Back in January (yes, I am just now getting around to this – hey, I’ve got a newborn at the house; what’s your excuse?), findings were published from a study that measured participant’s brain reactions to tasting wine. The trick: it was the same wine, but they were told that the wine was either cheap, or relatively expensive. Guess what – participants enjoyed the wine more when they were told it had a higher price.
With all the duping going on in the wine industry the past few weeks (including an embarrassing gaff for Wine Spectator, and the claim that wine bloggers – Dude included! – were duped by winery marketers), I thought it would be fun to revisit this little ditty, and cast a different light on it in lieu of recent events.
According to one article on the study findings:
“Contrary to the basic assumptions of economics, several studies have provided behavioral evidence that marketing actions can successfully affect experienced pleasantness by manipulating nonintrinsic attributes of goods.”
[ My translation: instead of telling you that the wine is "an everyday guzzler" or "as close to sublime perfection as humans are likely to reach," they just upped or lowered the price. ]
This struck me as totally odd (in terms of this being contrary to economic assumptions). I mean, aren’t we talking about something that marketing types, hucksters, clever business folk, and seductresses have known for maybe hundreds of years? Not only does a higher price give you the cache factor of shelling out for “the best,” setting a higher price does something else just as important:
It gives your brain the opportunity to indulge in anticipation of experiencing “the best.” Which is, I’d argue, an essential element in making a “good” experience – a meal, a movie, a date, a wine, and (especially!) sex – “great.”…
What studies like this one don’t mean is that you can’t tell the difference between wine that is pure plonk and wine that is superb. Almost anyone can do that, provided that they are willing to do a little bit of learning beforehand.
The studies don’t mean that all wines are created equal. In a lot of ways, the current wine market does set prices fairly, and you tend (with some exceptions, of course) to get what you pay for.
The studies also don’t mean that you need fancy-schmancy wine certifications, or advanced study under your belt, to appreciate wine. For that, you only need an open mind, patience, and the willingness to learn. Incidentally, these are the same things that you need to better appreciate a good meal, a movie, a date, and (especially!) sex.
I’m not sure what enlightenment we’re hoping to reach with all of this wine duping afoot, but I can tell you this: You know what they say about sex? ” When it’s good, it’s great. And when it’s bad, well, it’s still pretty good!”
The same applies to wine (and other great experience-givers) because, fundamentally, wine gives us pleasure, connect us together, and provide us the opportunity to open our minds a bit further than they were a few minutes before.
And if we indulge in a bit of anticipation to heighten the experience? From what I can tell, the most harm it might cause us is to think that the experience is a bit better than someone else thought it was.
That’s a trade-off I’d take any day of the week.
(images: .geocities.com/SoHo/Nook, danielpadilla.com)