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Can you tell Cheap Wine from Expensive?

Almost 600 people were given a glass of wine and asked to judge whether a high or a low they were shown correct. Only half the participants got it correct, a result no better than blind chance. The more expensive wines were between twice and six times the cost of the cheaper wines.

There has been a lot of scoffing on some of the wine discussion boards but, when I think about it, judging whether a wine is expensive or cheap is not as easy as one may think when you don’t have the bottle in front of you, nor any other information.

Let’s say we pour a glass of inexpensive 2009 Gallo California Cabernet Sauvignon in one glass and in the other 2009 Chateau Latour from Bordeaux, which sells for upwards of $1,000 per bottle.

Which wine would you prefer? Which wine would you think the most expensive? The Gallo wine will be soft and ready for drinking, it will have a pleasant sweetness about it. But the Latour is made for long keeping; it is not ready to drink. It will taste sharp and pucker ones mouth from tannins. The drinker will assume Latour is a poor wine, therefore it must be the cheaper one. And – unless they see the bottle – they will prefer the easy drinking Gallo.

That is an extreme example and the researchers’ budget stopped at around $50 a bottle. But another issue is what makes a wine expensive. It doesn’t cost Ch Latour 166 times as much to make their wine than it does Gallo. There are many reasons why Latour is more expensive but the main one is that investors and wine lovers are prepared to pay that price.

The retail price of wine is affected by much more than the cost of production: advertising, rarity, fashion, social cachet and more are all factors. So I will put my neck out here and say that a more expensive wine is not necessarily better than an inexpensive wine.

So how can you identify a good wine from a not so good one? Smell and taste it. Hold the wine in your mouth for a while before swallowing. Recall the smell and taste: the wine that needs more adjectives to describe it, and whose taste lingers longest is the better wine.

Can you tell the difference? Discuss on our forum.



Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the KIndle.





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