Here’s a tip to make your next dinner party go smoother. A recent study has revealed that when you tell people that the wine you’re serving is expensive, they’ll say it tastes better.

We all know a good story can change your perception of something – but does that extend to actually changing the taste of something?

I’ve been rewatching one of my favourite TV shows, the what if con men were like Robin Hood heist drama, Leverage. In one episode con-woman Sophie goes undercover at a winery getting a job as a saleswoman by convincing the nefarious owner that his own wine tastes better than it does. She does this by pouring him a new glass and telling a story about it. And even though he’s drinking the exact same wine that was in his last glass, he says the new glass tastes better.

Leverage is famous for being meticulously researched so when I recently read that a study has proven that if you tell people the wine they are drinking is more expensive that it actually is, it tastes better. I love it with life imitates art. I like to think that the authors of this particular study watched episode 13 of season 5 of Leverage and thought – but is that true? And can we get funding to find out?

And it turns out it is – 140 people in a blind taste test rated cheap wine higher than expensive wine when they falsely told the cheap wine was the better bottle.

It’s not the first time that telling a story, in this case a very short bit of fiction about the price, has increased the perceived value of something.

In 2007 the Significant Objects Project purchased 100 objects from thrift stories and garage sales. This objects were knick-knacks purchased for an average of $1.25 each. Photos on the Significant Objects website show ceramic mushrooms, little trinket boxes, old toys. The project then asked 100 different writers – including names such as Meg Cabot and William Gibson – to write a short story for each of the objects – everyone got one each.

Those objects were then sold on eBay with the short story in place of the object description. The 100 objects, purchased for a grand total of $128.74, sold for £3612.51 – an increase in value of over 2800%!

Adding a story adds meaning

The recent kerfuffle around NFTs and their supporting certificates makes me think of a scene from BBC sitcom My Family. Main character Ben is delighted to receive a box of dirt in the post. When questioned on this by his kids, he delightedly tells them that the dirt is from the pitch that the 1966 World Cup Final was played on. His teenage kids mock him for being taken in by such an obvious scam – after all the the certificate of authenticity is just a piece of paper and easily forged.

So what makes this box of dirt worth more than any other box of dirt?

While a certificate may claim a providence for one, it’s the story that creates that emotional connection. That match, that pitch, that stadium. It feels like a tangible connection to something. And connection is everything.

A blanket made for me by my grandmother has more emotional value than one bought in a shop. It means more to me to see my son playing with a tiger toy I won at a funfair when I was 12, than the toy he choose last time we went to the zoo.

Emotional or sentimental value are real to the people to feel it. And now we have proof that if a story connects with you – be it a story about a ceramic mushroom or an old blanket – it adds value.

So when it comes to wine, expecting wine to taste better may be enough for you to think that actually it tastes better. None of the participants in the study were wine experts – so perhaps they they didn’t want to disagree with the sommelier who told them the glass cost more. Not wanting to rock the boat is another intrinsically human trait.


Main image by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

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