The Negative Correlation Between Wine Price and Quality

Back in November I held a Pinot contest which concluded that there was really no correlation between price and quality – or if there was, it was negative. Of course, there was nothing really scientific about a drunken night in the East Village. But now along comes Robin Goldstein, who held more than 6,000 blind tastings of wines ranging from less than $2 a bottle to more than $150. His results?

Individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment

from more expensive wine. In a sample of more than 6,000 blind tastings,

we find that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and

negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive

wines slightly less.

This effect is strongest if you ignore the most expensive 10% and cheapest 10% of wines, but even if you include the outliers, it’s still there:

In terms of

a 100 point scale (such as that used by Wine Spectator), the extended model

predicts that for a wine that costs ten times more than another wine, non-experts will on average assign an overall rating that is about four points lower.

Of course, this effect definitively does not hold if you know how much the wine costs. If you buy an expensive bottle of wine and take it to a restaurant, you’re very likely to enjoy it a lot, even if you might have rated that wine relatively lowly in a blind tasting without food. But for the vast majority of people, the best thing you can do in a wine shop is ignore the prices completely. Even if you can tell the difference between two different wines, you’re just as likely to prefer the cheaper as the more expensive:

Weil finds that even when tasters can distinguish between the

vintages, they are about as likely to prefer the good one as the bad one. And

among those that can distinguish the reserve bottling from the regular bottling,

only half prefer the reserve. In both cases, the wines differ in price by an order

of magnitude.

Eric Asimov thinks that wine is like film or literature: the good might not be popular, and the popular might not be good. Which may or may not be true – but no one tries to charge higher prices for better films or better books. He does however make another good point: that the real finds in the wine world aren’t the expensive famous wines or even the cheap famous wines but rather the tiny artisanal wines which have a personality and uniqueness which defies pricing. If you find a wine you really love, then it’s likely to be worth spending money on. But if you find a wine which everybody loves (Dom Perignon is the example in the book), then it’s almost certainly overpriced.

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