This article from Bloomberg.com says a lot:
Brain Scans Reveal Secret to Tastier Wine: Jack Up the Prices
By Tom Randall
Jan. 14 (Bloomberg) -- The best-tasting wines require perfect weather, seasoned vines, oak barrels and, according to a new study, high price tags.
Volunteers in California who were given sips of wines with fake prices said they preferred the cabernets they thought were more expensive to the ones they thought were cheaper about 80 percent of the time, according to the study published tomorrow in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers scanning the volunteers' brains while they drank confirmed they enjoyed the pricier wines more. The experiment helps explain how marketing practices can influence both the preferences of consumers and the enjoyment registered by their brains, said Antonio Rangel, one of the study's authors.
``The lesson is a very deep one, not only about marketing but about the human experience,'' said Rangel, an associate professor of economics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. ``This study shows that the expectations that we bring to the experience affect the experience itself.''
People who enjoy pricier wines don't have to look far for them. U.S. wine sales, including liquor, at seven major auction houses totaled $208 million in 2007, up 25 percent from the year before and almost double the $106 million in 2005. The top sale of the year sold by Sotheby's was a jeroboam of 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, equivalent in volume to six standard 750- milliliter bottles, or 4.5 liters (1.2 gallons), which sold for $310,700 in a New York auction.
Twenty volunteers in the study were given five wines on 15 different occasions and asked to rank their preferred vintages. While they drank small sips from long plastic straws, researchers gave them fake prices for the varieties they drank. The wines usually cost $5 to $90 a bottle at stores.
Perceptions of Pleasure Researchers observed brain activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the brain that's responsible for perceptions of pleasure while listening to music, smelling flowers and tasting wines. Preference shown by the brain patterns were highest for wines with the most-inflated prices.
Before the study began, each of the volunteers said they enjoyed red wine and sometimes drank it. When researchers replicated the study with ``mild experts'' at the Stanford University wine club in California the results were the same, Rangel said.
In a follow-up experiment eight weeks after the original study, patients were given the wines to taste without any suggested prices. Most chose the $5 wine as their favorite, Rangel said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Randall in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org .