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“For individuals with wine training, however, we find indications of a positive relationship between price and enjoyment”

The title of this blog post quotes the second line of the abstract of Goldstein et al.’s much ballyhooed 2008 tech report, Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better? Evidence from a Large Sample of Blind Tastings.

The first sentence of the abstract is

Individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the easy target wine snobs make, the popular press has picked up on the first sentence of the tech report. For example, the Freakonomics blog/radio entry of the same name quotes the first line, ignores the qualification, then concludes

Wishing you the happiest of holiday seasons, and urging you to spend $15 instead of $50 on your next bottle of wine. Go ahead, take the money you save and blow it on the lottery.

In case you’re wondering about whether to buy me a cheap or expensive bottle of wine, keep in mind I’ve had classical “wine training”. After ten minutes of training with some side by side examples, you too will be able to distinguish traditional old world wine from 3-buck Chuck in a double blind tasting. Whether you’ll be able to tell a quality village Volnay from a premier cru’s another matter.

There’s another problem with the experimental design. Wines that stand out in a side-by-side tasting are not necessarily the ones you want to pair with food or even drink all night on their own.

The other problem is that some people genuinely prefer the 3 buck Chuck. Most Americans I’ve observed, including myself, start out enjoying sweeter new world style wines and then over time gravitate to more structured (tannic), complex (different flavors) and acidic wines.

5 Comments

  1. Steve Sailer says:

    I can't tell, but that's because I have poor taste buds, and haven't made much effort at all to educate them.

    People like me benefit from people with good taste because the quality of even cheap food and drink has been driven up over the years by the criticism of people with sophisticated palates. For example, even I notice that Pizza Hut pizzas are now a lot better than they were in the 1970s.

  2. zbicyclist says:

    I don't understand why I would want wine training. If I'm happy with 3 buck Chuck, what would be the point of educating myself so that I needed to spend $30 a bottle? I'd definitely be poorer and might or might not be happier — as a general rule, go for the sure effect rather than the uncertain one. ;)

  3. Martyn says:

    Learning to appreciate quality wine doesn't stop you from enjoying cheaper wine on its own terms. It just means you enjoy it more when you get a chance to drink it.

  4. K? O'Rourke says:

    My marketing professor in the 1980's always claimed this was one of the largest misuses of research findings in marketing.

    The research finding being that if people have restricted experience they have poor discrimination.

    He was referring to those cola taste challenges where only regular users of the competitive product were challenged – with poor discrimenation from restricted experience – it was almost a sure thing that a good percentage would "randomly" prefer the sponsor's cola.

    Also, for a Peircian aside, he suggested that those working in discrimination tasks be forced to make many many discriminations each day to stay on top of their game.

    Of course, he was an avid wine taster and perhaps happily followed his own advise here (when he had money that is)

    K?

  5. epanechnikov says:

    The ability to discriminate between different qualities is probably highly correlated to the frequency of consumption as well as to the depth of our consumption experience (exposure to a multitude of varieties, qualities etc.). Hence it is perfectly sensible that experienced consumers do have a strong preferences for sophisticated (and possibly expensive) products while inexperienced ones do not.

    As a member of a Mediterranean family of olive oil producers I can easily identify oil of good quality and willing to spend the right amount of money to obtain it. That is often not understood by my British friends as for them olive oil is olive oil. There is just one quality!