Who’s Surprised??

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a person say "If you don’t charge more for the wine they won’t take it seriously" I’d have enough money to fund a research project on why people believe the more expensive it is the better is.

Of course no one does give me a dollar every time I hear such a thing so it’s a damn good thing we have the folks over at the California Institute of Technology to do this research for us.

For some of you reading this the following will fall into the category of "duh, tell me something new": Research shows people get more pleasure from a wine when they know it costs more.

The research was carried out by Antonio Rangel and colleagues at California Institute of Technology. Basically they had subjects taste different wines and all the people new was the prices of the wines. However, in some cases less expensive wine was labeled as much more expensive than it really is and vice versa.

"They [researchers] asked 20 people to sample wine while
undergoing functional MRIs of their brain activity. The subjects were
told they were tasting five different Cabernet Sauvignons sold at
different prices.

However, there were actually only three wines sampled, two being offered twice, marked with different prices.

A $90 wine was provided marked with its real price and again marked
$10, while another was presented at its real price of $5 and also
marked $45."

Folks liked the wines they were told were more expensive.

"Our results suggest that the brain might
compute experienced pleasantness in a much more sophisticated manner
that involves integrating the actual sensory properties of the
substance being consumed with the expectations about how good it should

Ya think?

OK…so to those of us who know wine and the wine industry well this isn’t much of a shocker, but it’s nice to have scientific confirmation of what we already know. But how about this part of the research:

"On the other hand, when tasters didn’t know any
price comparisons, they rated the $5 wine as better than any of the
others sampled."

Why would this be the case? Americans like sweet, smooth liquid and most certainly like their wine that way. That’s why inexpensive wine, the kind most often bought, is smooth and sweet.

But here’s my favorite part of the article that reported on this research:

Next step: pain.

Rangel wants to see if people perceive pain differently, depending
on their expectations. He hopes to administer mild electric shocks to
subjects and measure their reaction when told a shock was going to be
stronger or weaker."

Any Volunteers?

12 Responses

  1. Thomas Pellechia - January 14, 2008

    This is going to be the subject of my next blog entry. And you’ve caused me to seek an altogether separate angle…

  2. Dr. Debs - January 14, 2008

    My rewards center must work differently–I feel happiest when I drink great $8 wine. And Tom, I’ve had some Cotes du Rhone in that category that certainly don’t qualify as sweet plonk. I live down the street from CalTech, but sadly do not anticipate that I will volunteer for the pain study. Though if they redo the wine study, me and friends who shop at the Chronicle Wine Cellar should definitely go over and see if we can enlist.

  3. Pamela - January 14, 2008

    This story reminds me of a study Cornell completed last year. Check out the story here: http://www.physorg.com/news105623535.html. They set up an environment for diners to taste two different wines with their pre-fixed meal. Half the bottles claimed to be from Noah’s Winery in California. The labels on the other half claimed to be from Noah’s Winery in North Dakota. In both cases, the wine was an inexpensive Charles Shaw wine.
    Those drinking what they thought was California wine, rated the wine and food as tasting better, and ate 11% more of their food. Pretty funny stuff.

  4. Thomas Pellechia - January 15, 2008

    They ate 11% more of their food!
    So, it’s California wine that’s causing America’s obesity problem…

  5. Fredric Koeppel - January 15, 2008

    Obviously we are all pleasure-seeking creatures of blind instinct who are yet highly susceptible to peer pressure and marketing mumbo-jumbo. Scientists certainly are sneaky!

  6. Ron - January 15, 2008

    The moral of the story……..Buy cheap wine and tell you mind its 300 dollars a bottle! They only used 21 subjects? I bet most just wanted free wine? I am sure they will be lining up by the hundreds for the shock and awe pain test!!!!

  7. Dan Cochran - January 15, 2008

    “Any volunteers?”
    Depends – are they paying their test subjects in expensive Barolo or cheap Orvieto? 😎

  8. Erwin Dink - January 16, 2008

    “Americans like sweet, smooth liquid and most certainly like their wine that way. That’s why inexpensive wine, the kind most often bought, is smooth and sweet.”
    I agree with your sentiment but I’ve also tasted a lot of expensive wines that could be described that way just as I’ve tasted a lot of cheap wines whose faults were otherwise (too acidic, too light, unbalanced, unripe, etc.)
    I’d like to see a study like this done with wine people.

  9. Marcus - January 16, 2008

    I echo a lot of the comments (Dr. Debs, Fredric, Erwin) when I make my biggest point about this study: The tasters weren’t paying for the expensive wines with their own money. Whether this would affect the MRI results that appear to make this study a success I don’t know but I know it’d affect buying behaviour, which is what the media is jumping all over this story for. The implications are more limited than stated.
    As I explained elsewhere, the way the wine assessment in this experiment was conducted says more about identifying equality than actual wine quality — but I think all the wine bloggers already see that.

  10. Terry Hughes - January 16, 2008

    I got the article from two people and wisely decided not to write a post about it. You pretty much said what I would have.
    It is interesting to see how “ordinary folks” perceive wine. It would be even more interesting to “see a study like this done with wine people.” I wonder if the results would be all that different.

  11. Arthur - January 16, 2008

    While this study’s results are not surprising and its implications for marketing and sales are obvious, I would propose that what it all means for wine is that wine ratings/scores based on no other criterion than subjective enjoyment of the taster force readers to adapt the taster’s preferences. If we can only get some buyers of wine to want to take the time and effort to read the notes and descriptions instead of wanting a “bottom line” number….

  12. Anthony - January 29, 2008

    So I guess all wine the same! But its interesting to see that American like it sweet. Really?

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