I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — almost all wine snobbery is based on marketing and price tags.
The worst aspect of this entire charade is that an entire body of knowledge has been constructed solely to support the skewed price/quality hierarchy. At every street corner on every block of Yuppietown USA, you will find an investment banker and his party planner girlfriend willing to school you on the difference between Cabernet grapes grown on the north slope and the south slope.
Head Freakonomics weirdo Steven Levitt relates a story that confirms his suspicions about wine pricing and its effect on snobs breathing the most rarefied of air — the Harvard Society of Fellows. After reluctantly paying big money for wine that he knew he couldn’t appreciate at the society’s meetings, Levitt proposed a challenge. He bought two expensive wines and one cheap wine and conducted a blind tasting. He even split the fancy wine into two separate glasses — the fellows thought they were tasting four wines when they were really tasting three.
If you can’t guess the results, you really need to work on your context clues:
The results could not have been better for me. There was no significant difference in the rating across the four wines; the cheap wine did just as well as the expensive ones. Even more remarkable, for a given drinker, there was more variation in the rankings they gave to the two samples drawn from the same bottle than there was between any other two samples. Not only did they like the cheap wine as much as the expensive one, they were not even internally consistent in their assessments.
Levitt cites a recent paper in the Journal of Wine Economics as further proof of this truth, though he does admit that people with real training can tell the difference between “better” wines and “worse” ones. It’s just that the rest of us — regardless of that time we went to Napa — cannot.
Cheap Wine [Freakonomics]