We’ve been led to believe that the more expensive wines are better in terms of quality and taste, but most people that participate in blind taste tests with the same type of wine at different price ranges will tell you differently.
Wine Spectator may have considered the most expensive of the three cabernet sauvignon wines to be “extremely well done… with style and panache,” but taste-testers had a different response.
It’s interesting when you think about the huge selection of wines that are available in any given grocery store, despite the fact that Americans drink about seven times more beer than they do wine. However, you’ll only find a few dozen different beers to choose from while there are hundreds of wines available.
What is even more strange about the wide selection of wines and prices is that most people don’t know the difference between “good” and “bad” wines. One of the reasons wines are seen as being so much more elegant than beer is that there are competitions, ratings, and descriptions that more closely resembles poetry than an actual description of a beverage.
In a 2007 essay, Princeton economist Richard Quandt discussed “the two principal sources of bullshit” in life:
First, there are some subjects that tend to induce an unusually large amount of bullshit … Equally importantly, there are some people who engage in bullshit with greater frequency than the average; they have a special propensity to bullshit, perhaps habitually or compulsively or just for the fun of it … In some instances, there is an unhappy marriage between a subject that especially lends itself to bullshit and bullshit artists who are impelled to comment on it. I fear that wine is one of those instances where this unholy union is in effect.”
Therein lies the problem with wine: you have the science of turning a great fruit into a great drink. Then you have what are seemingly objective quality variables like balance and complexity. But layered onto that is a mountain of subjective opinions, people trying to prove their sophistication, and a whole lot of marketing. The nature of wine makes it really hard to tell the difference between expertise, nonsense, and personal preference.
Take wine comments, for example. There’s no doubt that people can learn through training how to identify different grapes and regions, and develop the vocabulary to distinguish and describe subtle flavors and aromas. But at the same time, people are always vulnerable to the influence of their expectations. And time and again, researchers have been able to trick even expert wine tasters.
By dyeing a white wine red, researchers at the University of Bordeaux showed how easily visual cues can dominate wine students’ sense of smell. When they thought the white wine was a red one, they described it using words commonly applied to red wines (incidentally, those words are typically dark objects like red berries or wood).