Tastes Great, Less Billing

In a world without price tags or labels, which wines would rule? Food writer Robin Goldstein offers an answer in "The Wine Trials," a new book based on a blind taste test of 540 wines, priced between $1.50 and $150. Goldstein's 500 volunteer tasters, a group that included experts and everyday drinkers, sipped more than 6,000 glasses of wine and recorded their impressions on a simple scale of bad, OK, good and great. Their results might rattle a few wine snobs, but the average oenophile can rejoice: 100 wines under $15 consistently outperformed their upscale cousins. For instance, after the initial ratings were turned into numbers (1 for "bad," 4 for "great"), a $9.99 bottle of Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut outscored a $150 bottle of Dom Perignon, while Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon, known as "Two-Buck Chuck," bested the $55 version from Stags' Leap Artemis. Several box wines, much derided in some circles, also cracked the top 100. This is what happens when you "get past the jargon and pomposity of wine writing," says Goldstein. "People shouldn't have to apologize for serving cheap wine."

His motto—"If you hide the label, the truth comes out"—is beginning to sound like more than a pet theory. In January, scientists from Caltech and Stanford upended traditional measures of taste with the results of a mischievous study in which volunteers were invited to try Cabernet Sauvignon priced at $5, $10, $45 and $90. The twist? There were actually only two kinds of wine offered, marked with different prices. The $90 wine was presented at its real price as well as marked down to $10, while the $5 bottle was also marked up to $45. The results were surprising: price appeared to dictate pleasure. The wine drinkers liked the $90 bottle best, the $5 bottle least. When the same volunteers were offered sips without price data, though, they preferred the $5 option. According to Paul Glimcher, director of New York University's Center for Neuroeconomics, if the price is different, the brain's perception of the experience will be, too. The lesson? Don't overthink it.

Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc
New Zealand

PRICE
$13

RATING*
2.75

Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde
Portugal

PRICE
$6

RATING
2.61

Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina
Italy

PRICE
$15

RATING
2.57

Marqués de Cáceres White Rioja
Spain

PRICE
$9

RATING
2.43

Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay
U.S.A.

PRICE
$40

RATING
2.13

Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay
U.S.A.

PRICE
$35

RATING
2.06

*RAW AVERAGES