Over at the Freakonomics blog last week, there was a post about how detailed study (involving over 5,000 people) has revealed that only wine experts can tell cheap wines from expensive ones. For the rest of us, it is often the inexpensive wine that is preferred in blind taste tests.
They conclude in the original post that the best strategy for long-term happiness and wealth is to remain ignorant of whatever subtle cues sommeliers detect when they sample the vino. That way, you will enjoy your wine more and pay less. I can verify that this is true – my wife’s favourite wine (PKNT Sauvignon Blanc – annoying website here) is far from the most expensive at the liquor store; but she didn’t know that when she learned that she liked it.
Unfortunately, it’s also scientifically proven that you enjoy the same wine more when you’re told that it is more expensive (whether it really is or not). The conscious awareness of how something is priced actually alters how our neurons fire and how we subsequently perceive the quality of the quaff. So buying expensive wine makes it taste better to you, even if you’re not one of the experts who can really tell the difference.
And it doesn’t have to be price that subconsciously alters our perception of a product. Remember the Pepsi challenge? In incognito samplings, Pepsi was the overwhelming favourite, much to the chagrin of die-hard Coke fans who themselves often chose Pepsi blind. Yet that statistical evidence didn’t sway the Coke fans – they made up conspiracy theories to explain the result and continued in blissful ignorance.
Philosophical question: would it be unethical to serve cheap wine at expensive prices? There is proof that it would cause customers to enjoy the product more than if it were priced “fairly.” So you’re benefiting them while lining your own pockets. Of course, you would have to be honest about the brand and vintage of wine you’re serving. But really, how many people know that $120 is far too much to pay for Wolf Blass Premium Selection Shiraz in a restaurant, but about right for Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Shiraz? And wouldn’t they enjoy either equally once they’d shelled out that coin? As the Coffee Talk yenta says, “Discuss.”