Can you really tell expensive wine from cheap wine?

A few days ago I invited my MBA students over to my house.  At the party I served three kinds of wine (all California Cabs), three kinds of cheese (all sharp cheddar) and three kinds of chocolate (all dark).  All nine items were served blind, which means the wines were in bags, the cheese cut in the same size blocks and the chocolate was served imprint side down.

The question I posed to the group was could they really tell in a blind taste test which was the cheapest and which was the most expensive.  The answers were interesting.  The group overwhelmingly liked the $30 Cabernet compared to the $15 Cabernet and the $3 Cabernet.  However, the clear favorite cheddar was the mid-priced Cabot cheese, not the organic cheddar.  The least favorite chocolate was the fair trade, organic chocolate.  More people liked the cheaper Hershey’s or the mid-priced Lindt.

The results suggest some merit in Dan Ariely’s Wall St Journal article from a few days ago about how much you should spend on wine.  He suggests many people cannot tell the difference between expensive foods and cheap foods.  If you cannot tell the difference ordering cheaper wines/foods will save you money without diminishing the quality of your dining experience.

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