Researchers scanned the brains of the testers and found that the part of the brain that records pleasure lit up more for the more pricey vintages.
And that was true even when - unknown to the testers - they were sipping a wine that they had liked less when it had a lower price tag.
Antonio Rangel and colleagues at California Institute of Technology thought perceptions of higher price meaning higher quality could influence people, so they decided to test the idea.
They asked 20 people to sample wine while undergoing functional MRI's of their brain activity. The subjects were told they were tasting five different Cabernet Sauvignons sold at different prices.
However, there were actually only three wines sampled, two being offered twice, marked with different prices.
A $90 wine was provided marked with its real price and again marked $10, while another was presented at its real price of $5 and also marked $45.
The testers' brains showed more pleasure at the higher price than the lower one, even for the same wine, Rangel reports in this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In other words, changes in the price of the wine changed the actual pleasure experienced by the drinkers, the researchers reported.
"Our results suggest that the brain might compute experienced pleasantness in a much more sophisticated manner that involves integrating the actual sensory properties of the substance being consumed with the expectations about how good it should be," they reported.