Glass of red wine

There’s been so much hype on the Penfolds Limited Edition 2004 Block 42 which is has been billed as ‘The World’s Most Expensive Wine’.

The price-tag has been set at $168 000.00 for a 750ml ‘ampoule’ of the wine – but when you get through the marketing and the spin, it’s clear you aren’t paying that outrageous sum of money for the wine – you are paying it for the gaudy packaging.

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This Is Not A Wine Aimed At A True Connoisseur

If you want an example of a legendary wine which befits a high price, look no further than the sale of 1811 Château d’Yquem a few years ago. The Yquem was exorbitant ($118 000.00), but there is something almost forgivable, even understandable, about buying a legendary wine that is 200 hundred years old, and still drinkable.

It is a different thing altogether to artificially inflate the price of a wine for the sole purpose of billing it the ‘World’s Most Expensive Wine’. The Penfold’s offering smacks of crass commercialism and opportunism.

Penfolds is selling Block 42 on the basis that it is produced from the world’s oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines, which were originally imported from France – but even with these credentials and excellent ratings, Block 42 sold for $18 000.00 for 6 liters in 2007.

How on earth can anyone justify this incredible price hike? The simple answer is that you can’t. Block 42 is not worth $168 000.00, and Penfolds knows it, which is why they have dressed the wine up to appeal to those who spend money because they can.

The limited edition (only 11 for sale, 1 of which is reserved for charity) wines came encased in an ‘Ampoule’ of hand-blown glass with ‘precious metal detailing’, which itself is lodged in a ‘bespoke Jarrah cabinet’.

But wait, there’s more!

When the owner decides to drink the contents of his ‘ampoule’, a senior wine-maker from Penfolds will personally travel to their ‘destination of choice’, and remove the ‘Ampoule’ from its ‘plumb-bob’ (??) casing, open it using a ‘specially designed, tungsten-tipped, sterling silver scribe-snap’ (???), and prepare the wine using a ‘beautifully crafted sterling silver tastevin’.

It’s like an infomercial, where you find more and more ‘bonuses’ and ‘added value’ to convince you the product is worth the price.  The subtext is that Penfolds Block 42 wine accounts for only a fraction of the purchase price.

The rest is all packaging, hype and show to appeal to the vanity and narcissism of the buyer.

Block 42 by itself is miles away from being the 'most expensive wine in the world'. Click To Tweet

Exorbitant price and excessive packaging Changes Nothing When It Comes To Finding A Market

This Fact Changes Nothing When It Comes To Finding A Market

This is a world where mindless celebrities part with up to $40.00 for a bottle of water.

Regrettably, there really are many people with more money than decency or sense who actively vied for a chance to be one of only 11 owners of these pretentious ampoules of wine. And when they finally drink it, they will tell everyone it is worth the ridiculous price because once you have paid that much, you have been brainwashed into believing it tastes better – and this is scientifically proven..

You don’t have to look far to see that if people think something is expensive, they will believe it is somehow better than a cheaper version.

I remember seeing an episode of a reality show from years ago, where a group of pretentious wannabees were sent to a party in a fabulous house.

They could barely contain their enthusiasm as they gushed about the top class ‘champagne’ served to them by impeccably dressed waiters, and the ‘delicious’ snacks which were beautifully presented.

They were being fooled. The ‘champagne’ was cheap and nasty plonk, and the canapés were made from Spam and other tinned horrors. Apparently presentation really is everything. If you think this is an isolated incident, there is scientific proof that we all tend to such idiocy.

Your brain lights up when you think you are drinking expensive wine

Caltech studies prove that people’s brains actually light up with pleasure when they believe they are drinking a more expensive wine.

In fact, give them the same wine twice, but tell them on one occasion it is more expensive than the other, and the pleasure center of the brain becomes more active indicating that a higher price really does enhance the pleasure of drinking it.

Sadly, the brain does not seem to be equipped with a BS monitor. Click To Tweet

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It Gets Even More Interesting

When the researchers hooked up regular folk on blind tastings, they reported liking the cheapest wines the most. They repeated the experiment with the Stanford Wine Club and got the same results. So people actually prefer the taste of cheaper wine, but if they are told that it’s expensive, their appreciation goes up several notches. Give them an expensive wine that tastes like battery acid and provided that they believe it is expensive, their brains will glow with pleasure.

Remember the ‘Soda Stream Champagne’ experiment? Heston Blumenthal carbonated a regular supermarket brand called ‘Blue Nun’ and offered it in a blind test along with proper champagne to passersby in London’s Financial District.

Blue Nun 1. Champagne 0. It’s hilarious and sad that people will pay more for something, even though they prefer the cheaper version. Why? Surely value for money is more important than perceived exclusivity?

What sinister forces are at play that would make us buy something that costs more, even though there is a cheaper version available that we prefer?

Image of head and brainWhat the Science shows

The Caltech studies were led by Antonio Rangel, a neuro-economist. He told Wired.com that he expected that the experiment would break down if you used people with highly educated palates.

In a taste-off between a cheap supermarket wine and a great wine, I agree this will be the result, but I wonder if you would find the same outcome if you used a really good wine instead of the bargain basement supermarket special to compare it with.

Would the experts really be able to tell the difference between wines which cost $100.00 and $1000.00, or $100 000.00? Is the more expensive wine so much of an improvement that it’s worth the inflated cost, or is it simply a question instinctively preferring what you are told is the more expensive option?

And is this truly instinctive in a biological way, or is it something we have learned? If it’s the latter, it’s a damning indictment of the world we have created.

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If Money Came With Common Sense And Social Responsibility, The World Would Be A Better Place

The ampoules of Block 42 filled with the dark red wine look very much like giant vials of blood. Click To Tweet

It’s one thing to pay a fair price for a high quality item, but it’s completely another to pay an artificially inflated price for an item because to do so makes you feel ‘special’ and gives you momentary pleasure.

Wealthy man drinking expensive wineThere is something insufferable about a person who needs to validate themselves with ostentatious, vulgar spending displays of their spending power in a world where people are dying of famine, war and disease. If you need pretentious hype to make you feel important, perhaps your money would be better spent on psychotherapy. No-one should be impressed with such a purchase. In face, words like ‘sucker’, ‘vampire’ and ‘leech’ come to mind….

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