9 Studies Show why we really buy wine

 “In wine there is truth” Pliny the Elder


I remember the first time I went to a restaurant with my father-in-law and they asked him to taste the wine.   They poured him a drop, he took the glass gently by the stem and rolled the wine around, held it up to the light and sniffed it like a true expert.  Then he nodded to the waiter and said, to my delight, ‘Well, it’s definitely red.’ 


If some of the experiments we are about to look at here are to be believed, then that’s about as much as any of us can honestly say and perhaps even that is stretching things.


The next time you decide to buy an expensive wine you might want to stop and think for a moment:  are you buying it because of its price, label, colour, description or the music that is playing in the shop? You might not be in as much control of your buying decisions as you think you are and the following 9 experiments show you why.


Study 1: People taste the music, not the wine…  (classical music is bad for your wallet)


If you are determined to buy some cheap table wine then you might be wise to wear headphones to the wine shop and put on some modern music, just on the off chance that they are playing Mozart that day in the shop.  In an experiment in 1993 by Areni & Kim it was shown that people parted with significantly larger amounts of cash on their wine purchases when classical music was played than they did when popular music was being played.  And it wasn’t because they increased the amount of wine they were buying.  It was because they bought more expensive individual bottles of wine.[i]  They were able to show that there was an upward correlation between price and classical music and a downward correlation between popular music (the Top 40) and price.  If you own a wine shop, pump up that Vivaldi!


“His lips drink water but his heart drinks wine” 

E.E. Cummings


Study 2:  People taste the music (2), not the wine…  (the nationality of the music influences the nationality of the wine you choose)


When you enter a wine shop how much of what you walk out with is determined by what you had originally planned to buy when you entered?  Less than we might think it seems.  An experiment way back in 1997 by North et al  at the University of Leicester showed that depending on the type of music being played we are more likely to buy one type of wine or another.   In the study both French and German wines were available and on display.  They were the constant.  The variable was the music.  On some occasions French music was played while on others German music was played.  The result was simple:  when the German music was on more people bought German wine, when instead it was French music more French wine was consumed[ii].  Afterwards the wine consumers were then asked why they chose one particular wine over another – only a small percentage put it down to the music that was playing.  I wonder would some Spanish classical guitar increase sales of Spanish wine, or does that just sell itself?


“Unlike wine, bad ideas don't improve with age.”

― Marty Rubin


Study 3: People taste the music (3), not the wine …. (Different types of music create different tastes)


In a related experiment with researchers from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh there was a strong connection between the taste of wine and the music being played in the background.  The researchers were able to show that by playing Classical Music or Heavy Metal Music (among others) they could elicit different tastes in the minds of the people taking part in the experiment[iii].   In this case people were hearing the wine as much as tasting it!  Without of course realizing it.


 “Wine turns the wise man into a fool and the fool into a wise man.  El vino convierte al sabio en necio, y al necio en sabio.”

― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind


Study 4:  People taste the colour, not the wine…  (dye the wine, change the taste)


In a now famous experiment from 2001 Frédéric Brochet angered the wine world by testing a group of 54 wine tasting students on their knowledge of wine.   He gave them red and white wine which they then had to describe.   They described the red wine using red wine adjectives and the white wine with white wine adjectives(“jammy” and “crushed red fruit” for the “red” wine, for example).  Fairly straightforward, except for the fact that they were both the same wine, with half the glasses having dyed white wine.[iv]


Study 5: People taste the label, not the wine….  (same wine has a different taste, if you put it in a different bottle)


In another experiment Brochet served the same Bordeaux in two different bottles – one with the label of an extremely expensive brand and the other with the table of an ordinary table wine.  The descriptions of the wine matched the labels exactly (“expensive” wine rated as better, richer etc. and the “cheaper” wine accordingly), completely ignoring the fact that it was the same wine in both bottles.


"Life's too short to drink cheap wine...” 

― Cliff Hakim


Study 6: People taste the price, not the wine…  (people taste wine differently if you change its price)


In a similar experiment by Robin Goldstein et al[v] a blind test of 6,000 people were given cheap and expensive wine to taste and rate (this time they were different wines!).   The experiment clearly showed that people who did not know the price of the wine they were drinking did not enjoy the expensive wine any more (in fact there was a slight negative correlation) whereas people who did know the price enjoyed the expensive wine more.  Conclusion – increase the price, increase the taste – if people know the price.


 “There is truth in wine, but you never see it listed in the ingredients on the label”

― Josh Stern


Study 7: People taste the description, not the wine…  (people think wine is more expensive depending on the description)


One of the indicators of whether a wine is “expensive” or “cheap” for people who have not seen the actual price tag is the description of the wine that accompanies it.  Coco Krumme, a behavioural economist at the MIT media lab, showed that there was a strong link between the words that described expensive wines and the adjectives used for cheap wines.  According to Krumme you can predict the price of the bottle by the writing in the description (unfortunately that also means that clever marketers can write expensive labels for “cheap” wines).  His own perfect blurb goes as follows:


 “A velvety chocolate texture and enticingly layered, yet creamy, nose, this wine abounds with focused cassis and a silky ruby finish. Lush, elegant, and nuanced. Pair with pork and shellfish”[vi].


Study 8:  People really taste the price, not the wine…  (people’s brains change to reflect their expectations)


You might think that people simply say that they enjoy the more expensive wine to show that they know their wines but it has been shown in an experiment at Stanford that they actually do enjoy the higher priced wine more.   In the Stanford study people’s brains were scanned while drinking wine and their brains registered as actually enjoying the wine to a greater extent, the higher the price[vii]. 


People, perhaps lacking any true idea of what a good wine should taste like, used the price as an indicator of quality – and their taste buds duly took their cue from the person’s expectations.  Does that mean that some people could buy one €200 bottle of wine and refill it with table wine every time guests come over and everyone would enjoy the experience more?  Hmmm, this could hardly be true, could it? 


“For at the end of the day, what matters is never the wine, it's always the moment; it's always the people.”

― Olivier Magny, Into Wine: An Invitation to Pleasure


Study 9:  People taste something different every time, not the wine…  (even experts can be fooled when it comes to wine tasting)


Catching out the wine experts may not have been the objective but it was certainly the result when Robert Hodgson started carrying out his own investigations.  For a number of years at the prestigious California State Fair Wine competition he tested the judges on the panel using blind tests.  The judges had to try what they thought were three different wines – when in fact it was the same wine presented three times.  There was absolutely no consistency to the grades they gave the wine (and in the few cases that a judge was consistent one year he was inconsistent the following), making a complete joke of the scores they give other wines.[viii]




Like many things in business and life we find that expectations, context and appearance play an important role when deciding what we choose, to the extent that at times they play an even greater role than the content itself that we finally choose.

Perhaps we would do well to remember at the end of the day, that maybe we are less in control of our decisions than we believe, less clever than we think, and more gullible than we might hope to be.  But even so, we will always be able to drink a glass of wine to make that easier to accept!


“I need coffee to help me change the things I can... and wine to help me accept the things I can't!”

― Tanya Masse



[i] http://www.acrwebsite.org/search/view-conference-proceedings.aspx?Id=7467.

[ii] North, A. C., Hargreaves, D. J., and McKendrick, J. (1997). In-store music affects product choice. Nature, 390, 132.

[iii] http://www.winepsych.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/adrian-north-music-and-wine.pdf

[iv] http://web.archive.org/web/20070928231853/http://www.academie-amorim.com/us/laureat_2001/brochet.pdf

[v] http://purl.umn.edu/37328

[vi] http://www.slate.com/articles/life/drink/2011/02/velvety_chocolate_with_a_silky_ruby_finish_pair_with_shellfish.single.html

[vii] http://news.stanford.edu/news/2008/january16/wine-011608.html

[viii] http://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2013/07/controversial-wine-judging-study-the-real-story

The Negotiation Jungle

Buy on Amazon  

Contact us:



+34 625.086.945


+34 605.023.605



Versión para imprimir | Mapa del sitio
© Fresh Ideas International Training S.L. - Info@freshideas.es