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Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better? Evidence from Blind Tastings

December 20th, 2010

No! In fact it seems that the average wine drinker prefers expensive wines slightly less, than the cheap stuff. These are the results of  a study published by economists of the American Association for Wine Economists, entitled Do more expensive wines taste better? Evidence from a large sample of blind tastings.

Could this actually be possible? If people don’t see the price of the wine, they actually enjoy the taste of the cheaper wine? This is the conclusion from the more than 6,000 US blind tastings compiled by food and wine critic, Robin Goldstein, who concluded that “on average, individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine. In fact, they enjoy more expensive wines slightly less.”

To come to this astounding conclusion, researchers used wine ranging in price from $1.65 to $150. 506 participants tasted wine flights made up of 523 different wines, presented in a double-blind manner. In other words, neither the subjects or the people serving the wine knew which wine was which. After tasting the various wines, the subjects were asked, “Overall, how do you find the wine?” The subjects could respond with: “Bad”, “Okay”, “Good”, and “Great,” to which the researchers converted to a 1-4 scale.

The results for wine connoisseurs were different. Those categorized as “experts” were able to distinguish between cheap and expensive wines, although this result was only slightly significant.

This study was recently profiled on the Freakonomics podcast, and less recently in the New York Times Freakonomics Blog. Steven Levitt did a similar experiment years ago, during his time at Harvard:

On Tuesday afternoons we had wine tastings. I asked if I could be allowed the opportunity to conduct one of these wine tastings “blind” to see what we could learn from sampling wines without first knowing what we were drinking. Everyone thought this was a great idea. So with the help of the wine steward I selected two expensive bottles from the wine cellar and then I went down the street to the liquor store and bought the cheapest bottle of wine they had made from the same type of grape.

I thus had two different expensive wines and one cheap one. I tried to make things more interesting by splitting one of the expensive bottles into two different decanters. Thus, in total the wine tasters had four wines to taste, although in reality there were only three different wines, with one sampled twice by each taster. I gave them a rating sheet and each person rated each of the four wines.

The results could not have been better for me. There was no significant difference in the rating across the four wines; the cheap wine did just as well as the expensive ones. Even more remarkable, for a given drinker, there was more variation in the rankings they gave to the two samples drawn from the same bottle than there was between any other two samples. Not only did they like the cheap wine as much as the expensive one, they were not even internally consistent in their assessments.

There was a lot of anger when I revealed the results, especially the fact that I had included the same wine twice. One eminent scholar stormed out of the room stating that he had a cold — otherwise he would have detected my sleight of hand with certainty.”

Although much less scientific than the previous experiment, Levitt’s scheme came to similar results: Most people can’t tell expensive wine from cheap, which brings a smile to college students’ faces nation-wide.

Andre´ and 3-buck-chucks really are the highest quality beverages in the world!!

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