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Research: Most can't tell pricey wine from cheap

Beyond all mathematical hope, an experiment in England shows that the majority of people simply don't know the difference between wines.

Perhaps you, like me, enjoy a glass of wine. Especially if it's a larger glass, at least half full of good wine.

Perhaps you, riding on your usual wave of intelligence and sophistication, believe that you can always taste the difference between cheap wine that deserves a box or a hole in the ground, and expensive wine that deserves another year or two in a dimly lit cellar.

Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire in England, believes the mathematical likelihood is that you have no idea what you're talking about.

Wiseman, you see, decided that he would take the opportunity of this month's Edinburgh International Science Festival to conduct an experiment.

According to the Guardian, Wiseman asked 578 of the attendees to do a blind test. The aim was to see if these wise and, no doubt, refined scientists and acolytes, could tell pricey pinot from grotty grigio.

His conclusion seems to have the clarity of a mind devoid of claret.

He told the Guardian: "People just could not tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine. When you know the answer, you fool yourself into thinking you would be able to tell the difference, but most people simply can't."

Spot the cheap one. CC Vitalsine/Flickr

Mathematics would dictate that simply guessing would offer a 50 percent result. However, with some varietals, there was a quite drunken discrepancy between mathematics and dim reality.

The wine that fooled most people was, indeed, the claret, with only 39 percent of people being able to tell the difference between wine priced around $23 and one that must have been sold out of a bucket for just over $5.

Each of the pairs of wines were characterized by at least a doubling of price.

In the end, the combined results of all the varietals, red and white, offered almost exactly the same results as would the tossing of a coin, a fork, or the lid of a trash can. And Wiseman reportedly believes that it doesn't matter if the attendees were sophisticated or not-- he thinks his results would be replicated with any group.

I cannot decide whether this result is depressing or uplifting.

Living just an hour from Napa and Sonoma-- and being an all too frequent visitor to both-- I can only hope that everyone can distinguish between a glass of Honig's fine 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon or Ladera's astounding 2001 Merlot (yup, Merlot) and, well, some of the eight buck gargle you can sometimes find next to the bananas at your corner store.

But so often at the end of Hope Street, lies the Domicile of Despair.

Please, though, tonight (or, perhaps, this weekend), try the blind test experiment at home. I am sure it will give hours of purely scientific pleasure. I am sure that everyone in these pages would love to hear your results.