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Does Expensive Wine Taste Better

TheButler

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I was listening to the Freakonomics podcast on my drive before the holidays and the latest episode had this subject. Now, if the topic had come up in conversation before then I would have responded that generally yes, it does, as long as we all acknowledge that marketing and hype play a part as well. In other words, price is one indicator but that doesn't mean there isn't a shortage of overpriced wines that really don't belong in their price category.

For those who can't be bothered to listen to the podcast, I would summarize the findings in a few bullets:

1) When blind tasting selections that include the same wine multiple times, we really can't tell. In one example he gives, tasters were given "four" different wines although two of them were the same; those two had the highest variability in ratings. As well, our perception of quality is highly influenced by what we believe the price to be for that wine.

That part of the study is not fully scientific but this finding has been verified even among "wine experts". There was a formal study done of variability in wine ratings where 70 judges at the California State Wine Fair were given the same wine, drawn from the same bottle, three times. On average, the wine was given a wide range of ratings by the same judge.

2) The average consumer actually enjoys expensive wines slightly less than cheaper wines. This is from a study by Robin Goldstein. I suppose this shouldn't be too surprising; look at the average American's love for McDonalds and cheap, fast, greasy food. Apparently what the experts posit as "fine wine" with its tobacco overtones, mineral notes and full-bodied character is not what the uneducated palate enjoys. I've sort of known this given my anecdotal experience of bringing some fine wines to family gatherings and finding them underappreciated.


Which brings us to the last point, since that would lead us to believe that wine appreciation is a learned thing for the truly refined, much like enjoying art, stylish clothing, and the symphony.

Not so fast.

3) The "wine experts" don't seem to do much better at it. In the Goldstein study, while they found that experts did not have the same negative correlation with price, the positive correlation was very small. The same guy who did the California Wine State Fair study conducted a similar analysis where he found that when you looked at how gold medals were awarded to wines (by the experts), the distribution of awards "mirrors what might be expected should a gold medal be awarded by chance alone."

Taken as whole, I'm suprised. Not surprised that price is not a reliable indicator of quality; I knew that already. I think a little bit surprised by the fact that among the experts there is little correlation, making ratings completely unreliable. And that even with the same expert there is so much variability (I do recall a blog entry about a dinner with Robert Parker where they were sampling wines he had recently rated and though he declined to re-rate them he did name his favourite; which did not correspond at all to how his previous ratings stacked up).

I do still have firmly fixed in my mind that some of my most enjoyable wine experiences were with quite pricey bottles at fine restaurants; the empirical data would suggest that experience was more heavily influence by my understanding of the price of the wine, the overall environment and company of friends, than it was by the quality of the wine itself. It is certainly encouraging to me that I can focus more of my wine budget on "reasonable" wines in the $20-30 range than have to worry too much about wines in the 5x price range.
 

HORNS

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I think we as Americans, overall, are not comfortable with wine enough to make our decisions of taste based solely on what is detected in our nose and palate.

My wife was given carte blanche to create this wine list for a restaurant, which a Chinese woman recently bought. This woman was anxious about it all because she knew nothing about wine, so she had the benefit of having my wife create such a list and my wife then gets exclusive access to this restaurant. This woman, who speaks English poorly, called my wife and told her that someone complained that there's nothing on the list "like an expensive Kendall Jackson". My wife asked if they asked for a chardonnay, to which the lady replied, "White wine! White wine!"
 

DerekS

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I love wine. But my palate isnt refined enough to taste or appreciate a REALLY good bottle. I have a few pinot noirs that I really enjoy....all under 20 bucks a bottle. I think it varies a lot on the person. Id hate to spend a whole lot on a bottle that i cant truly appreciate.
 

gomestar

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I would fully expect a huge amount of variability when the terms "70 experts" and "California State Fair" are used in the same sentence.
 

gomestar

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Originally Posted by TheButler
1) When blind tasting selections that include the same wine multiple times, we really can't tell. In one example he gives, tasters were given "four" different wines although two of them were the same; those two had the highest variability in ratings. As well, our perception of quality is highly influenced by what we believe the price to be for that wine.

there is no doubt that a high price ups the assumed enjoyment of a wine - but it should be noted that a tremendous amount of factors also influence the enjoyment, even among experts. If I was given 4 "different" wine blind but two were the same, I'd fully expect to not be able to guess that two were actually the same. Having multiple wines in the same sitting will certainly alter your perception of the other wines, whether good or bad.
 

Milpool

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I like wine a lot, but I just can't justify spending much on it given the scientific evidence out there. I don't perceive much difference among price points, so I stick with more variety of less expensive wine than just a few bottles of higher priced wine.

Similarly, I don't see the benefits to expensive glasses. I take pride in not owning a single piece of Riedel.
 

lee_44106

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Poor people will say anything to detract from the pleasures that those who can enjoy.

Wine tasting is subjective anyway. Price is not exclusively related to taste. What about the ability to impress others?
 

Quatsch

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There are tons of things that affect your perceptions of what something tastes like, but does that make the increased enjoyment you derive from something you perceive to be better any less real? Serious Eats did a taste test with eggs running the gamut from the 89 cents/dozen variety produced in horrific conditions to $5/dozen "happy chicken" kind of eggs, and they found in blind taste tests that freshness was the only real factor that improved tests. Nonetheless, when people knew they were eating eggs from a chicken that someone kept in their backyard, they perceived those eggs as being the best.

Likewise, how many meals have you or I had in a special setting that you remember as being uncannily excellent? I say one of my favorite restaurants in the world is a small Weinstube just outside of Trier, Germany called the Weingut Gehlen. I've eaten there maybe four or five times and I remember everything about the food being perfect. Every time I ate there I was with someone with whom I was in love at the time, and half of the time I was with other people as well whose company I deeply enjoyed. I'm guessing if you could be super subjective, the food isn't as amazing as I think it is. Likewise, you could pit any chef in the world against my mother to prepare a certain two or three dishes, and I would probably say Thomas Keller couldn't beat my mom's cornbread, but once again there are a lot of memories and emotions that increase my enjoyment of my mother's cornbread.

My point is that taste is not entirely subjective, which is why the atmosphere of a restaurant is almost always important. Wine is a hobby for a lot of people, and I think there are a lot of things besides price that increase enjoyment - taste tests don't make up the whole of what wine is.
 

coolpapa

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No. I think the vast majority of wine collectors would be/are humbled and embarrassed at the results of blind tastings. It's been discussed on here before, but I think most people over rate their ability to discern flavors and pick them out of individual wines and most tasting notes, beyond broad descriptions, are bullshit.
 

GQgeek

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I've had good expensive wines and bad expensive wines. I've had enough crappy cheap wine that I tend to shy away from it. I buy bottles around the $15-20 mark most of the time and there are lots of good bottles in that range. Once in a while i'll get something special, but I don't make a huge habit of it because i'm a smalltimer and can't afford it.
 

Piobaire

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Originally Posted by gomestar
I would fully expect a huge amount of variability when the terms "70 experts" and "California State Fair" are used in the same sentence.

This observation always brings the lulz when that "study" is presented.
 

Huntsman

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^ Did for me!

There are diminishing returns. Of course there are. But there is still quite a ways you can go on the uptick before you get there.
 

Piobaire

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Originally Posted by adrift
Don't think so. You're drinking rotten grapes afterall. Does it make a difference if they cost 20$ or 5000$?

This answer wins the thread.

Not.
 

thekunk07

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i find somewhere between $22-$40 to be the sweet spot personally
 

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