Luckily for our wallets — and our taste buds — the authors of “Think Like A Freak” present an experiment that shows one thing: Even if expensive wine is better, most of us won’t be able to tell.
The book, a follow-up to the popular “Freakonomics,” tells the story of Levitt’s experience as a member of the Harvard Society of Fellows, where, as he puts it, “postdoctoral students carry out research and, once a week, sit with their esteemed elder Fellows for a formal dinner.”
Wine, the book explains, was a key part of these weekly dinners and came from the society’s extensive, and expensive, wine cellar. The dinners’ attendees included Fellows who happened to be wine connoisseurs, and who were confident in the superiority of pricey bottles of wine.
To challenge this assumption — and in the hopes of bringing the dinner’s price down — Levitt took two expensive vintages from the cellar along with the cheapest bottle he could find made from the same grape (about one-tenth the price of the other bottles), and conducted a wine tasting between four cups: Two held the same expensive wine, one held the other expensive wine, and the last held the cheap wine.
Levitt detailed the results on the Freakonomics blog:
The results could not have been better for me. There was no significant difference in the rating across the four wines; the cheap wine did just as well as the expensive ones. Even more remarkable, for a given drinker, there was more variation in the rankings they gave to the two samples drawn from the same bottle than there was between any other two samples. Not only did they like the cheap wine as much as the expensive one, they were not even internally consistent in their assessments.
Levitt and his coauthor, Stephen J. Dubner, admit that this experiment wasn’t exactly scientific. But then again, it may very well be enough to ease your worry the next time you choose the $US15 bottle over the $US50.
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