Price information didn't do much to change people's opinions outside of making cheap wine more pleasant, the research found.

Advertisement

Everyone understands that price impacts how much you enjoy a wine, even in the most basic sense: Paying a lot for a bad bottle is depressing and grabbing a bargain is always fun whether it's clothes or Cabernet. But a recently published study once again demonstrates that psychological subtleties influence our association between wine and price. And actually, if anything, being misled about price may help us enjoy wine more.

Close up of young Asian woman walking through supermarket aisle and choosing a bottle of red wine from the shelf in a supermarket
Credit: d3sign/Getty Images

An international team of psychologists looked at how "Price information influences the subjective experience of wine" in a paper published this week by the journal Food Quality and Preference. The authors stated that what makes their research unique is that it "explicitly manipulated price information in a realistic wine tasting setting," hopefully offering more lifelike insights than previous lab studies.

During this tasting, held at the University of Basel in Switzerland, 140 blind tasters were given three Italian wines billed as either "low-, mid- [or] high-priced"—about $10, $35, and $70 per bottle respectively. However, some of the wines were presented with no price information, some with the correct price tag, and some with "deceptive" pricing. The findings aren't entirely as cut and dry as you may think.

When asked to rate the "intensity" of the wines, tasters' ratings largely correlated with price. But when asked to rate the "pleasantness" of the wines, things began to change: When the cheap wines were said to be four times more expensive, tasters rated them as more pleasant; and yet, when the most expensive wines were presented as only costing a quarter of the price, pleasantness ratings stayed about the same. So in the end, the only major difference uncovered in this study was that people found cheap wines to be more pleasant when they were told they were more expensive.

"I know how important context is. The mind is a beautiful thing, able to bend the truth to the point where expectations fit the reality," Professor Jens Glaab, a member of the University of Basel's psychology faculty and a co-author of the study, told Decanter. However, he seemed to think the bigger takeaway wasn't to lie to your friends, but to consider this impact with your own tasting. "If you are really interested in the taste of wine, do not use the price as the leading principle," he continued, "trust your senses."