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Author: Foolferlove Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 6837  
Subject: Re: The Price of Wine Date: 4/11/2003 1:37 PM
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Sorry Foolferlove, I just posted a link to the same article. Somehow I missed your post. Must have been when my cat stepped on my hand when the mouse was near the "mark all read" icon. Duh.

No prob, dude.

All this talk of the cost of wines and which ones are "better" than others makes we want to do a massive blind taste test. To take wines all made from the same grape, for example, and serve them to experts under similar conditions. And do this for non-experts as well. I sure this is done all the time. But come on, if you didn't know a certain bottle was rare, and thus expensive, would anyone rate a glass of wine as worthy of a $300 price tag?

The reason I bring this up is because I have seen that perception or anticipation influences and biases our observations. I have 2 examples.

I am a caffeine addict, and recently tried to cut back. One way was to buy caffeine-free coke. But after a while I switched back to regular, because it didn't taste right, it tasted flat. But, as an aspiring scientist that actually works with caffeine on occation, I know that caffeine is tasteless. So I assumed that the blends must otherwise be different. Well, one night (this is totally true, although I hate to admit it!) I had my girlfriend conduct a taste test for my roommate and me. In identical glasses, with the same amount of ice, she poured either caffeine-free (CF) coke or regular coke. They both came from freshly opened cans, chilled to the same temperature. There were 12 total glasses, and I didn't know how many would have regular and how many would have CF. Well, I tasted them all many times, and I could not for the life of me find any difference at all. Neither could my roommate. I was mildly shocked. Why had I given up on CF coke because of the taste? It can only be explained by the fact that I EXPECTED it to taste different, so it did.

I'm sure the same thing affects wine. Would we be so quick to say a certain bottle of wine was great if we knew it cost $3? Or to say a certain bottle was crap, despite costing $80 and on the top of many lists?

Another similar example comes with stereo equipment. I am an audiophile and appreciate good sounding stereo equipment. But many people make claims about what sounds good based on price or reputation. In the audio industry, the only way to do a listening test is to do an "A/B" test. That's where you sit a person down, and hook up 2 differnt components to test (be it speakers, cables, receivers, cd players, etc). The listener cannot know which one , A or B, is being played.

Well, I have a friend who INSISTS that good cables are necessary when transmitting digital information from the cd player to the receiver. My engineering background told me it didn't really matter. This friend spent $300 (not kidding!) for one 3 foot cable, and SWORE it made "all the difference in the world" compared to his original $30 cable. Well, I challanged him to a test. I brought him to my place where I have a modest by very nice stereo system. I had him choose his favorite cd at the time and I played it for him first with his cable. Then I switched to mine. He said the difference was obvious. I repeated this a couple of times where he could see which cable I was putting in. Then I changed cables out of his sight, yet told him which one was installed, and again he said the difference was obvious. Then I asked him to PREDICT which one he was listening to. He failed the blind part. He guessed that the "cheap" cable sounded better 60% percent of the time. Close enough to 50% to be random guessing. Then I told him I wanted to test a THIRD cable. Again, he could not distinguish between the third cable and his $300 cable. This was despite saying the difference was "obvious" when he KNEW which cable was hooked up. Well, the kicker is that the third cable was not a cable at all, but just an uncoated, bare wire I had taken from the lab. Total cost : free, since I stole it. But if I HAD purchased it, it would run about 35 cents at Radio Shack. So, my friend could not tell the diffence between his $300 cable and the 35 cent one. That was an eye opener for him, yet somehow he left not being entirely convinced. He said that on HIS system, there was more of a difference. Sigh. Incidentally, although this was a cable meant to handle digital info, the quality of your cables for analog information (like to your speakers) is similar...as long as you don't get the bottom of the barrel cables, you are not likely to hear a difference. The critical component is usually speakers. But here, it's the same. There are $250 speaker that are better made and sound better than $1000 speakers.

Anyway, all this is just a LONG way of saying that our expectations affect our opinions and tastes much more than any of us realize. I'm STILL suprised at the CF coke experiment, and even today when I open up a can, I will swear that it somehow tastes different, even though I KNOW that it doesn't.

I guess now I need to set up a blind wine taste test with bunches of different wines!
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