I suspect that most people who drink wine regularly think they are able to distinguish expensive wine from the cheap stuff. But there are numerous studies like this one that show the average wine consumer can’t do so in a blind tasting. This is not surprising. The relationship between wine quality and price is not straightforward—there is a loose correlation but with lots of exceptions. Price often has more to do with supply and demand than the intrinsic quality of the wine.
But more importantly, wine is a vague object, with features difficult to discern. The properties of fine wine are not simple sensations but involve judgments about complexity, finesse, and harmony that require the discernment of relationships between multiple sensations that experts and connoisseurs spend years learning to appreciate.
It is strange that anyone would expect the average consumer to reliably identify quality wine. We don’t have that expectation in the arts or music. Most “average” art lovers prefer Kincade to Pollock, and Katie Perry is far more popular than Arvo Part. Enjoyment and quality are only loosely correlated.
So what’s the average wine consumer to do about this?
The good news is that learning to distinguish quality wine from cheap wine is really just a matter of gaining experience. So drink more wine. What’s so hard about that? But in fact it’s not just drinking more but drinking more thoughtfully that builds competence. Start paying more attention to what you drink and note the differences. Compare wines side by side and try to describe the nuances. If you’re on a budget that’s no problem. Start out with cheaper wines until you get good at detecting differences and then gradually move into higher price tiers keeping in mind that price isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality.
Or alternatively, just buy really expensive wine and don’t worry about it. Studies show the higher the price of a wine, the more we enjoy it. Even if you can’t tell good wine from bad you will persuade yourself of the quality of the costly wine. Your pleasure will be based on an illusion rather than genuine quality but caring about reality is so, well, last year.