Hobbyists versus Experts

This post by Steven Levitt makes me smile.

On Tuesday afternoons we had wine tastings. I asked if I could be allowed the opportunity to conduct one of these wine tastings “blind” to see what we could learn from sampling wines without first knowing what we were drinking. Everyone thought this was a great idea. So with the help of the wine steward I selected two expensive bottles from the wine cellar and then I went down the street to the liquor store and bought the cheapest bottle of wine they had made from the same type of grape….

The results could not have been better for me. There was no significant difference in the rating across the four wines; the cheap wine did just as well as the expensive ones. Even more remarkable, for a given drinker, there was more variation in the rankings they gave to the two samples drawn from the same bottle than there was between any other two samples. Not only did they like the cheap wine as much as the expensive one, they were not even internally consistent in their assessments….

Fifteen years later, I am happy to report that the results of my little experiment have been confirmed by rigorous academic research involving more than 5,000 subjects, as published in this working paper of the American Association of Wine Economists. Their conclusion: fancy people with lots of training can tell cheap wine from expensive wine, but regular people cannot.

What lesson should we take from this? No matter what, do not let yourself become a wine expert who can tell the difference between cheap and expensive wines. When it comes to your pocketbook and wine, ignorance is bliss.

I would like to add one further lesson. It is easy to fool yourself into thinking that you know what you are doing.

2 Responses “Hobbyists versus Experts”

  1. Jack at F&B says:

    Too late.

    But, like becoming an “expert” on baseball, it takes a damn long time to become a semi-expert on wine, too. But, sort of being both, I find being a wine expert is much more rewarding.

  2. Jon S. says:

    Jack at F&B:

    If you can maintain your sense of humor then yeah, being a wine expert is good stuff. Most of the time wine connoisseurs are just snobby though, which is fun for exactly no one.