GENEVA – Chances are that at least once in your life you've found yourself at a restaurant, sitting next to someone who claims to know everything about wine.

They usually hold their glass up toward the light to see the color of the wine, talk about tannins, grape variety, soil quality... Of course, the most expensive wine always seems to be the best one.

But recently, several studies have shown that the price itself of a wine can actually influence its taste.

In 2001, Frederic Brochet carried out two experiments at the University of Bordeaux. In one of them, he got 54 oenology students together and had them taste a glass of red wine, and a glass of white wine. They described each wine with as many details as they could. What Brochet did not tell them was that both glasses were actually the same wine. He had simply dyed the white wine red – which did not affect its taste. In the second experiment, he asked experts to assess the quality of two bottles of red wine. One was very expensive, the other one was cheap. Once again, he had tricked them, filling both bottles with the cheap wine. So, what were the results?

During the first experiment, with the dyed wine, the tasters described all sorts of berries, grapes and tannins in the red wine, just as if it was really red. None of the 54 students could tell the wine was actually white. In the second experiment, with the switched labels, the students gave lengthy descriptions of the cheap wine in the expensive bottle. They used adjectives such as “complex and full-bodied,” whereas they described the same wine, in the cheap bottle, as “weak and flat.”

Hooked on pleasure

In a more recent experiment, carried out at California Tech Institute, five bottles of wine ranging from $5 to $90 were compared. The experiment was simple: there were actually only three different wines, two of which had been used twice, in both cheap and expensive bottles. But this time, researchers hooked the test subjects to a brain scanner. While tasting the wine, the same parts of the brain would light up every time, but when tasters thought the wine was expensive, a particular area of the brain was more active.

This research showed that there is a specific area in the prefrontal cortex of the brain that is responsible for feelings of pleasure. The second study shows that changing the price of the wine can increase the activity of brain circuits in this area. These results are extremely relevant for the new field of “neuromarketing.” Several other studies have raised interest among researchers and companies. Some time in the not-so-distant future, it will become possible to analyze perfume, soap, films and music through the circuits of your brain.