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Freakonomics Radio takes on wines

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#1 Rail Paul

Rail Paul

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Posted 17 March 2012 - 08:29 PM

The Freakonomics team has returned to (member supported) WNYC in New York with a new series of programs. Today's episode covers the ease in obtaining a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for a non-existent restaurant offering a phony wine list larded with swill. The application and $250 went in, and an Award citation with an invitation to buy an ad to feature the fake osteria came back in good time.

Although Wine Spectator's alleged ad whoring has been discussed on a regular basis, as have Parker's conflicts, the team uses this example as a reason to investigate how trustworthy news and consumer sites are.

When you take a sip of Cabernet, what are you tasting? The grape? The tannins? The oak barrel? Or is it the price?

Believe it or not, the most dominant flavor may be the dollars. Thanks to the work of some intrepid and wine-obsessed researchers (yes, there is an American Association of Wine Economists), we have a new understanding of the relationship between wine, critics, and consumers.

One of these researchers is Robin Goldstein, whose paper detailing more than 6,000 blind tastings reaches the conclusion that “individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine.”

Why, then, do we pay so much attention to critics and connoisseurs who tell us otherwise? That’s the question we set out to answer. You’ll hear from Steve Levitt, who admits his palate is “underdeveloped,” about a wine stunt he pulled on his elders at Harvard’s Society of Fellows; and wine broker Brian DiMarco pulled a stunt of his own on his wine-savvy employees.

Days of Wine and Mouses
“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones. ”
Niccolò Machiavelli