Budget Booze: Expensive and Cheap Wine Taste the Same to Most

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REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

If you’re reading this and you’re not a wine connoisseur, chances are your brain can’t tell whether a wine is expensive or not.

A recent U.K. study found that people distinguished between cheap and expensive white wines only 53% of the time, and 47% of the time for red wines. Hundreds of drinkers took part and commented on a variety of red and white wines, ranging from a £3.49 ($5.68) bottle of Claret to a £29.99 ($48.79) bottle of Champagne.

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“When you know the answer, you fool yourself into thinking you would be able to tell the difference, but most people simply can’t,” according to Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at Hertfordshire University. Wiseman carried out the study with attendees at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

The fact that price has an incredible effect on our taste buds has been proven in previous experiments. Brian Dimarco, a wine distributor, presented participants with two brown bags, each containing the exact same wine. They were told that one bottle was worth $50 and the other was a $10 bottle.

In fact, both bottles were worth $10 at any retail store, but everyone preferred the $50 bottle. Two or three people asked whether they were the same wines, “but the more they thought about it, the more they intellectualized it,” Dimarco told Freakonomics. Quite reasonably, when people think a wine is more expensive, they assume it’s going to taste better.

But it turns out only experts can tell the difference. Robin Goldstein’s paper with over 6,000 blind tastings found that only individuals with wine training could establish a relationship between price and enjoyment. The rest, he found, did not appreciate more expensive wines and in fact tended to prefer the cheaper counterparts.

So if you’re not a wine-savvy, you’re probably better off sticking to the cheaper wines and doing your pocket a favor.

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