Posted on 11/15/2012 at 09:42:28 AM by Student BloggerBy Larry Istrail
Could this scenario be possible: If people don't see the price of the wine, they actually enjoy the taste of the less expensive wine more? Yes! 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” (1). After more than 6,000 blind tastings, food and wine critic Robin Goldstein 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 nor 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 (2). Steven Levitt conducted 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...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.”
Although much less scientific than the previous experiment, Levitt's experiment ended with similar results-- most people can't tell expensive wine from cheap, which brings smiles to college students' faces nationwide.