Friday, September 10, 2010

Wine: The Price/Taste "Correlation"

When it comes to people saying how they feel about a wine, I always feel like people are trying to give the "right answer." Is this supposed to be a good wine? Is it expensive? What does the back of the bottle say? What do experts think of this wine? These are all questions that creep into people's minds as they taste a wine. If the wine is expensive and highly rated by an expert, most people feel like they should have a high opinion of the wine. But what would happen if you had people blindly taste wines that had significantly different prices? Let me tell you...

I've had a number of wine tasting parties where guests each bring one or two bottles of wine from a similar varietal. Sometimes I won't even be picky about the varietals and I'll just tell everyone to bring a red wine. I always make sure that we have wines pricing from $2 to $40. Often we'll have a wine or two over $40.

My main objective is always to provide a fun time for my guests. This means good food, good wine, good music, and especially good people. My secondary objective is to run the thing like a scientific research experiment, and to collect meaningful data from each guest. Give me your data, baby!!

The key to getting objective data is (1) guests cannot know what they are drinking, (2) guests should avoid talking about the wines as they taste them so as to avoid influencing others, and (3) guests must have every wine sample in front of them from the start. This last point is very important. It just won't work if you pour one sample at a time. This is for two reasons. First, the guests get more drunk as they drink, so their tipsy palate won't be the same by the time they get to sample #10. Second reason is because they simply won't remember how sample #1 compares to sample #10 if sample #1 is long gone. They need every wine poured for them from the get-go. This way they can go back and forth tasting each wine multiple times in order to really figure out which ones they like the best and worst. So unless you have 100 wine glasses lying around, I suggest you purchase some throwaway plastic cups if you want to replicate this.

All guests rate the wines on a scale from 1-100. Then after the party is over I crunch the numbers in Excel to determine whether statistically significant correlations exist between price and taste. I have found that no correlation exists. This means that on average guests do not find the more expensive wines to taste better. In fact, I frequently see the cheapest bottles rank in the top 3. Below is a photo of the top 3 wines from a party last December (from left to right). The bottle on the right (Charles Shaw Cabernet) was #3, and is a $2 bottle. Three people from the party actually rated this as their favorite wine. And yes, I gave them shit for it afterward. :) My favorite was the wine in the middle.

To see the statistical results from this party (the Excel spreadsheet), you can access it by clicking here. It will take you to where I uploaded it to Google docs. I created this Excel template and use it for all my parties. Go ahead and use it for yours!

Out of curiosity, I searched the internet one day for similar research. I came across a wine tasting study done in 2008 by a collaboration of researchers from Harvard, Yale, and the Stockholm School of Economics. In a sample of more than 6,000 blind tastings they found that "Individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine...we find that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less."

No surprise here. This is exactly what what my results were showing, although it's nice to see it validated with a huge sample size.

So here's my advice. Don't listen to what "experts" say about a wine (unless it's coming from ME...haha). And certainly don't be persuaded by some winery charging a high price to make you think their wine tastes good. Everybody has different taste buds. Does everybody like mayonnaise? Does everyone like martinis? Does everyone like seafood? No. Nobody likes the same food. So why should your enjoyment of something be based on the opinion of somebody that probably doesn't even like all the same foods as you? It doesn't matter how many wines somebody has drank from all over the world. Because their taste buds aren't your taste buds. So drink some wine, and if you like it then keep on drinking. Because very few people are going to have the exact same opinion of that wine than you do. And there ain't nothin' wrong with that.

Journal of Wine Economics, Volume 3, Number 1, Spring 2008, Pages 1–9