There are numerous studies that show that the price of wine can change the perception of quality of the person drinking it.

Most of them have been carried out in laboratory environments, in which MRI scans of the tasters’ brains have been performed during the test. However, until now it had not been done in a more relaxed environment, simulating a real wine tasting. The first to do so were scientists at the University of Basel, Switzerland, whose results have just been published in Food Quality and Preference.

The Wall Street incident

The idea that the price of wine can influence the opinion of the wine taster arose in 2002 from a chance incident.

Four Wall Street workers went to lunch at one of New York’s most famous restaurants. They were not concerned about price, so they ordered the most expensive red wine on the menu, a 1989 Mouton Rothschild, which was selling for $2,000 a bottle.

When the waiter brought it to their table and served it following the usual ritual, everyone was delighted. What they didn’t know was that the worker had gotten confused and had actually served them the cheapest wine available, an $18 Pinot Noir.

Meanwhile, a few tables over, the couple who had ordered the Pinot Noir were quietly sipping a wine perhaps more expensive than their mortgage.

Fortunately, the four customers worst off for the mistake took it with humor and were not angry. They did admit that, for them, it could perfectly well have been the very expensive Mouton Rothschild they had ordered.

The marketing of the price of wine

After that curious episode, a scientific study was published in 2008 in which a group of volunteers underwent a brain MRI while they tasted several wines of different prices, wrongly labeled.

Those whose label indicated a higher price increased the activity of brain regions linked to pleasure processing. Their reward systems were definitely kicking in and they were enjoying the experience more.

Later, in 2017, their results were confirmed with another study in which, again, raising prices improved the sensory experience of the volunteers.

Apart from these two, other labs have performed similar procedures. In many of them, opaque plastic tubes were used, so that only taste and price influenced the participants’ perception. This eliminates confounding factors, but makes the experience much less realistic. Therefore, the authors of this latest study decided to fake a real tasting.

A real study with a fake tasting

This study was conducted at a public event, held at the University of Basel. Among other entertainment activities, a wine tasting was offered.

A total of 140 people participated, who were only asked to sit at individual tables, without interacting with the other attendees. They were insisted that in this way they would not be influenced by their peers and would be better able to judge for themselves.

On each of these tables were six small glasses of wine. Half of them had no label at all. However, the other three did have a label showing the price of the product.

Some were realistically priced, while others were either too high or too low. That is, there were people who drank from a bottle of very expensive wine believing it to be very cheap and the other way around.

Interestingly, when asked to evaluate the intensity and enjoyment of the wine, there was no difference in those that were unlabeled, but in those with the high price there was a higher satisfaction than expected. In contrast, the deliberate lowering of the price of the wine did not seem to have an influence. As for the intensity, they did perceive it to be in line with what it really was. This is something that also happened in the laboratory studies, so it seems that the marketing of the economic cost only influences the sensation of pleasure.

Of course, the deception only seems to work on people who are wine lovers, but not experts. Professional tasters do not usually fall for it.

The most expensive wine in the world

The most expensive commercialized wine in the world is Spanish. It comes from a winery in Las Pedroñeras, in Cuenca. From the vineyard to the table, it follows a production process after which its price rises to 340,000 euros per 16-liter bottle.

Logically, drinking it must be a sensory wonder for any wine lover, but only for its taste and aroma or also for its price?


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