At Wine Tastings, the Cheap Stuff Tastes Better If You Think It's Expensive

Cheap wine can taste better to some when the price tag is switched.
Cheap wine can taste better to some when the price tag is switched. / MarkSwallow/iStock via Getty Images

For some, there’s no better end to a meal at a fine dining establishment than uncorking a bottle of their finest wine. And by “finest,” we mean among the most expensive. While patrons ordering cheaper selections may look on with some envy, there’s increasing evidence that it’s not just the wine itself but the price tag that influences how good it tastes.

In a study published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland set out to examine how price affects the subjective impression of a wine’s quality. During a public event at the university, 140 people participated in a complimentary wine tasting. Each sat at an individual table and was served six glasses of wine. Three glasses were of three different wines with no price information attached. The other three had wines that were labeled with low, medium, or high price tags.

At each table, one, two, or none of the three tagged wines were mislabeled, either being four times higher than their retail price or four times lower. Essentially, a number of tables had one or two glasses of wine that were mislabeled to be either much more or much less expensive than they normally are.

For the three unmarked glasses of varying quality and value, the subjects didn’t appear to have any strong positive or negative preferences. But when guests sampled the wine mislabeled to be more expensive, they reported enjoying it more.

Taking an expensive wine and labeling it as inexpensive, however, didn’t seem to impact how people perceived it.

A high price appears to be part of the overall enjoyment of wine, with people seemingly priming themselves for a better experience owing to the price of the bottle. For people insisting expensive wine tastes better, they're right—but perhaps not for the reasons they think.

[h/t Science Alert]