Sunday, February 10, 2008
The Subjectivity of Wine: Part II
I came across another intriguing study on the subjectivity of wine tasting. Cal Tech found that the simple act of telling someone that a bottle of wine was expensive made them judge the wine to taste better and the converse of telling them it was a cheap bottle of wine caused them to judge it poorly.
What made the study even more enlightening was that it was not, as I assumed, merely a form of the Emperor not wearing any clothes where people fear sounding unknowledgeable about wine and thus simply lie and say the more expensive wine tastes better. Instead, the conductors of the survey measured the actual brain activity of the subjects and found that the pleasure centers of the brain really did show increased activity when tasting a wine they were told was expensive.
This is one of those studies that really demonstrates how much we underestimate the brain's power. The question is, should this make us more or less cynical about wine tasting. On the surface, there is the obvious observation that 'it's all in our head'. Why should we spend $90 on a bottle of wine whose main attribute is its extravagant price rather than the actual contents of the bottle. Yet on the other hand, if we are ordering wine for others--particularly those who are not aware of these sorts of studies--it appears that they will truly get more enjoyment out of a bottle of wine they know to be pricey. It's a fascinating conundrum.