How the price of wine affects our taste

I have been drinking wine for decades, but only in recent years have I really started tasting and appreciating it. By looking at the colour, swirling the liquid nectar in my glass, sniffing the aromas deeply, taking a sip and swirling it in my mouth, letting the juice linger and then swallowing. All to answer the question, “What is my experience with this wine?”

Wine is a deeply subjective pleasure, and the journey is yours to make. Joining a wine club can be very helpful as one gets exposed to completely different styles of wine. I have to admit, I was pretty horrified that I couldn’t taste the difference between an expensive bottle of wine costing €150 and a cheaper bottle a tenth of the price! Over time, I’m appreciating the nuances and am better able to distinguish between what is considered cheap table wine and a wine that has been expertly made. In this I am appreciating helpful tips, like Wine Folly’s “How to develop your wine palate” and “Where wine flavours come from“.

In this video, Master of Wine Tim Hanni shares a lovely anecdote of drinking a bottle of Le Pin 1982 costing $15,000 (that’s not a typo!) with his wife who didn’t know the value at the time, and who was a little peeved afterwards. Tim asked her what difference it would have made and she replied, “If I knew how expensive it was, I could have appreciated it more.”

How does the price of wine affect our taste?

Prof. Baba Shiv conducted an interesting wine study at Stanford, where 11 grad students were monitored sipping wine in an MRI machine to measure their brain activity. The subjects were expecting 5 different Cabernet Sauvignons, when in fact there were only 3, as 2 of the same wines were introduced at different prices. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the subjects preferred the “more expensive” wine. The placebo effect comes to mind, but here’s the interesting part … when expecting something special, the MRI scan showed an increase in activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that experiences pleasure. So their increased pleasure was real!

To avoid having marketers pull the wool over our eyes, Shiv suggests that instead of price we choose wine based on professional reviews and ratings. While these factors are good guidelines, we’ve also seen and heard of people being blinded by excellent reviews, as much as by price. I love the idea of travelling the world in search of fabulous wine, but what is the point of only focussing on wine with good Parker points, when you ignore the little gem lying next to it?

One of my favourite videos on social media, is a world-famous musician performing incognito in the subway. How many people do you think stopped to appreciate the music, or the talent? Hardly any. Yet we happily pay lots of money to watch the very same artist on stage. Our bodies are also hard-wired to preserve energy, which means we tend to work on auto-pilot. We gulp our drinks, wolf down our food and rush through our day as efficiently as possible. We’re even like that with the people who mean the most to us – which would appear that we need external stimuli, like price or professional opinion, to grant us the time to enjoy a moment and appreciate what is on our plate or in our glass.

When Stephen does wine-tasting events at Mirabeau, he often talks about how amazing a glass of rosé tastes when we’re on holiday. But once we get home and try the same wine again it’s not quite the same. It’s not the wine that has changed, but our mindset. Being stressed and rushed off one’s feet is not conducive to having a pleasurable experience. We need to take a deep breath and readjust.

The lovely term “psychosomatic” means the interaction of mind and body, but unfortunately also represents disorders and illnesses. I’d love for us to see this connection in a positive light. When we take the time to appreciate the little wonders in life, our stress levels reduce and we become happier. The best news is that it’s not difficult; it’s simply an old habit that we need to rediscover. Look at the stars in the skies, watch a butterfly dance along a hedge, feel the texture of your child’s hair as you ruffle it. Look at every crinkle on the smiling face of the person you love…

When you’re ready to sit down with a glass of Provence rosé, take each sip at a time. Savour the moment. After all, it’s not for nothing the French start off with, “Santé!”

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