E-mails arrive in my inbox regularly listing the latest from the American Association of Wine Economists, a nonprofit that presents and publishes studies by academic economists involving wine. Although many of these papers are impenetrable to a lay reader, every now and then a few catch my eye. The current e-mail has several. Make of these what you will.
Most fascinating to me is "When Does the Price Affect the Taste?" The authors, Johan Almenberg and Anna Dreber, designed an experiment in which hosts sometimes revealed the price of the wines they poured, and sometimes not, then asked everyone to rate the wines. The results? "Disclosing a high price ... produces considerably higher ratings, although only from women. Disclosing a low price, by contrast, does not result in lower ratings." In other words, as a host you won't adversely affect your guests' pleasure by telling them how much you paid for the wine you're serving. If it's a high-priced bottle women might like it even more. You won't change their perception of a bargain bottle, although they might peg you as a cheapskate.
In "Reconsidering the 1855 Bordeaux Classification of the Médoc and Graves Using Wine Ratings From 1970-2005," authors Gary M. Thompson and Stephen A. Mutkowski correlate the position of all 61 châteaus in the five-tier classification with scores from major sources, including Wine Spectator. More than half of the producers are misclassified, the authors conclude. They are not the first. Most wine writers have reached similar conclusions, but it's nice to have more legwork to support the idea. Don't hold your breath waiting for the French to alter the classification, though.
Several papers seem to fall into the "duh" category, as in "Why Is There a Home Bias?" by Richard Friberg, et al. The authors wonder why Americans buy so much domestic wine, and conclude: "Home bias on this market is not explained by higher marginal costs for imports or by lesser store coverage of imported brands. The evidence rather points to higher foreign fixed costs of entry, coupled with a preference for U.S. wines, as the main sources for the high domestic market share." In other words, imported wines are at a disadvantage because of the cost of importing them, but we tend to prefer our own wines anyway.
"Wine in Your Knapsack" by John M. Conrad, et al, explores how best to select a wine within a budget. It compares published ratings for a range of Zinfandels and then compares them with ratings for similarly priced Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Sauvignons. A fun game we all can play, and often do.
FInally, "The Value of Terroir: Hedonic Estimation of Vineyard Sale Prices," looks at prices paid per acre in Willamette Valley, Ore., (a region I write about regularly) and concludes that the subappellation the vineyard occupies is more important than measurable vineyard characteristics such as soil, slope, aspect and elevation. Robin Cross, et al, found that vineyard buyers are willing to pay $7,000 more per acre on average for sites in Dundee Hills than in parts of Willamette Valley not within the subAVAs, and about $3,000 more in Eola-Amity Hills, Chehalem Mountains and Yamhill-Carlton. That also correlates with bottle prices.
The authors' takeaway from that? A subAVA's reputation, reflected by wine ratings and price, matters economically. Vineyard characteristics pale in comparison. Only soil type showed much correlation with the price per acre. Makes sense. A label might attract buyers using an AVA with a good reputation, but only a few individual vineyards in Oregon have enough commercial clout to do that (such as Shea).
I wonder what would come out of the same analysis of Burgundy, where the geographical appellation (Corton or Beaune? Chambolle-Musigny or Musigny) seems to determine the price but the smart money follows the winegrower. In the end, a vineyard only supplies potential. How it's farmed and how the grapes are made into wine blur the picture, and a place like Oregon will take several generations to come into focus anywhere near as sharply as, oh, say, Burgundy has.
John Jorgenson — Seattle, — September 22, 2011 1:22am ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions