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Should We Buy Expensive Wine? (wired.com)
29 points by cwan 2005 days ago | hide | past | web | 45 comments | favorite

"So does this mean we should all start swilling Two-Buck Chuck? I’m not so sure. "

As a connoisseur of Charles Shaw (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Shaw_wine) I resent the implication that by costing $2, Charles Shaw is somehow an inferior wine. Isn't that the entire _thesis_ of that article, that you don't associate quality based on pricing?

From the Wikipedia article:

"At the 28th Annual International Eastern Wine Competition, Shaw's 2002 Shiraz received the double gold medal, besting the roughly 2,300 other wines in the competition.

Shaw's 2005 California chardonnay was judged Best Chardonnay from California at the Commercial Wine Competition of the 2007 California Exposition and State Fair. The chardonnay received 98 points, a double gold, with accolades of Best of California and Best of Class."

I've seen Charles Shaw win at more than one taste testing.

I've found Two-Buck Chuck to be highly inconsistent. It can definitely be very good, but it's also not unusual for it to be pretty bad. On the bright side, when you only spent $2, it's not a huge loss if turns out you got a bad one.

I got a devious idea, might be worth testing, basically drink some of the expensive wine beforehand, perhaps while preparing the food for your troubles. Thereafter pour some cheaper stuff into the expensive bottle and see if anyone not party to the trick is unimpressed by the cheap wine in the expensive bottle.

I am looking to get to the validity of article quote

As a result, if we think a wine is cheap, it will taste cheap. And if we think we are tasting a grand cru, then we will taste a grand cru. Our senses are vague in their instructions, and we parse their inputs based upon whatever other knowledge we can summon to the surface.

> Although the people were told that all five wines were different, the scientists weren’t telling the truth: there were only three different wines.

I did the same experiment with beers few years back. Showed friends three different ales, poured one of them into three glasses and bet they couldn't tell which glass had which ale. Though exact answers differed, all of them thought there were three different beers in those glasses. That was truly epic :)

On the other hand I ran the same test with cheap and expensive port and people could easily tell which one is which. I also find that the same is true for wines - there is a noticeable difference between $5 and $30 wine, but once it gets over $50, then telling them apart becomes much harder. One should really have the palate for that, and very few people do.

I would say that in particular, I'm fairly certain I can usually tell the difference between $5 wine and $15 wine, and the $15 wine is usually markedly better. On the other hand, my experience is that it's usually a lot harder to tell the difference between $15 wine and $50 wine, and as often as not, I prefer the $15 wine.

Hmmm... as I think on it, maybe there's something more to it than that. Because when I think of those $15 wines, I'm not thinking "generic $15 wine". I'm thinking, "oooo, that $15 wine I really like." That is to say, I'm not sure I could reliably tell you which of a set of random Zinfandels was $5 and which $15. But I know there are certain reliable $10-$18 Zinfandels -- Ravenswood, Renwood, and Rosenblum leap to mind -- that I like much better than anything I've tasted under $10. That doesn't mean that I have liked every $15 Zinfandel I ever tasted, though.

I'd take Rosenblum ahead of the other two, and Seghesio over any of the three. But I think their price has creeped up since I bought a bunch at $16.

It's hard to distinguish cheap larger; it is relatively easy to distinguish microbrewed ale though.

The article says nothing about the previous experience of the participants. I've been led to understand that many wine critics have highly consistent palates, able to give the same score to a wine within a couple of points even under blind taste tests. On the other hand, the inter-rater reliability is relatively low. I would be interested to see how professional raters compare on similar studies to the ones presented.

well during a wine tasting competition in sweden the winner managed to not only name all wines, she also managed to say which region AND producer it was. So yes if you make the same test with experts the result would be quite different.

And most expensive wines need to mature before you enjoy them, if you uncork them right away it won't be a very pleasant experience.

I've come down to a rule for wine - price correlates well with value in the $15-$25 per bottle range, you get what you pay for. Outside of that it seems random. Two-Buck chuck is pretty good, especially for $2. I've also had expensive wine > $50 which was, in my opinion terrible.

(This is for store bought wine, for restaurants multiply prices by 2 to 4).

Wine appreciation depends on your experience. If you haven't been exposed to the higher end, you won't miss it and should be perfectly happy with everyday brands (like Charles Shaw). The more exploring you do, however, the more you'll appreciate the higher end. Music is probably a good analogy: the majority of people are fine with mainstream radio content, while the more 'hardcore' tend to be into eccentric stuff.

I think the thesis of the article is that the more 'hardcore' are into eccentric stuff not because they inherently like eccentric stuff, but that they like being hardcore people who are into eccentric stuff.

That doesn't seem to be thesis of the article, since they don't mention anything about the wine tasting experience of the subjects. I really doubt that doing similar experiments with wine experts would give the same results.

It really depends on personal taste. If you tend to prefer younger, fruitier wines as opposed to heavier, aged wines then going for the $50+ bottle isn't going to do you any good. Some wines actually get worse with age.

You can find some really consistently great pinot noirs, merlots, and malbecs for much less than $20. I would steer clear of cabernet sauvignon simply because there is such a wild degree of variation in taste and it is not consistent with price.

Be aware of prices by region as well. Some grape varieties grow more easily in certain climates and as a result will be more cheaply produced. The Oregon wines have recently gotten noticeably more expensive, but this has more to do with it becoming a trendy region much like Napa Valley in the past.

So be aware of factors in price when buying wines, and your personal preference in wine body should be the ultimate determinant of how much you should be willing to spend. On a side note, if you're ever throwing a dinner party stick with the lighter wines. I break out the schmitt sohne riesling for $8 a bottle during the summer and while it's too sweet for my taste, guests usually love it.

If it was possible to consistently tell the difference in wine quality, then wine judging could be done in a lab by chemical analysis and published in Consumer Reports. This wouldn't matter though because humans innately value alcohol based on price and rarity like the article says - its prestigious to have a Château Rothschild no matter what a scientist says.

I dunno. I've had a truly expensive wine exactly once, at a wine cellar tasting in Würzburg, Germany, and I may have been fooled by the fact that they told me it was expensive, but it was pretty damn good wine. (But roughly equivalent to (far cheaper) Hungarian Tokaji, if you ask me, and that's not just loyalty to my wife's nation.)

Tokaji can get pretty darn pricey, you know.

But even the medium-price ones are at least as good to my taste as that really expensive Bavarian white. Your mileage may of course vary.

yeah the Tokaji Eszencia is expensive. But on the other hand you should be able to easily distinguish the Eszencia in a blind test due to the viscosity

I started thinking of the ramifications of that last part

> You see what happened there? Even though their assumption about wine was false – the more expensive Cabernet didn’t taste better – that assumption still led to increased pleasure,

Turns out lying to certain types of women about how much you make or how much you drive, isn't so stupid after all

One thing I am sure is that wine in France taste a lot better than any other wine

John Cleese did this experiment years ago in his "Wine for the Confused" series.

As with everything, buy what you like, not what you think you should like or what you think other people like. I'm lucky that I live in a state with a lot of wine makers so I get to buy excellent wines for single digit prices. Even so, if you're spending more than $20 on a bottle of wine all the time then you're probably wasting a lot of money.

I've personally found two things work very well:

1) When you want nice wine, go to Safeway and buy the $20 bottle with the largest discount (of a type you like, of course). You'll typically pay $12-14 for a pretty good bottle.

2) For those times when you are feeling cheap- well, this is more of a 'be prepared'. Drink cheap straight gin, cheap straight whiskey, and a little straight Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum for a few months. Then, 2-buck chuck tastes gorgeous.

I'm sorry, two buck chuck tastes terrible to me. I'm not the kind of person who sits around debating the merits of various wines, but I do like wine and I am somewhat picky. I can't finish a glass of two buck chuck, whether I knew what it was beforehand or not - and both situations happen all the time at parties.

I've read this type of study several times - either I have especially sensitive taste or there is something wrong with the studies because it is simply not true that there is no correlation between taste and price.

Can I tell the difference between a $15 bottle and a $40 bottle? No, I don't taste price. Are as many $15 bottles excellent as $40 bottles? Absolutely not.

One flaw: if you pick a random $40 bottle and a random $15 bottle and ask someone which they like, this is not a valid study. You need to pick a wine that both costs $40 AND IS WORTH $40 and likewise a wine that's WORTH $15. Just because a wine is $90 doesn't mean it's great, but if a wine is $2 it probably sucks.

The correlation is there and pretty strong, particularly when moving from $2 to $8 to $15, but it is not perfect. Price != taste.

How do you evaluate "worth"? If you say the worth of wine is based on the taste then of course wine that is worth more will taste better.

Get someone who can tell the difference between a good $40 bottle and an overpriced $10 bottle with a $40 label, have them pick a wine they think is worth $40 and one worth $10, then do the study.

This would prove something closer to "some wines taste better than others", a statement which is not disputed. (E.g. the results of wine tasting contests are not nearly random.)

What does the current study prove? Some wines cost more?

What needs to be studied is if there is a correlation between price amd consumer preference. As far as I can tell, this was not an effort to do that, but rather to prove the obvious: you can't taste price. This is true for any kind of food.

Can you look at two pieces of art and tell which is ore expensive? No. Is better art more expensive? Sometimes, usually yes, and often eventually. Same can be said for wine. Price is a product of demand, demand depends on information and information distribution. Both products are small batch and highly personal, so price quality correlations will be less accurate and change over time.

Art is usually unique; I'm not sure the markets are comparable (wines have a limited run, but not so limited that two true fans will push the price into the millions.)

This study shows that some/many wines cost more, yet don't taste better. In other words, a random expensive wine is likely not great from a price-quality, or even just quality, perspective. This is relevant to the unsophisticated buyer, i.e. most of their readers.

I think you're arguing that, essentially, a well-chosen expensive wine is noticeably better than a similarly well-chosen not-so-expensive wine. I'm inclined to believe you, but that is much harder for the average consumer to act on.

Yes, that's basically my point. I also think, on average, a higher price wine will be better than a lower price wine.

A lot of these arguments could be made for any product or service. If you pay more for your house, does it mean that you will live happier? No. You may be much happier in central Montana than New York. If you pay more for your clothes, do they look better? If you pay more for your music, do you enjoy it more?

The whole debate is non-sense. Any consumer who thought they were necessarily getting better wine simply because they paid more probably is not literate enough to have understood this article.

> I also think, on average, a higher price wine will be better than a lower price wine.

You'd expect that, yes, but this article and similar studies strongly suggest that this is not actually true (at the high end, at least). That's the entire point.

I find 2 buck chuck to be thin and metallic, which is a common trait I find in the $5 and under range. (I say, based on WA state TJ prices). There are some decent bottles in this range, their (TJ's) Gypsy is pretty good for cheap plonk right now, and their Porto Morgado isn't bad for the price. But Warre's Warrior at $16 is a ton better (Not to mention Yalumba Old Vine Tawny). The local grocer has an entirely reasonable cheap ass wine for cooking or sangria or other adulteration, Double Dog Dare, at $3/per.

On the other hand, you can get some really good (and some merely questionable, like the Mendecino County Pinot Noir) stuff around the $10 range from Castle Rock, who bottles other peoples excess product and sells it under their own name.

The real reason to buy a $45-95 wine is so that is has the structure to withstand 10-15 years in the cellar to blow your taste buds out the back of your neck when you finally get around to drinking it.

If you've never done it go, just once, to a high end French restaurant order lite and spend $300-400 on a bottle of wine. You'll remember the taste for years and top down is a much better strategy for building an appreciation for wine then starting with two-buck-chuck and working your way up.

The thesis of the article (and I agree with it) - that any half decent bottle of wine will likely taste the same as that $400 bottle of wine.

Indeed - it's the knowledge that the bottle costs $400 which in fact makes it taste so good.

I would agree that the bottle has to start off tasting good (Let's say, Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator rating of 95 or greater) - but I've been to a lot of taste-testings, with people with much, much more refined palets than mine, and we've never had more than random predictability of discerning the difference between a $15, $30, $60 or $90 bottle of wine.

Sounds exactly like Grey Goose. So many people swear by it thanks to the high price and marketing gimmicks that add perceived value, but put it in a blind taste test (even with a bunch of Grey Goose fanatics) and it gets blown away every time.

It's pretty sad how easily consumers can be fooled by cheap tricks like a frosted bottle and the words "made in France". They don't even need the help of alcohol to make poor decisions :p

A bit of a perspective from a professional Russian :)

Taste of the vodka is irrelevant. You drink it to get drunk, not to enjoy the taste. So, for example, vodka on the rocks makes as much sense as deep fried caviar - it's a pointless waste of a product. Secondly, and most importantly, you are looking at whether you get a hangover in the morning or not. That's it. So the criteria for a good vodka is (a) doesn't make you cringe when drunk and (b) no hangover.

Stick with Wyborowa or Stolichnaya. If not, get a really cheap one and put it through Brita filter a couple of times. This removes all impurities (specifically - the fusel oils, which is what actually hurts the head in the morning), and it will be as good as high-grade commercial product.

(edit) By the way, another way to filter cheap vodka is to mix it with cranberries (ideally the wild ones), mush them and let sit for 24 hours. Filter and enjoy. Cranberries absorb the oils and infuse vodka, so not only this reduces the hangover effects, it also makes the vodka significantly more pleasant to drink.

I refuse to believe you can filter vodka cheaper than a distillery, and reject that using britta filters is a cost saving. Unless you steal the filters.

Great tips, thank you. And the "professional russian" wouldn't per chance be a reference to this Reddit celebrity, would it :-)? http://www.youtube.com/user/FPSRussia#p/u/0/WOoUVeyaY_8

About two years ago two close friends of mine went on a heliboarding trip in eastern Russia. Before the boarding, they went out and got weird looks when they ordered vodka tonics. They asked what the problem was, and were told "everyone" there drinks it straight.

Any russians in the audience care to clear things up?

Imagine your friends going to Ireland, ordering a pint of Guinness and then asking for a straw. That's your vodka tonics :)

The difference is that vodka is by definition nearly flavorless.

That, or it might be the man behind Grey Goose. I would recommend reading http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/bizfinance/biz/features/10816/... insightful.

Yup, he was a marketing genius, and all that know-how went into making a vodka that tasted like burning urine but appeared as though it must have rained down from heaven... at least to the gullible masses with money to burn and dinner guests to impress.


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