One of the most expensive bottles of wine in history cost $225,000, but no one will ever know if it was truly worth it. In 1989, New York wine merchant, William Sokolin, brought the precious bottle to the Four Seasons Hotel. He proudly showed it off until a jaw-dropping accident happened. Sokolin was a former professional baseball player. He claimed he had “great hands,” but that didn’t stop him from clumsily dropping the bottle. The wine was a rare 1787 bottle of Château Margaux that was previously owned by Thomas Jefferson. Sokolin said it was worth 500 grand, but the insurance company paid him slightly less than half of that. The restaurant manager claims to have tasted a few drops of the spilled wine with his finger. His response was “Yuck.”
While bottles of 200-year-old wine are few and far between, getting one’s hands on a more recent red wine was much easier for the people of a small town in Northern Italy. On March 4th, 2020, residents of Castelvetro di Modena found red wine flowing out of their kitchen faucets and their showerheads. A malfunctioning valve at a local winery caused the wine to get diverted into the town’s water pipes for three hours. The manager of the winery told CNN that the free wine “was appreciated by many.”
While the price difference between free shower wine and Chateau Margaux is vast, what about the quality? According to wine importer, Brian Dimarco, how much we think a wine costs affects how much we enjoy it. Dimarco gave his employees a $10 wine and a $50 wine to review. In fact, they were both the same wine, yet all the employees chose the $50 wine as superior. When the price is hidden, the opposite is sometimes true. In another blind taste test of champagne, a $12 bottle of Domaine Ste. Michelle Cuvee Brut was found to be much more popular than a $150 Dom Perignon.
Even wine experts have been known to be fooled from time to time. Robert Hodgson is the owner of a winery in California. Some of his wines have won gold medals in some competitions while doing poorly in others. Frustrated by the inconsistency, he got the organizers of the California State Fair on board to test how objective these wine experts were. They secretly served the judges some of the same wines multiple times but told them the wines were each different. He found that a wine rated ‘excellent’ one minute would be rated just ‘acceptable’ minutes later. According to Hodgson, “Chance has a great deal to do with the awards that wines win.”