Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?

Freakonomics Radio has become a favorite podcast. This podcast [MP3] may make you happy – or angry – as it did some of the participants in the wine tastings:

When you take a sip of Cabernet, what are you tasting? The grape? The tannins? The oak barrel? Or the price?

Believe it or not, the most dominant flavor may be the dollars. Thanks to the work of some intrepid and wine-obsessed economists (yes, there is an American Association of Wine Economists), we have a new understanding of the relationship between wine, critics, and consumers.

One of these researchers is Robin Goldstein, whose paper detailing more than 6,000 blind tastings reaches the conclusion that “individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine.” So why do we pay so much attention to critics and connoisseurs who tell us otherwise?

That’s the question we set out to answer in this podcast. Along the way, you’ll hear details about Goldstein’s research as well as the story of how he won an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine. (Not how you think!) Also featured: Steve Levitt, who admits his palate is “underdeveloped,” pulling a wine stunt on his elders at Harvard’s Society of Fellows; and wine broker Brian DiMarco, who pulled a stunt of his own on his very wine-savvy employees.

Read the whole thing »