Via the Volokh Conspiracy, I see that Eric Asimov in the The New York Times has an article regarding the correlation between price and satisfaction with wine. It seems that the more something costs, the more likely you are to be satisfied with it, including a bottle of wine. The study in question did not require the test subjects to pay for their wine, though. I think a good follow up would be to have the test subjects use their own money to buy the same bottle twice, once being charged $20, the next time $50 but without being told it was the same wine. This would test the effect of thrift on the wine drinkers' perception. Personally, I've had lots of "not bad for $5" bottles of wine and quite a few "not great for $25" bottles. If the latter had been priced like the former, my pleasure in them would have been greater. A nice bottle of wine at $7 is a find. A nice bottle of wine at $30 is expected.
My very favorite wines are all under $15, though it is a short list. Gruet Blanc de Noir is a really good sparkling wine, made in New Mexico by a family of Champagne makers and is fairly regularly placed on sale for $12/bottle.
My taste for plonk-priced wine has another explanation than thrift. In the same article, Asimov writes a bit about another study where 500 volunteers samples 540 wines and rated them, regardless of price (which they did not know). The study is discussed in a new book to be published soon called "The Wine Trials" and, as described by Asimov, "... the book shows that what appeals to novice wine drinkers is significantly different from what appeals to wine experts, which the book defines as those who have had some sort of training or professional experience with wine." While not a novice wine drinker, in the sense of having twenty-some years of imbibing behind me, I think the lack of sophistication of my palate explains my enthusiasm for low end wines, as opposed to those loved by the experts. Then again, I like lots of garlic, lots of black pepper, lots of green chile, plenty of any spice but cumin and salt- strong flavors generally appeal most to me.
With respect to the more expensive bottles, while back there was an article on Culinate about picking up an otherwise bland evening with a good bottle of wine, I belatedly came across knowledge of "open that bottle night", or OTBN, created and advocated by a pair of writers for the Wall Street Journal. They set aside a day each year to open one of their best bottles and advocate drinking those bottles set aside because they are sentimental or too expensive, rather than leaving them up on the shelf to admire. Rather like taking out that old shotgun or heirloom rifle and using it, rather than stashing it in pristine uselessness in a safe.
I'm guilty of stashing good stuff, prime cuts of elk or redfish fillets or a good bottle of wine, sometimes past the best due date. Friends and family laugh at my spare bedroom (when I forget and leave the door open) and the cases of wine stacked in two corners. From a high of eight or ten cases a couple of years ago, I've whittled it down to six or eight after resolving to drink up everything but two, for the sake of space if nothing else. Not that I've only consumed two cases of wine in the last year or two, by any means. Regular purchases of every day drinking wine as well as the occasional nicer bottle, or half-case if I find a deal, has complicated the project. Time for a new resolution to drink before I buy.