Fancy Wine Doesn't Taste Nearly As Good As You Think It Does, According To Science

by Julia Guerra

When it comes to wining and dining, my taste buds almost always prefer the cheaper bottles. Still, that doesn't mean high price tags don't pique my interest. A recent study performed by the INSEAD business school and the University of Bonn claims that the reason why expensive wine seems to taste better is because we've been fooled to believe a clever marketing strategy that says, if it's pricey, it must be tasty.

Millennials are especially subject to this trap. Think about how many times you've seen a superfood trending on Instagram, and somehow it ends up in your shopping cart because, duh, you want your smoothies to be beautiful and Insta-worthy, too. We're drawn to visuals and high price tags because what looks pretty and costs more must be worth the splurge, right?

Putting this theory to the test, a group of 30 volunteers were administered wine samples through a tube in their mouths while lying in an MRI scanner. Before tasting, each participant was shown a retail price in order to prove whether or not higher numbers would sway their response. Brain activity was recorded throughout the experiment, and volunteers were asked to rate the series of identical samples on a scale of one to nine. And, as you can probably guess by now, the results showed that the majority felt that the more expensive wine tasted better than the cheaper option.

This is called the “marketing placebo effect.”

In other words, it's all a bunch of hocus pocus.

There absolutely are expensive wines that are richer in taste and worth spending the extra dollars on if that's your prerogative. However, similarly to how some drugstore makeup brands measure up to luxury labels, it's worth doing the research to make sure you're getting the best price.

INSEAD post-doctoral fellow Liane Schmidt explained that, ultimately, “the reward and motivation system plays a trick on us.” Because participants saw one wine was marketed at a higher price than the other, they prematurely convinced themselves that it would taste better.

It sounds silly, but most of us do this all the time.

Unless you're a self-proclaimed wine aficionado, most people can't tell the difference between expensive and cheap wine.

In November 2016, TODAY national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen and his team poured boxed pinot noir and sauvignon blanc into fancy-looking bottles with labels that read "Boîte du vin," which directly translates to “box of wine.”

“You put wine in a fine bottle, so they believe they're drinking a fine bottle of wine,” CEO of the The Halo Group Linda Passante told TODAY.

Unless participants were fluent in French, no one could tell -- or taste -- the difference.

However, it's still unclear how the idea of expensive wine could have a direct effect on your taste buds.

My dad usually passes along the bottles of wine his company is gifted throughout the holidays to me and my husband. Last Christmas, we took home two: one was a luxury label, and the other was maybe $10 at the most.

Figuring we'd be fancy, we poured two large glasses of the "good stuff," clinked our glasses together to say "cheers," and took a sip. When I say it was disgusting, I mean I refused to swallow even that one sip. Not hesitating to dump the remains in the sink, we switched to the cheaper bottle, which was delicious, and drank the entire thing.

The reality is, taste is objective, and I know personally, if my taste buds are turned off by a drink or food item, the amount of money I spent on the purchase means nothing.

According to Bernd Weber, acting director of the Center for Economics and Neuroscience at the University of Bonn Professor Bernd Weber, researchers still aren't quite able to explain why “the price information ultimately causes more expensive wine to also be perceived as having a better taste in the brain.”

But it seems to me that we've convinced ourselves that, if something is marketed as luxurious, then it's automatically better quality. While that may be true in some cases, there is almost always a less expensive option out there.

In other words, do your research, and don't always fall for labels, friends.