Eric Asimov, wine critic for the NY Times, set out to rectify a few studies floating about oenophiles and their discretions in purchasing wine. It seems, as Asimov points out in his patiently paced article, that:
“…consumers have been portrayed as dupes and twits, subject to the manipulations of marketers, critics and charlatan producers who have cloaked wine in mystique and sham sophistication in hopes of better separating the public from its money.”
Robin Goldstein conducted one of the two blind tastings discussed in the article, for his book, “The Wine Trials,” which he and 500 volunteers sampled 540 unidentified wines. The publicized outcome, as
Newsweek deemed fit in early April, was that the lower priced wines rated with better or with little distinction from the higher priced bottles. The wines ranged from $1.50 to $150.
“Their results might rattle a few wine snobs, but the average oenophile can rejoice: 100 wines under $15 consistently outperformed their upscale cousins,” the Newsweek article reported.
Asimov is quick to defend, however, explaining that the book services better formed objectivity, acknowledging that what appeals to novice wine drinkers differs from what appeals to wine experts.
The second study, from the California Institute of Technology, scanned the brains of drinkers as they blindly consumed wines, with only the knowledge of the price before each taste. The expensive wines faired better. The power of suggestion even led researchers to choose the same wine over itself when given two different prices. They preferred the more expensive one.
“It’s not just about wine, it’s about everything!” said Prof. Dan Ariely in the Times article, a behavioral economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “If you expect not to get something as good, lo and behold, it’s not as good.”
So is it that simple? Maybe for some, but not for all, Asimov asserts; wine enthusiasts purchase wine for a variety of reasons, just as anything else. He continues that there are appropriate wines for appropriate circumstances, just as you would coordinate your wardrobe for the changing seasons.
The problems with these tests are that they’re done in controlled environments, in a vacuum. I’ve never enjoyed a glass of wine in a vacuum. Or at least that I can remember. Great wine, like great food, is contextual, its not only about what’s in the glass or what’s on the plate, it’s about what’s around you, who you’re with, and where you are.