Sunday, October 11, 2009

Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?

While hand-selling yesterday I talked with an older gentleman who doesn't drink but said he often wanders in to the wine department to marvel at the price tags. Naturally, he asked me what makes one wine worth more money than the next. I told him that several factors play into it:
  • The way the wine is produced: For example if the grapes are hand-picked and the wine is aged in oak-barrels that may increase the cost.
  • The origin of the grapes: Grapes from a particular region or a particularly unique vineyard may be worth more money.
  • The demand for the varietal: Pinot Noir is really popular right now, but it's not that easy to grow so the base prices tend to be higher than Merlot.
  • The year a wine was harvested: I'm told 2006 was a good year for Oregon Pinot Noir, but 2007 was not so great.
  • The branding: Just like any marketable product or service, the reputation of the wine label, winery or wine maker can make a huge difference in the price.

But the real question is does price make a huge difference in the taste? According to a working paper from the American Association of Wine Economists, for most people it doesn't. The economists reviewed results from approximately 6,000 blind tastings and found that "unless they are experts, individuals who are unaware of the price enjoy more expensive wines slightly less."

However, most wine enthusiasts do not drink their wine blind on a regular basis. According to the economists, in a traditional wine tasting "the pleasure we get from consuming wine depends both on its intrinsic qualities such as taste and smell and external attributes such as price and presentation." But the results of their study suggest that "both price tags and expert recommendations may be poor guides for non-expert wine consumers who care about the intrinsic qualities of the wine."

Like most novice wine drinkers, I tend to pick wine based on the price and the label, but I just had my first blind tasting a couple of weeks ago and I really enjoyed the experience of focusing on the smell and taste completely.

Find out for yourself:
  1. Invite a variety of your friends over and ask them to each bring a bottle of wine to try. (Note: You might want to have a specific focus for your tasting like Merlot so you're not bouncing all around the spectrum.)
  2. Cover the wines in tin foil or brown paper bags so no one can see the labels.
  3. Mark each bottle covering with a letter or number to identify it.
  4. Make sure everyone has a way to take notes.
  5. Taste and rate.
  6. Compare notes at the end.
Let me know how it goes!

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