This wine tastes like a million bucks

If you have any doubts that blind tasting is essential to formulating a relatively objective judgment about a wine, you just have to read this article sent out on the wires by Agence France-Presse. It summarizes a study conducted at the California Institute of Technology, which demonstrates quite clearly that our knowledge about the (supposed) price of a wine influences the pleasure we take drinking it.

Researchers scanned the brains of subjects who were drinking various wines – all cabernet sauvignons – for which the only information provided was the price of the bottle, real or not. For instance, if the researchers made people taste the same wine when indicating that it was a 90$ bottle, rather than a 10$ bottle, the activity registered in the parts of the brain associated with pleasure was increased. So just saying that you’re serving an expensive bottle not only makes people approach the wine more respectfully, but it also provides more pleasure to them, as the brain actually responds to that input.

I would imagine that the same applies to reputation and name. In other words, if you’re handed a glass of Château Latour – and told that it IS Latour -, you’ll tend to enjoy it more than if you were handed the same glass without being told what it actually is. And that, at the other end of the spectrum, you won’t give much consideration to a cheap bottle of no-name brand wine.

If you want to read the original article by Dr Rangel and his colleagues, you’ll have to pay 10$ to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and look for a piece entitled “Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness“, which sounds less fun but is certainly more precise. I’m not sure which part of the brain reading such a title actually activates.

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