In my last year of high school, I was part of the Toastmasters’ Society. During one of our last meetings of the year, one of the “older” members hosted a wine-tasting.
As a general aside, I’m not entirely sure why the club had “older members” – or why a late twentysomething would choose to spend the occasional Wednesday evening drinking and speeching with the freshly-legal. But perhaps that’s just me.
Anyway. How that wine-tasting rolled out:
- There were a selection of cheap wines, and a selection of moderately-priced wines.
- These were all presented with either great flourish or profuse disgust, as demanded by the price-tage on the label.
- We were all asked to maintain ratings sheets.
- And if this sounds like a set up – it was.
- Almost no wine was in its original bottle.
Inevitably, wines poured out of the more moderately-priced bottles received higher ratings than the wine in the cheaper bottles.
What followed was the great reveal – where everyone was universally “wrong” except for those members that had already been victims in the previous year’s event.
And I suppose what this was meant to show:
- People are herd animals that respond to signals, the poor silly lambs; and
- Wine pricing is arbitrary and has little to do with the quality of the wine.
This – this has troubled me.
Not least because I now treat any and all wines with great suspicion. On the silver-lined upside, this has created the general impression that I have a discriminating palate, so I can thank Toastmasters for that. But it does make one unpopular when your host opens a prized bottle and one pronounces it vinegar.
Especially when the “herd mentality” up top means that the rest of the table leaps atop the sour grape bandwagon.
It turns out that expensive bottles of wine taste better because your brain activates differently when it already knows that the bottle of wine is expensive.
Meaning: there is no such thing as a blind-taste test.
When you taste blind, you are not drinking in the same way. In fact, you are drinking badly.
Because here are the ingredients necessary for tasting wine:
- A nose, for the bouquet;
- A tongue, to catch all the hints of obscure spice and vegetable;
- An eye, to inspect the clarity; and
- A primed and prejudiced mind, because that will change the way that your neurons interpret parts 1 through 3.
If you drink wine and you’re missing the prejudice, it’s the same as trying to drink wine with a blocked nose.
Here is youtube clip from Vox.
And to quote Dumbledore:
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
Which is why we shouldn’t worry so much about being brainwashed by advertisers. If they tell us that something is good, and we believe it, then it is.
I don’t know about everyone else – but suddenly I feel…more free.