Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wine Tasting Foolishness

As you have seen (here, here and here for examples), I am a big fan of expectations, priming, top-down processing, and the placebo effect.  When you put all of these together, you can pretty much get anyone to think anything, even yourself.  There are negatives of this, such as Ebola anxiety in the US or our inability to carefully consider what our preferred politicians or celebrities are telling us.  But there are also lots of positives in day to day happiness, productivity, and socialization.  As long as you set the right triggers, primes and environmental design.

So here is my story for today.  I finagled my way to an invite to an exclusive wine tasting event last night.  This fits the topic because there is just a TON of research that wine experts are really just fooling themselves. Even a whole book about it.  For example, when you switch the labels between a bottle of expensive wine and bottle of standard (not total rotgut, but house wine-ish) wine, even the supposed experts rate the cheap wine high and the expensive one low. Dan Ariely’s story of using balsamic vinegar in beer is my favorite.

So of course, I am a skeptical curmudgeon when it comes to expensive wine.  Is it really that much better?  I had my doubts.  And I am not going to drop $500 on a bottle of wine to find out. So getting this invite was perfect.  I got to try four of them.  And now, the results are in.

One of them was better than the $10-12 bottles that I usually drink.  And was it 30 times better?  No, maybe twice.  And the chance of picking this one out of the many expensive vintages out there is pretty slim.  So most likely, any superior taste you get will be a placebo effect.  All you have to do is pretend.  Use that imagination and you can have expensive wine every night.  Get someone to fake some really expensive looking labels and put some $500 price tags on the wine in your cabinet.  They will be just as good as the real thing.