Text Size:-+
01.20.2008

Science Confirms Gold Plated Wine Bottles Are Best

From now on, I'm only buying wine if it comes in a gold plated or platinum plated bottle. I want my wine bottles encrusted with jewels, and preferably as expensive as possible. Perhaps we can convince Damien Hirst to come up with something called For The Love of Wine?

My newly expensive tastes are, of course, the result of some new neuroscience that has gotten a large amount of press in the past two weeks. I don't know what it is, exactly, that the mainstream media love about wine related science, but the recent experiments from some folks down at CalTech have gotten more coverage than any other wine story since the Resveratrol craze of 2007.

In case you didn't happen to catch it, the short story is that researchers have reported that subjects given two identical samples of wine report that they enjoy more whichever one they are told is the most expensive. Additionally, the researchers were able to show that when the users were tasting the wines that they thought were more expensive that the particular area of the brain associated with pleasure sensations was more active, which tells us that at the very least, the subjects weren't lying to themselves or the researchers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, these findings have been reported around the world as "higher prices make wines taste better." While a tempting summary to be sure, this is in fact NOT what this research has shown. The researchers actually are quite unsure as to whether or not the information that a wine is more expensive affects the taste or other sensations that a wine drinker perceives when actually tasting the wine. Rather, it seems, this information about cost affects the way that wine drinkers react to those sensations, think about them, and evaluate their overall sense of "pleasure" at drinking the wine, as well as whether the wine is "good" or not. The higher the price, it seems, the better we think the wine is, and the more we think we enjoy it, which are both independent of just exactly how the wine tastes.

It's important to understand the conditions under which these experiments are conducted. Because the researchers were having people taste wines while in an fMRI scanner (which means they were flat on their backs in a dark room inside a huge loud machine) the wines were "tasted" by having a small amount (1 milliliter, which is about 1/5 of a teaspoon) of wine injected into their mouths through a tube. And the reports of "better" or "worse" come from the subject pressing a button held in their hands while trying to remain absolutely still in the scanner. Not exactly the most comfortable wine drinking scenario.

So, assuming the results achieved by these tests are conclusive, it seems that while the price tag may not be able to change the taste of wine, this research suggests it certainly is capable of fooling us (or prompting us to fool ourselves) into thinking we're drinking something better than we are. Which leads me to my request for and emerald encrusted, gold-capped Alsatian Riesling....

Actually, it really leads to several more questions: If price is capable of programming our response to wine so well, why couldn't our fancy (and expensive) wine glasses be doing the same thing? Or some magnetic device on the neck of our wine bottle? That fancy decanter? The color of the label? Other researchers have shown that the appellation of the wine we drink at dinner will not only affect how much we enjoy the wine, but also how good we think the food is.

At the very least this research might be a good justification for price-blind (and potentially completely blind) tasting.

Finally, there's the ultimate philosophical question that lies at the heart of this whole thing -- the wine tasting equivalent of the tree falling in the forest when no one is around. Is there any real difference to us between a wine that is great and a wine that we THINK is great simply because it's expensive?

I don't recommend attempting to answer this question until the second bottle.

Thanks to Arthur at redwinebuzz.com for sending me the actual research paper for the study.

Buy My Book!

small_final_covershot_dropshadow.jpg A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.

Follow Me On:

Twitter Pinterest Instagram Delectable Flipboard

Most Recent Entries

Wine and Beauty Explained San Francisco's Lost Sommeliers Finding Pirate Treasure With a Corkscrew Vinography Unboxed: Week of March 1, 2015 Vinography Images: Sonoma Spring Siduri Wines: Rewarding the Search for Flavor Vinography Unboxed: Week of February 22, 2015 Vinography Images: Frost and Fog The Glory of 2013 Napa Cabernet: Tasting Premiere Napa Valley A Dose of Claret: Visiting With 2010 Bordeaux

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Wine Will Never Smell the Same Again: Luca Turin and the Science of Scent Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases Should We Care What Winemakers Say? The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines 2009 Burgundy Vintage According to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Charles Banks: The New Man Behind Mayacamas Wine from the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Chateau Rayas and the 2012 Vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane The First-Timer's Guide to Les Trois Glorieuses of Hospices de Beaune

Archives by Month

 

Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud