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Higher wine price can enhance taste, says study

A new study has found people enjoyed a wine more when told it was four times more expensive than it really was.

Drinkers shown the inflated wine price by researchers were more enthusiastic about the contents of their glass, versus those given the real price.

There are many variables to consider, of course, but the study adds to an increasing amount of research on wine price and taste.

The authors said they specifically wanted to better understand perceptions in a ‘realistic setting’.

They held wine tastings in small groups with 140 participants during an open evening event at the University of Basel, Switzerland.

Three Italian wines from the 2013 vintage were involved:

  • A Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC retailing for CHF10 (US$10 / £7.74)
  • A Bolgheri DOC at CHF32 (nearly £25)
  • A Toscana IGT at CHF65 (£50)

‘The cheapest wine was rated as more pleasant when presented as fourfold of its actual retail price,’ said the researchers in a study published this week in the Food Quality and Preference journal.

‘No effect was found when decreasing the price label of the expensive wine by a fourfold,’ they added.

The researchers also asked drinkers to rate the wines’ intensity, and found price changes didn’t have much impact.

Participants tasted all of the wines blind and with prices.

Some were given the inflated price for the cheapest wine and an artificially low price for the most expensive bottle. Others were shown the real prices.

Although 135 of the participants said they drank wine regularly, none were considered tasting experts.

Professor Jens Gaab, of the University of Basel’s psychology faculty, told Decanter via email that he was interested in the study as a placebo researcher.

‘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.’

Gaab said there were different ways for drinkers to think about the findings.

‘If you are really interested in the taste of wine, do not use the price as the leading principle, trust your senses (even if they are influenced by the price),’ he suggested.

He said price alone can be useful from an investment perspective, however.

He added that drinkers might also wish to take into account other factors, ‘such as is this fitting to my mood or my aims with this wine’.

The study’s authors called for more research into links between wine price and taste.

They suggested future work could focus on different aspects of wine tasting, such as intensity of taste, colour and smell – not just overall ‘pleasantness’. They also called for other to replicate their work in order to build up a comprehensive picture.

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