Wine Tasting: Perception vs Reality

Wine tasting. After seeing movies like Sideways and visiting vineyards, who doesn’t enjoy describing wine? This slightly provocative article from Lifehacker asserts that expectation has just as much if not more to do with enjoyment of a wine than actual flavor.

In 2001, Frederic Brochet conducted two experiments at the University of Bordeaux. In one experiment, he got 54 oenology (the study of wine tasting and wine making) undergraduates together and had them taste one glass of red wine and one glass of white wine. He had them describe each wine in as much detail as their expertise would allow. What he didn’t tell them was both were the same wine. He just dyed the white one red. In the other experiment, he asked the experts to rate two different bottles of red wine. One was very expensive, the other was cheap. Again, he tricked them. This time he had put the cheap wine in both bottles. So what were the results?

The tasters in the first experiment, the one with the dyed wine, described the sorts of berries and grapes and tannins they could detect in the red wine just as if it really was red. Every single one, all 54, could not tell it was white. In the second experiment, the one with the switched labels, the subjects went on and on about the cheap wine in the expensive bottle. They called it complex and rounded. They called the same wine in the cheap bottle weak and flat.

The study makes a lot of sense. The power of suggestion would make most people want to find all complex notes in the fancy wine. Heck if I paid $90 for a wine I’d want to be wowed or at least tricked a little. Maybe the key is to drink enough wine to know what you like and don’t overall. And as long as you manage to stay within your wine budget why not try every wine out there?

Have you ever tried a blind wine taste test to see if you could tell the difference between cheap and expensive?


4 comments on “Wine Tasting: Perception vs Reality

  1. Ha! I love the experiment. And at this stage of my life (I’m an old guy!) I absolutely believe the assumption of the findings. I used to find myself in discussions about whether expensive wine was really worth what it cost, and I would usually say the same thing, ‘The best wine I ever tasted was also the most expensive wine I’ve ever bought.’ But now that I’m old enough to have consumed thousands of bottles of wine in my lifetime, my attitude has changed – I now believe that if all you ever drink is cheap wine, your taste buds adjust to the characteristics of such wines and you soon sense that they are quite drinkable – I also enjoy the thrill of chasing after the best wines among the cheap – so, yes, my expectations are always honed toward the positive – and yes, I find many wonderful wines among those el-cheapo wines.

    Nice post.

    • I totally agree with you. The funny thing is, on the rare occasion I buy an expensive bottle it becomes “too precious” to actually open. And don’t feel bad about being a self-proclaimed old guy. That just means you’ve got wisdom to spare. Thanks for the comment.

  2. I love wine. Ever since I lived in France from 1988 to 90 I have had it with dinner every night. Price has never been a deciding factor for me. If it is cheap and I like the taste, I drink it.

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