Should We Buy Expensive Wine?
A few months ago, the psychologist Richard Wiseman conducted a simple study about wine. He bought a wide variety of bottles at the local supermarket, from a $5 Bordeaux to a $50 champagne, and asked people to say which wine was more expensive. (All of the taste tests were conducted double-blind, with neither the experimenter nor subject aware of the actual price.) The results should upset wine snobs everywhere: The 600 plus participants could only pick the more expensive wine 53 percent of the time, which is basically random chance. (They actually performed below chance when it came to picking red wines. Bordeaux fared the worst, with a significant majority – 61 percent – picking the cheap plonk as the more expensive selection.)
On the one hand, this is slightly distressing news. Most wine consumers assume that there’s a linear relationship between the quality and the price of a wine, which is why we’re willing to splurge on old Burgundy or Napa cabernet or Chianti Classico. If expensive wines really don’t taste better, then the wine industry has no business model. It’s Yellow Tail all the way down.
And yet, this news also isn’t new: the lack of correlation between the price and perceived quality of a wine (at least when tasted blind) has been proven again and again. Wine critics might disagree, but at this point it’s a robust psychological fact. Here, for instance, is a carefully done 2008 study:
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