Price Matters: People Enjoy a $10 Wine More When they are Told it is $90

A joint study by Stanford Business School and the California Institute of Technology came out this month. Its topic: Whether the price of a wine can affect the taster’s level of enjoyment. Turns out, price matters.

The Test: The researchers had a $5 bottle and a $10 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. They gave tastes of each to a group of all-male subjects. The subjects were sometimes told the true price of the wine ($5 and $10) and sometimes told false prices that were 9 times the true price ($45 and $90). The subjects were asked to report on their level of enjoyment. Their brains were also being scanned by an MRI machine.

The Results: The subjects consistently reported a higher level of enjoyment for the wines that were $45 and $90 compared to the exact same wines at $5 and $10. This makes sense to me. People want to believe that more expensive products are better, so they will always rate them better. It’s a little game of lying to yourself.

The MRI results are a different matter. When the subjects tasted the wine, the MRIs showed increased activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). This is the part of the brain that scientists believe is responsible for pleasant feelings. So, the researchers focused on how price affected the activity in the OFC.

Activity in the OFC was higher when the subjects were drinking wine they thought was $90/$45 than when they were told they were drinking $10/$5 wine. It was the exact same wine, but the subjects actually enjoyed the higher priced version more.

Wow. I thought that people lied to themselves when they gave better ratings to expensive products. Turns out that people physically enjoy products more when they think that they are expensive.

What does this mean for 2 Guys Uncorked? It could mean that we should start reviewing more expensive wines because we will enjoy them more… OR, it could mean that the researchers forgot an important source of enjoyment: Getting a great deal. 2 Guys Uncorked will not deviate from its mission to review affordable wines!

Here is the link to the study


greggles's picture
greggles wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

That story seems to be rocking the wine world! Nikki and my take on the “pricier wine tastes better” was quite similar – quite surprising, but perhaps misleading. We agreed that there are other benefits they missed like you point out – Getting a great deal – but we thought that perhaps there are other ways to give yourself a similar heightened focus and experience without the extra cash: ceremony and environment. Our theory was that the use of things like a decanter and big special glasses would get your mind into the same “this is something special” feeling that a high price might trigger.

I’m glad to hear you won’t be changing your system. Accessibly priced wines will remain the most popular ones even if the more expensive ones can get more oxygen to your brain in the short run.

Denver Spanish House Wines

jon's picture
jon wrote 5 years 9 weeks ago

Great idea using a decanter. Instead of wasting a $100 bill, whip out the decanter and Riedels to get the same level of pleasure. Or, find a hot date to split that $10 bottle with. If he/she is good looking enough, that wine is going to taste great!

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