The Price of Wine

From Salon:

People have been drinking wine ever since some lucky farmer accidentally fermented his fruit many thousands of years ago. Yet to most people wine remains something of a mystery. We accept that some bottles will cost five or 10 times as much as the $15 wine we pick up for dinner. We may think we know the difference, but blind taste tests show we often don’t.  Wine experts are far from immune to such trickery….

For a 2008 study, they asked people to taste five Cabernets while in a brain scanner.

The subjects were told the per-bottle price of each wine before tasting ($5, $10, $35, $45, and $90) and rated how much they liked it. In reality, there were only three wines — the $5 wine also posed as the $45 wine, while the $90 wine also slummed as the $10 wine.

Overall, the more expensive a wine supposedly was, the more people liked it. Subjects enjoyed the $90 wine the most, but not when they tasted it in the guise of a $10 bottle. In that case, they liked it a lot less than they did the $5 wine in its $45 disguise.

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  • metanoia

    As a general rule I have always thought wine snobs are, well snobs. Test after test has shown that for the most part wine tastes vary from person to person. The best advice I ever got when it came to pairing wine is to drink the kind you like regardless of the price.

  • Kenton

    They opened a Trader Joe’s near me last month. If for no other reason, you have to love TJ’s for its two-buck chuck!

  • DRT

    When I started to get into wine I bought Wine for Dummies and loved it. I was a beer or scotch person for many years, and have appreciated my dive into wine.

    It’s like Mom and cars, can she really appreciate the difference between that BMW M3 and a run of the mill 325? No. As a matter of fact, for her tastes the 325 is probably better. So too with wine.

  • scotmcknight

    Now, Kenton, 2 buck chuck breaks the rule of price: it is 2 bucks because it’s awful wine.

  • Ted

    I happen to be a wine lover too. My method of shopping – my local super-discount wine store usually has ratings posted next to the bottle of wine. The ratings come from major industry magazines like The Wine Spectator and such. I go up and down the isles of Cabs, Merlots, Pinot Noirs, Meritage, Red Zins, Bordeaux, etc (can you tell I like dry reds?) and scan for under priced bottles with high ratings. Simple and effective. The wife and I frequently find great unknown brands as well as great vintages from less respected brands that are priced even below $10 per bottle. You would be surprised at some of the gems you can find, especially unknown California reds.

    Another related story – One of my favorite Canadian Whiskeys is a brand called Wisers. It is hard to find in the states. When I am in Canada, I like to pick some up. If you blindfolded an experienced Whiskey drinker and allowed him to taste test Wisers on the rocks along side Crown Royal on the rocks, the drinker would likely consider them equals, that is unless he actually chooses the Wisers above the Crown. And yet Wisers sells for a very small fraction of the cost of Crown. If Wisers retail price was tripled and they marketed it as an ultra-premium whiskey, I think it would sell even better than it does.

    I am sure everyone has an example like this.

  • Scott Gay

    Terroir has a lot to say about the quality of wine. So does year to year environmental factors. The biggest problem today is the necessity of over fining. You really do have to pay for a good winemaker from a good crop in a good area. However, it is also true that you can pay a lot for a wine that has in reality been made for mass distribution, not quality. It’s hard to find a good bottle at a low price because of supply and demand. But it’s easy to find a bad one at a high price. So my bottom line is to find a few that are from the bigger producers that align with my tastes( only three outside of the Napa valley- Oregon’s Pinot Gris is better than CA to me). And only one blend. These aren’t low or high priced. And I have several from Ohio where I live. And I have a few Italian and Spanish ones that I really like( none from France, but they have some I’ve tried that are exceptional, but way out of my price). And I have the latest addition of Parker’s wine buyers guide, which helps, but I admit not often, to find a good terroir, year, vineyard, and maker at a price that I will give. I have given up on trying a bottle off a shelf because of recommendations( too many taste variables). And a non-estate made wine is rarely chosen by me. Just one more wine I buy- a “dago red” from a local friend. I’m glad I live in a place where there are many large wine stores and it isn’t over regulated. And in a place where there are thousands of acres of grapes. All of our jam, jelly, and frozen grapes for pie in the winter are homemade, which we make alot because of family. I’m not a good winemaker, although I grew up with it. I’ve experimented with making cognac from my favorite wines, but alcohol content is not what I enjoy. I really believe it is the nuances of molecules- berry, citrus, herb, flower, even leaf- and those from storage in white oak. I believe there is a relationship between preferences in wine and coffee. I think people who like coffee can relate to their being a lot of bad ones, which is true of wine. So you search till you find a few good ones, and enjoy the occasional opportunity with a different good one.

  • John L

    @6Scott – well said! Never forget that a $2 wine beat 350 more expensive other wines in one of the world’s top blind judging events,

    Taste is elusive and fickle. Often, wine taste (and religion?) is overtly influenced by presumed “thought leaders.” Parker’s taste in wine seems to be most influenced by those winemakers who pay his consulting retainer — see the doc film Mondovino, which, ironically, was produced by the same filmmaker who made the film Signs and Wonders. Wine and religion — many parallels 🙂

    Today I press 1,000 pounds of Syrah, foot-crushed and fermented as mostly whole berry clusters in nine small open-top containers. I used three different strains of yeast (D21, D80, D254) each isolated to their own container, with ML bacteria added on the 3rd day, after SO2 had time to bind. Most winemakers press under 1 Brix (0 to 1% sugar), but I’ve found that pressing around 3-4 Brix makes for softer tannins and more elegant flavors that better reflect the taste of a sweet, ripe grape.

  • EricMichaelSay

    Have to say, as someone who typically drinks 3-5 dollar table-wines, the BEST wine I’ve ever had was a $300 bottle at a party poured into a Dixie cup. The sweetness, velvety texture and the way it went straight to my head exceeded every expectation.

  • Yes I do think there is some pretentiousness within wine tasting, but doesn’t the same line of thinking exist in other areas too? The example that immediately popped into my head is with cars: Is a Lexus really that much better of a car than a Toyota? Just a thought.