additionally, this genetic link to preference may be stronger in women than in men.

While this is the only conclusion that can be drawn statistically from this study, the authors did suggest some fascinating possible explanations for the mechanisms behind this association. One in particular that I found interesting was the theory that MHC molecules (associated with HLA-DOA) could be tied to wine liking/preference through olfactory

Photo courtesy Flickr user

Photo courtesy Flickr

epithelial cells.  Specifically, studies have found that MCH is linked to mate choice via scent pathways in a variety of species, including humans, giving some support to the notion that MHC molecules/HLA-DOA may have an olfactory recognition mechanism.

Other studies have found associations between HLA and preference for certain odors, specifically showing that people with different HLA profiles are attracted to different scents.  This could help explain the association of HLA with white wine liking in this study.

Interestingly, studies have shown that people with different HLA profiles have different bacteria present in their mouths and nasal cavities, a trait which could potentially be tied directly to wine (or other food/odor) liking.  Further support for this hypothesis may be found in a recent study of oral bacteria in humans and how different bacteria can produce different volatile compounds subsequent to drinking wine, which may very well be part of the bigger picture of wine preference or “liking”.  (See an analysis of that study done recently on this site here).

It is important to note, however, that while this study showed that white wine preference is associated with rs9276975 on the HLA-DOA gene (a MHC molecule), any precise mechanism such as olfactory recognition by bacterial profiles is merely speculative.  Much more work needs to be done in order to get to the bottom of why the HLA-DOA gene seems to be tied to white wine preference/liking, however the study presented today is a good start.


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