Wine mind tricks

Do most people think wine tastes better if they believe it costs more? This hypothesis seems obvious enough to declare it so without extensive additional study.

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Just in case you were in any doubt, though, researchers at the business school INSEAD (the international Business School for the World) and the University of Bonn in Germany seem to have verified the obvious. Thanks to an extensive series of tests involving volunteers who squeezed into MRI machines and sipped wine through tubes while having their brain function scanned, researchers found a clear connection: Test subjects judged wine as tasting better when they were told it cost more.

According to an article about the study in Time magazine on Aug. 16, a total of 30 people each tasted three different wine samples while lying in the MRI. The tastes were divided into 108 tiny samples of just 1.25 milliliters each – less than one standard glass of wine in all – over a 90-minute period.

Before each taste test, Time writer Amanda MacMillan wrote, each subject was told how much the bottle cost: either 3€, 6€ or 18€ per bottle. In fact, all the wines really came from the same bottle, a 12€ ($14) red wine.

MRI scans

This is your brain on expensive wine: MRI scans showing “Brain responses to price cue and experienced pleasantness ratings.”

To no one’s great surprise, subjects tended to rate the samples that they thought were more expensive as better tasting than the “cheaper” samples. However, this effect was limited in that a very low-quality wine with a high price still won’t be perceived as equivalent to a very good wine with a lower price.

What does this imply for wine lovers? According to Time – and I strongly agree – The best way to evaluate wine – or chocolate, coffee or any type of food or beverage that varies widely in price and quality – is to sample it before you know the cost. Hilke Plassmann, associate professor of marketing at INSEAD and a co-author of the study, added, “If you want to get at your enjoyment of the product itself, then a blind consumption is best.”

As a longtime advocate of affordable wines of good value – what we call quality-price ratio or “QPR” – I’m delighted to have this further assurance that wine doesn’t have to be expensive to taste good. Note well, though, that as we’ve also said all along, critical tasting matters in our efforts to find the good-value wines that don’t break our budget. This week I report on two very good, affordable whites. You’ll find my tasting notes below.

Want to read more about this study? For the Time magazine report, click this link. If you’d like to dive into the primary sources, you’ll find the full study online at’s Scientific Reports: “How context alters value: The brain’s valuation and affective regulation system link price cues to experienced taste pleasantness.


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Today’s Tasting Reports

Famille Perrin 2016 Côtes du Rhône Blanc Réserve ($11.99)

Famille Perrin

Transparent straw color with a brassy hue. The floral and honeyed scent of Viognier dominates the aroma, as it typically does even when it’s a relatively small percentage of the blend (with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Roussanne). Delicious citrus flavors, tangerine and a hint of lemon-lime, are primary in the crisp, mouth-watering flavor, lingering with an edge of intriguing “stony” minerality in a very long finish. 13% alcohol. U.S. importer: Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. (Aug. 21, 2017)

FOOD MATCH: The winery suggests serving it with Mediterranean dishes and fish, delicate or spicy dishes (perhaps scented with saffron), grilled fish, or bouillabaisse. We found it a great match with farfalle pasta topped with a sauce reminiscent of French onion soup, deeply browned onions and garlic stirred into a Gruyère-based Mornay sauce.

WHEN TO DRINK: It’s clean and fresh with plenty of flavor. The sturdy metal screw cap will preserve it, but still, it’s good to drink it up young and move on to the next vintage.

My price is right on’s $12 average retail, and it’s a good value at that price. You can find it for much less in some regions, though, so shop around if you can.

Famille Perrin’s website is available in French, German, English, Japanese and Chinese Click here for a fact sheet on the Côtes du Rhône Blanc Réserve in English.

Here’s an importer’s tech sheet on the the Côtes du Rhône Blanc Réserve.

Find vendors and compare prices for Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhône Blanc Réserve on


Alamos 2015 Salta Torrontés ($9.99)

Alamos Torrontes

Light, transparent straw color with a faint greenish hue. Delicious citric aroma blends mandarin oranges and white grapefruit, which carry over on the palate in a flavor impression so vibrant and fruity that it almost seems sweet, but crisp, zippy fresh-fruit acidity holds it in balance. A touch of stone fruit and faint peach-pit bitterness join citrus in a very long finish. A claimed 13% alcohol level adds a little body, but it’s not out of line for a white. U.S. importer: Alamos USA, Hayward, Calif. (Aug. 23, 2017)

FOOD MATCH: The back label suggests spicy empanadas or grilled fish. We enjoyed it with linguine in linguine with a light sauce of free-range eggs briefly cooked in garlic sauteed in butter.

WHEN TO DRINK: These ripe, juicy and fresh flavors call for early drinking, but its sturdy metal screw cap should protect it over the short term. Drink up over the next year or two.

it’s a fine value at this local price that matches’s $10 average retail; if you can find it for a couple of bucks less, better still.

The winery offers this fact sheet on the Torrontés in English on its website.

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