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.
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.
- Scoring wine when drunk
2. EXPERTS VERSUS NOVICES
3. HOW WELL DO WE ESTIMATE THE VALUE OF WINE?
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.