Why are friends such plonkers about fine wine?

16th August, 2008

As a wine evangelist, I always bring a bottle of something really decent whenever I visit friends. The trouble is, their thanks rarely reflect my expenditure. Should I make more of a fuss about the cost of fine wine, or just bring plonk?
Gabriel Elliott, London

Dear Gabriel,

Either plan would work just fine. Several pieces of research by wine critics and “neuro-economists” have found that most wine drinkers pay more attention to price than they do to taste.

Research published by the Journal of Wine Economics shows that inexpert wine drinkers actually prefer cheap wine in a blind tasting. More skilled oenophiles do prefer pricier booze, but only a little. That suggests you should buy plonk with a nice label and a clear conscience.

The alternative is to point out the expense of the wine. This is crass, but should encourage people to rate it more highly.

Or you could bring plonk but claim it is expensive wine. The “neuro-economist” Antonio Rangel has found people enjoy wine more if they are told (truthfully or otherwise) it is expensive. Not only do they rate the wine more highly, but their brains seem to process the experience differently.

Your friends probably can’t tell the difference between expensive and cheap wine. Exploit that information as you wish.

Also published at ft.com, subscription free.

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