Blind tasting experiment

Every so often an article appears in the papers that proves cheap wine is just as good as the expensive stuff. The latest barbarian assault on wine occurred in the Guardian last  week. The implication of pieces like this are that wine is actually very simple and that the only reason to but expensive stuff is snobbery. There is something about the hierarchical nature of wine that really annoys the socialists.

In this test conducted by a psychologist Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire at the Edinburgh Science Festival (roll up! tickets still available) members of the public were given two similar wines, eg two clarets or two pinot grigios, to taste blind. One was expensive, over £10 a bottle. and one cheap, under £5. They were then asked to say which they thought was the most expensive. People were only right roughly 50% of the time; they might as well have chosen at random.

I have a few thoughts on this experiment:

1) By what criteria were the members of the public asked to guess which was the more expensive? This may sound pedantic but if you ask people to guess which is more expensive are they going to guess the one they like the most?

2) Were the people chosen interested in wine? This matters, if people were merely choosing the one they liked the most then many people would go for the cheaper wine. Cheap wines are normally fruitier with less acidity and more sugar than expensive ones. They appeal to people who aren’t interested in wine.

3) If the people aren’t interested in wine then they have no frame of reference. It would be like asking someone with no knowledge of classical music to guess from a tiny snatch of music which was Gutav Holst and which was John Williams. All they would be told is that Holst is more highly regarded by music snobs. Now guess which is which!

Some other factors spring to mind: the expensive claret may have been very young or the bottle may have just been opened or it may have been the kind of wine which really needs food to show at its best. It may simply have been rubbish and the under £5 one was actually more delicious.

So what conclusions can we draw from this experiment? Some people prefer cheaper wine? Some people can’t tell the difference between expensive or cheap? The Edinburgh Science Festival needed some publicity? The one conclusion that you couldn’t draw is the one the Guardian journalist drew:

“An expensive wine may well have a full body, a delicate nose and good legs, but the odds are your brain will never know.”

About Henry

I’m a drinks writer. My day job is features editor at the Master of Malt blog. I also contribute to BBC Good Food, the Spectator and others. You can read some of my work here. I’ve done a bit of radio, given some talks and written a couple of books (Empire of Booze, The Home Bar and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary).
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8 Responses to Blind tasting experiment

  1. Alison Finch says:

    I’m going to suggest here that a common-or-garden hack has had their palate ruined by attending so many dodgy book launches where inferior wine is served in quantity and, most importantly to said hack, free, that they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a 2001 Pomerol and a bottle of Jacobs Creek. And then after I’ve said that, I’m going to graciously bow out….

  2. Henry says:

    I have found the opposite normally applies. All that terrible book launch wine makes you appreciate the good stuff more.

  3. Alison Finch says:

    Yes, but you are a higher soul than a Guardian hack, as any fule kno

  4. Chaz Folkes says:

    As an experiment, it was worthy of a mention in Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column (one of the better parts of the Guardian). It seemed to me as if the researcher had drawn his conclusions already and was conducting a fairly spurious test to prove them. As for the Graun’s write up, it was a cheap shot which smacked of inverse snobbery… After that rant, I think I need a glass.

    • Henry says:

      Yes it’s a shame when a paper trumpets its high standards in one place and then publishs a load of old rubbish like this. Reminds me of the Sun a few years back which had a paedophile scare on one page and then opposite it was something like ‘Cor! Charlotte Church, nearly legal!’

  5. worm says:

    Hi Henry just started reading your blog and I must say I think its excellent!!! regarding the above, agree with all!

  6. Henry says:

    Thanks Mr Worm. I agree with you too.

  7. Henry says:

    The experiment was even more stupid than previously thought. See this article by Jamie Goode:‘study’-–-cheap-versus-expensive-wine

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