Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Wine & Money

An article in today's Dining section of the Times talks about whether enjoyment of wine is affected by outside factors such as the circumstances in which you drink it, or knowing how much it cost.

The researchers scanned the brains of 21 volunteer wine novices as they administered tiny tastes of wine, measuring sensations in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain where flavor responses apparently register. The subjects were told only the price of the wines. Without their knowledge, they tasted one wine twice, and were given two different prices for that wine. Invariably they preferred the one they thought was more expensive.

“Forget those blurbs about bouquets, body and berries,” one newspaper account crowed. “A meticulous new study found that the more people think a wine cost, the more they like it. And the less they think it cost, the less they like it.”

Big surprise. Sommeliers all over know that the hardest wine to sell in a restaurant is the cheapest bottle on the list. “Yeah, clients don’t want to be embarrassed in front of a date, so they don’t order the cheapest wines,” said Fred Dexheimer, the wine director of the BLT restaurant group. The fact is, the correlation between price and quality is so powerful that it affects not just our perception of wine but of all consumer goods.

Studies like this seem to come up every so often, so this is no big surprise. But what these studies have never taken into account, as far as I know, is the subjects' attitudes towards money. I think that a frugal-minded personal finance blogger might be more likely to enjoy a cheap wine just because it's cheap. I know I can be this way-- sometimes I probably like things just because I am so happy I got a bargain when buying them. Someone who really values saving money might not enjoy an expensive wine just because they want to believe that a cheap one is just as good.
On the other hand, someone who is very focused on attaining wealth and luxury goods and projecting a certain image of their financial status might be more likely to enjoy an expensive wine, because they believe expensive things should be better, and because they want to feel like their hard-earned money is buying them the kind of rewards they deserve. After all, if expensive things aren't better, there's no value to being rich, right?

Obviously, the answer is for some researchers to set up a study comparing the wine tastes of personal finance bloggers to those of the rest of the population at large. I hereby volunteer to be your first guinea pig!


Anonymous said...

I agree with you: my $6 Barefoot wine tastes great b/c it is, and it's all I'm willing to pay for a run of the mill night. That said, I think everyone (even frugal people like myself), however erroneously, correlate price with quality. On a second taste, thinking that a wine is more expensive, people made the assumption that what they were tasting was of better quality. Bottom line: Frugal people learn to detect quality independent of price, which is no small feat with wine. Do you agree?

Anonymous said...

Being extremely frugal myself BUT having tasted the wines of France & Italy because I was really there-I have learned a few things about wine. First, I shop price. Then I look at the wine region and year it was made. So far, to me, the best wines are from the Tuscany region of Italy and the Cotes de Rone from France (Beaudeaux).
I found a local wine store that discounts slow selling wine to $3.99 a bottle. I found some great Italian reds & white (Tuscany & Venice) and a few good French as well as Argentina & Chile. I buy them by the case they are so good!
I do NOT tell anyone how much I paid. I just tell them that my travels helped me select these great wines.

Amy K. said...

I do assume price equates to quality when I'm in a restaurant and buying by the glass (and yes, I know that is the most expensive way to buy wine!) Without a tasting, I automatically assume that the $8 glass must be better than the $6 glass.

Frugalites will relish having gotten a DEAL on a bottle, and getting a $42 bottle for $20 may be better than getting a $20 bottle for $12.99. Or would they go for the $12.99 Riesling from California over the $20 Riesling for Alsace? I'm not really sure where the cards would fall.

I do know that there are certain consistently inexpensive wines I love, e.g. Fetzer's Gewürztraminer, but if I found a bottle from Alsace at the same price point, I'd drop it in a heartbeat to at least try out the (presumably better, as the homeland of Gewürztraminer) Alsatian one.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone's comments on how general people perceive wine. I have been drinking wine for a long time, and have taken courses in wine in college, gone to 100's of wine tastings, and found one truth. Liking a wine is in the palette of the drinker, only after they have viewed the label and price tag. My favorite winery is Wisconsin, and they have several awesome varieties of wine, and sales at various times of the year. I get several cases with each run and at the end of the day, it costs me probably 5-6 dollars a bottle.

Someone else mentioned the $3.99 bottle of last years vintage. I do that a lot here as well. I am good friends with the owner and he will save stuff for me knowing what I like, etc. Yeah - you have to drink it enough to want to go through the troubles. However the thought of getting a more seasoned $35 bottle of wine that is out of style, for $2.99 is just a great thing to do.

Don't get me wrong, I can enjoy a $50 Burgundy or a bottle of Dom like the best of them, however the price tag does not make the wine. So when I have people over, I decant the wine, and no one knows what it is. No one has ever said anything, even wine critics who I have had over and asked what they thought.

Wine is still considered a snobby type of passion for people, while those same people will spend $6 on a sixer of bud light. I just happen to enjoy my wine more than that six pack and know how to get what I like, for an economical cost.

Another thing people might consider is home brewing your wine, or going to a place that will do it for you. It is an awesome experience and also makes you enjoy the wine more. For like $200 bucks, you can buy, ferment, rack, and bottle (you supply the bottles) somewhere between 20-22 bottles of wine for you to have at home. These all are all juices that won awards and are really good stuff. If you have the home brew stuff - you can do it yourself at home. It really is not all that had and you can save yourself 100 bucks !!!

One more thought. Funny thing to do. Bite the bullet and get 1 expensive bottle of wine that you like. Get the label off of the bottle and reproduce it. You can find labels in a lot of wine supply stores. Print out some others and put them on a "el cheapo" from the grocery store. See what people say then :). Just remember - do not sell it - that is against the law.

mapgirl said...

The interesting thing is that there were ppl in one of the studies that knew about wine and could pick out the more expensive wines and preferred them.

I think we destroy our palettes with sugar, coffee and smoking. (Not that I dislike the first two. I love chocolate and coffee, together even!) More than anything if you drink a lot of wine, you get better at tasting the difference. I can't always tell the price difference by tasting, but I can tell you what I like and why.

The only way to fix the problem is to take the advice of the boys from the London office when I worked for an international firm years ago. "Just drink through it."


Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

I've got allergies. That means my palate is permanently dulled. So, no point spending big bucks on wine that might taste a smidge better than $3 Chuck.

Last time I bought wine, I was with my kids, ages 4 & 8, at Trader Joe's. I told them each to find me a bottle of white wine (I showed them how to tell) that cost $4.99 or less. One found a bottle of Chardonnay from California, the other an Italian white table wine. Both were delish! I'm letting the kids pick from now on! (and no, they didn't get to taste any)

Anonymous said...

Mark me down as a box wine girl. :) While my wine palate is pretty unrefined, I kind of prefer it that way. Perhaps ignorance is bliss? (Or at the very least, highly affordable...)