Living

Can you tell the difference between good wine and the cheap stuff?

Ten years ago, people drank wine. Now they rhapsodize about it. Wine columnists write at length about a vintage’s distinctive “mouth feel” (I’m guessing, wet?) and unique “flavour profile,” distinguishing the tang of saddle leather and citrus notes with every gulp. (And if you think I made that “saddle leather” thing up you don’t read enough wine columns.)

Masterfile

Ten years ago, people drank wine. Now they rhapsodize about it. Wine columnists write at length about a vintage’s distinctive “mouth feel” (I’m guessing, wet?) and unique “flavour profile,” distinguishing the tang of saddle leather and citrus notes with every gulp. (And if you think I made that “saddle leather” thing up you don’t read enough wine columns.) 

It’s not just professionals who’ve gone gaga for vino. It’s regular people too. At dinner parties it’s not uncommon for the host to present the wine as if it’s a featured guest—‘Let me introduce you to Amarone, he’s a full-bodied Italian from Verona…’ 

I smile and nod all the while keeping this slightly embarrassing fact to myself: I can’t honestly tell the difference between a sip of Petrus and a swig of the stuff my neighbour makes in his basement. 

Fortunately, it seems I’m not the only one with a dud palate, a recent study (via wired.com) found that most people can’t really tell the difference between an expensive wine and cheaper brand. 

For the study, psychologist Richard Wiseman (a.k.a my hero) brought together 600 wine drinkers in a double-blind taste test. He gave them the good stuff and the not-so-good stuff and asked them to identify the pricey brands. In the end, the testers only picked out the expensive labels a little over half the time. 

The study results have been interpreted variously, with some arguing that it reveals how easily wine consumers are duped by high price tags and luxury brand marketing. Others say damn the study results! The drinking of wine is too precious an experience to be sullied by marketplace concerns. 

I don’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to falling for marketing campaigns. When I go to a friend’s house for dinner I always try and buy an expensive bottle of wine so as not to offend him or her with my thrift. I buy expensive shampoo and conditioner because I get a thrill from paying more for something that smells like it has to be better than the bargain brand. I buy it knowing that you could replace my Aveda shampoo with Pert Plus and I’d never notice. 

I don’t think the wine study is an argument against indulging in blind consumerism—stop spending money? That’s no fun! But you have to admit it’s a pretty powerful argument for dropping the palate pretension.