Winesperiment

Some years ago, a feud between my friend and I boiled over. He insisted that drinking cheap cask wine from plastic cups was comparable to any other wine experience, and he called me snooty for asserting otherwise. I insisted that he was a cheap skate with no palate, and told him he had no idea what he was talking about.

But being a pair of nerds, we envisioned a way to settle the argument properly. In a drunken discussion, we developed a scientific experiment that would employ our friends to pit these competing world views against one another.

Methods

We invited 24 guests to a party. Each was asked to bring a bottle of red wine. At the door, they entered demographic data including their age, a self-rating of their wine expertise and the usual price bracket of wine they consume.

Guests also entered data on the wine they brought to the party, including the varietal, vintage, and most importantly, the price. Each bottle was then bagged in brown paper, with a random number written on the bag. One bottle contained red cask wine that we had decanted into an empty red wine bottle.

Over the course of the evening, guests randomly selected their drinks from these numbered bottles, and ranked the quality of each wine from 1 (low quality) to 5 (high quality). We recorded the time of night of each rating, expecting that ratings might improve as people became more inebriated.

My hypothesis was that more expensive wines would receive higher quality ratings.

Results

  1. Scoring wine when drunk
My first finding was that people tended to give wine more favourable ratings as the night wore on (I wonder why?). This pattern was not statistically significant (ANOVA: p = 0.68), so time was not included in further analyses. It does suggest, however, that the more drunk we get, the less attention we pay to what we’re drinking.

2. EXPERTS VERSUS NOVICES

People who scored themselves higher out of 5 for their knowledge of wine tended to give higher ratings overall (ANOVA: p = 0.019). This could reflect three things. One explanation is that people who rate their knowledge higher are also likely to enjoy wine more, and may generally score wines more highly as a result. Alternatively, people who rate their knowledge more highly may be able to better differentiate wines of higher quality.

3. HOW WELL DO WE ESTIMATE THE VALUE OF WINE?

People tended to over-estimate the value of wine, but this is skewed such that people tended to under-estimate the value of wines above $20 a bottle, but overestimate the value of wines below $10.

4. CAN PEOPLE TELL THE DIFFERENCE?

Drumroll please… the most important result of all! People score more expensive wines more highly (ANOVA: p < 0.001). That is to say, irrespective of how much people think they know about wine, people CAN tell the difference between wines of different price points. This result also supports the idea that the value, quality and enjoyment of wine increases with price point.

The real question

Who wins the bet? My friend the economist, or me?

I think the results clearly speak for themselves. Drinking goon out of a plastic cup just isn’t as enjoyable as a decent glass of wine.

That said, I recommend this article from the Guardian, which details all the ways our perceptions of the quality of wine can be influenced—to such an extent that we ought to question what expert wine scoring really means.

If you have follow up questions on these analyses, please leave a comment! It has been so much fun analysing these data that I am very happy to do more.

Until then, go enjoy a glass of wine.

4 thoughts on “Winesperiment

Add yours

  1. Great article Hannah. The only downside I see is that I’ve known some cracking good wines for $15 vs $30-$40+ bottles so that can scew results possibly. And some $5 cleanskins are excellent also. But even though I don’t drink at all nowadays I’d never partake from a cask

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    1. We certainly did! We also had a resident wine expert score each bottle for comparison with the ratings of us laymen. Unfortunately, both of these datasets got lost somewhere in the five years since the experiment. The only solution I see is to repeat the whole thing.

      Like

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