The Dim-Post

November 29, 2008

Wine Tasting

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 7:23 am

Almost everything you need to know about human nature is revealed in this CalTech-Stanford study of wine appreciation:

Twenty people sampled five Cabernet Sauvignons that were distinguished solely by their retail price, with bottles ranging from $5 to $90. Although the people were told that all five wines were different, the scientists weren’t telling the truth: there were only three different wines. This meant that the same wines would often reappear, but with different price labels. For example, the first wine offered during the tasting – it was a cheap bottle of Californian Cabernet – was labeled both as a $5 wine (it’s actual retail price) and as a $45 dollar wine, a 900 percent markup. All of the red wines were sipped inside an fMRI machine. Not surprisingly, the subjects consistently reported that the more expensive wines tasted better. They preferred the $90 bottle to the $10 bottle, and thought the $45 Cabernet was far superior to the $5 plonk.

Of course, the wine preferences of the subjects were clearly nonsensical. Instead of acting like rational agents – getting the most utility for the lowest possible price – they were choosing to spend more money for an identical product. When the scientists repeated the experiment with members of the Stanford University wine club, they got the same results. In a blind tasting, these “semi-experts” were also misled by the made-up price tage.

After Rangel and his colleagues finished their brain imaging experiment, they asked the subjects to taste the five different wines again, only this time the scientists didn’t provide any price information. Although the subjects had just listed the $90 wine as the most pleasant, they now completely reversed their preferences. When the tasting was truly blind, when the subjects were no longer biased by their prefrontal cortex, the cheapest wine got the highest ratings.

Wine is one of the many subjects in life I’m totally ignorant about – but I’ve long suspected that the increasing number of wine bores in our society has less to do with an appreciation of the vine than the fact that its a publically acceptable way to be an alcoholic. Telling people you are ‘going to a tasting’ is so much classier than admitting you’re heading home alone to knock back three or four bottles of claret.


  1. And also so much classier than than saying “I enjoy my wine by drinking it lying on my back in giant and frightening metal tube, sipping it through a straw.” I wonder if they will do the same tests for steak. Slurp!

    Or to put it another way, when you totally stuff up the consumption experience, people will use extrinsic cues, such as price, a lot more. And if you want a wine that you can’t see or smell, drink properly, or concentrate on very well, forget that subtle bottle of Grange, and go for the $5 MRI Claret!

    I get the feeling that MRI studies are going to become like all those overdose-rats-and-see-if-they-get cancer studies. Put people in a weird situation and you’ll get weird results.

    Comment by malcolm — November 29, 2008 @ 10:02 am

  2. earlier this year we had a champagne tasting evening with friends. we did a blind tasting with a range from Krug to Montana – Montana being the only cheapie. Montana came second out of about 8. I can’t recall the name of the Montana but it had a greenish label (wasn’t Lindauer), cost around $25.

    I’m trying to work out how to disguise the Montana as Krystal – which is my partner’s bubbles of preference.

    Comment by Neil — November 29, 2008 @ 10:19 am

  3. Apropos of this, have you ever wondered why the tastes and aromas listed on wine labels never include grape?

    Comment by homepaddock — November 29, 2008 @ 10:32 am

  4. There was another experiment or two that got people who were ‘in on it’ to say that the shorter of the two pieces of string on offer was in fact longer – when it came to the volunteers, plenty of them *agreed*, for some reason. People are suckers, but I guess we sorta knew that.

    homepaddock – good point. Guess they’d just tell you to buy unfermented grape juice.

    Comment by StephenR — November 29, 2008 @ 10:58 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: