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Does Price Matter when You Buy Wine?

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Even wine experts can't reliably distinguish between the same bottle, so forget about price and fancy labels. Find a wine you like at a price you can afford and stick with it.

If you’re not a wine buff, stepping into a wine store and choosing a bottle of wine that will please you and your guests can be an intimidating task. You’re faced with an imposing array of reds, whites, and pinks from a dozen or more different countries, with prices ranging from a modest $10 or less a bottle to $100 or more. According to some wine consultants, the secret is to pay more.

That advice has less to do with the quality of the wine in the bottle than the psychology of wine enjoyment. Several experiments have shown that the average wine drinker will get more pleasure out of what he/she thinks is a more expensive wine than a cheaper one, even though he/she is drinking the same wine both times. And the level of wine savvy doesn’t seem to matter; when researchers stepped up in class and repeated the tests on members of a group of wine enthusiasts, they got the same results.

A different experiment involving a blind tasting by wine experts showed that the judges varied their ratings of the same wine by as much as plus or minus four points (basically anyone can be fooled). In other words, the same judge, after tasting the same wine three different times, might rate it as an 86, a 90, or a 94. In wine-rating terms that’s a significant difference - a wine that got an 86 would be considered barely drinkable, while one with a 94 score would be considered an exceptional value.

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The best answer to the dilemma, say some wine gurus, is to forget about price and fancy labels. Find a wine you like at a price you can afford and stick with it.


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