Making Wine: What I Learned From An Economist

Greg Mankiw teaches economics at Harvard University, and I read his blog regularly. He recently spotlighted part of a Boston Globe Article on the lighter side of science. He zeroed in on the work of another economist – ok, I know what you’re thinking, “as exciting as one economist talking about another sounds, what the heck has it got to do with winemaking?” I’m getting to that. The other economist is named Dan Ariely, and he experimented on volunteers to find out how marketing impacts a drug’s effectiveness. He administered an electric shock to the volunteers then gave them the same placebo. Some of them were told it was an expensive new painkiller, and others that it was cheap.

Those who got the pricey fake medicine reported a bigger reduction in pain than those whith the cheaper fake.

What’s going on here? The same thing that was going on when California Institute of Technology scientists looked into the effect of price on a wine’s perceived quality. It all reminds me of a Candid Camera piece that had grocery store customers sample a new wine, and they showed a guy raving about the wine and how much he’d be willing to pay for a bottle. Then they cut to tape of another fellow who said, “it tastes like prune juice.” There was a good reason for that – it was prune juice.

Confidence is sexy

There’s more to this than having a good chuckle and nervously reassuring ourselves that it could never happen to us. The thing to take away from this is that if you make a good wine (or mead or beer or liqueur), treat it like a good wine. Dress it up in a proper wine bottle and a nice looking label. Pour it into wine glasses and serve it as though it were something special – because it is! You don’t have to be dishonest, just be proud of what you have done and let it show.

Update 4/19/2010 – How to tell if an expensive wine is worth it

Clearly, our tasting experience can strongly influenced by our expectations and preconceived ideas. Tasting blind gets us around that problem by removing the mental baggage we bring to each tasting. We can’t prejudge a wine if we don’t know which wine it is, can we? Learn how to run an easy blind tasting at home so you can sniff out bargains that are worth more than they cost and to tell which pricey wines are worth the money.



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2 thoughts on “Making Wine: What I Learned From An Economist

  1. John

    With respect for her tastes, I have to disagree with Laura. I have thoroughly enjoyed the several non-grape fruit wines I have made. My wife and I were tasting the Apple Wine and the Blueberry Wine last night while I was stabilizing, and she commented that she likes my apple wine at least as much as her favorite Gewürztraminer. I have to agree with my wife, as the Apple wine is quite delicious and slightly sweet in spite of a somewhat high 14.5% alcohol content. We can’t wait for that one to come off the aging racks! Mmmmm…mmm…mmm! Yummy!

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