Does All Wine Taste the Same?

If most people can't tell the difference between Château Mouton Rothschild, which retails for around $725 per bottle, and a $35 bottle from the local winery, why do we splurge on more expensive bottles?

The answer returns us to the sensory limitations of the mind. If these blind testings teach us anything, it’s that for the vast majority of experts and amateurs fine-grained perceptual judgments are impossible. Instead, as Brochet points out, our expectations of the wine are often more important than what’s actually in the glass. When we take a sip of wine, we don’t taste the wine first, and the cheapness or expensiveness second. We taste everything all at once, in a single gulp of thiswineisMoutonRothschild, or thiswineisfromSouthJersey. As a result, if we think a wine is cheap, then it will taste cheap. And if we think we are tasting a premier cru, then we will taste a premier cru. Our senses are vague in their instructions, and we parse their inputs based upon whatever other knowledge we can summon to the surface. It’s not that those new French oak barrels or carefully pruned vines don’t matter—it’s that the logo on the bottle and price tag often matter more.

So go ahead and buy some wine from New Jersey. But if you really want to maximize the pleasure of your guests, put a fancy French label on it. Those grapes will taste even better.

Once we see a bottle with a fancy French label on it and expect an exquisite wine, our thoughts and behaviours turn that expectation into reality.


Still curious? Distinguishing wines from France and New Jersey is hard. Most people enjoy expensive wines a little less. And, finally, our expectations influence our thoughts and behavior.