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Prompted by a recent news story, some thoughts on wine – specifically, on the evidence that the quality of wine and amount of pleasure one gets from drinking it has no intrinsic relationship to the wine’s price; only, to one’s perception of the price and/or quality of the wine, which can be influenced as much through labelling, marketing and price tag as much as the wine’s actual look, smell and taste.

Jonah Lehrer‘s written a lot about wine and how we experience and judge it:

  • A 2001 study by Frederic Brochet of the University of Bordeaux that showed wine experts getting fooled by a white wine tinted with food coloring.

  • Another study by the same author showing experts rating the same wine differently depending on whether the bottle looked cheap or expensive.

  • A study giving wine drinkers MRIs, demonstrating the actual experience of pleasure from a wine is correlated to the price level the drinker believes the wine is at.

  • There are also some articles in the New York Times which discuss other experiments that appear to back this up. Many of these articles cover the same studies: I also found an article and video at Stanford on the same topic: Does a Wine’s Pricetag Affect it’s Taste?

The Economist covers two studies published in The Journal of Wine Economics, concluding “The relationship between the price of a bottle of wine and its taste is weak”

A Swedish study found gender differences, but still concluded that people enjoy cheap wine as much as more expensive bottles. ” ..results suggest that hosts offering wine to guests can safely reveal the price: much is gained if the wine is expensive, and little is lost if it is cheap. Disclosing the high price before tasting the wine produces considerably higher ratings, although only from women. Disclosing the low price, by contrast, does not result in lower ratings…”

An Australian study found “Analysis revealed price and [Country of Origin] were both stronger contributors to perceptions of wine quality than taste”

Personally, I’m convinced. Or convinced enough that I don’t want to go around looking at the research too critically, or to look for conflicting evidence. I’ve given myself permission to buy and enjoy cheap wine, and it seems as though as long as I believe that that wine’s as likely to be good as more expensive wine, I’ll enjoy it just as much. It’s not in my economic interest to try to convince myself otherwise.

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