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The Great Wine Caper
May 14, 2012 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Rare-wine collectors are savvy, competitive guys with a taste for impossible finds. The biggest hoax in history took place right under their noses.

Finally faced with copious, almost pornographically explicit evidence, the wine world has spent the last two months absorbing the implications...If his rise had demonstrated anything, it was how easily the urge to know more can be overpowered by the temptation to know less. (via)
posted by mreleganza (76 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's the thread on wine berserkers that started the final chapter.

posted by JPD at 2:21 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Previously.

Since the link in that FPP seems borked, here's one that works.
posted by chavenet at 2:27 PM on May 14, 2012


I can't decide if "wine berserker" is better suited to being a sockpuppet account or a new reality show.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:29 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Previous wine fraud: Daniel Oliveros and Jeff Sokolin, the "sexy boys" (2010), and Hardy Rodenstock (real name, Meinhard Goerke) (2007).
posted by filthy light thief at 2:29 PM on May 14, 2012


I can't decide if "wine berserker" is better suited to being a sockpuppet account or a new reality show.

Or Fred Saberhagen oenophile fan fiction...
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:32 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wine Berserker: Where Franzia and Frazetta Meet
posted by gilrain at 2:56 PM on May 14, 2012 [13 favorites]


I can't decide if "wine berserker" is better suited to being a sockpuppet account or a new reality show.

I'm struggling with the impulse to transpose that to 'berserk whiners.'
posted by jamjam at 2:56 PM on May 14, 2012


At this point I'm actually happy that I'm not in the market for such positional goods: having moved from $6 bottles of wine as a student to $15 bottles of wine now, I feel I get to drink great wine whenever I like.

I'm not saying I haven't, maybe half-a-dozen times, had something in a restaurant that made me think "hang the food, just bring me some good bread and a bottle of THIS". But generally I get to drink very affordable, very good wine. I think!

It's a great disincentive to become in any way more expert!
posted by alasdair at 2:57 PM on May 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


'Yes, Mr. Fitzgerald, they are different from us-- they have worse wine.'
posted by jamjam at 3:00 PM on May 14, 2012


More evidence in the growing 'Is terroir and super-tasting bullshit argument'.

Drink what you enjoy.
I have a large cellar. But I crave unique tasting wines, I actively dislike old and classic vintages. You can tell they are old and the type of grape/fermentation/aging used but everything else is pretentious.

My current favorite vintage is new wine made by a hippy who lives in backwoods Texas and sold for about the same as it costs to ship. Tastes like summer.
Ironically this is probably what the burdandys tasted like back when they were first made in small farm batches. Great variability but every one hand made to a single person's preference. (Also not tasting like old wine yet)
posted by darkfred at 3:01 PM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can't decide if "wine berserker" is better suited to being a sockpuppet account or a new reality show.

It's the new name of the show formerly known as Cougar Town.
posted by The World Famous at 3:01 PM on May 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Provenance in rare/exotic goods is bizarre and fascinating. Being something of a car geek, this type of thing happens a lot in the rare/old car auction market (VIN swapping, odometer muckery, faux original parts).
posted by basicchannel at 3:02 PM on May 14, 2012


It's funny; while I recognize the immense cultural capital of high-end Burgundy, and have spent a hundred hours pouring over the maps in Clive Coates' books, I somehow find myself laughing at the prospect of these obnoxious billionaires getting ripped off. There's a particular style of aggressive high-end frat-boy wine snob that just annoys the crap out of me, and I enjoy watching them get taken.

This is in no way mere jealousy precipitated by the knowledge that I'll never come within a sniff of any of these wines, he lied.
posted by Fnarf at 3:03 PM on May 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


The unctuousness of right-bank aahahaha vintage ahahahahhahahhahaha.
posted by resurrexit at 3:05 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did someone really stand up in front of a room full of people, supposedly the cream of society, what with their discerning palates and dedication to the craft of wine making, and talk about a particular bottle being tighter than a 14-year-old virgin? Cool story, bro.

Also, sabering wine has to be the ultimate hallmark of a douche.
posted by maxwelton at 3:10 PM on May 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


Why are people laughing about the idea of wine connoisseurship in this thread? The super-tasters caught the guy!
posted by downing street memo at 3:11 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: how easily the urge to know more can be overpowered by the temptation to know less.
posted by Danf at 3:16 PM on May 14, 2012


WINE?
posted by this reminds me of an achewood strip at 3:20 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


> It's funny; while I recognize the immense cultural capital of high-end Burgundy, and have spent a hundred hours pouring over the maps in Clive Coates' books, I somehow find myself laughing at the prospect of these obnoxious billionaires getting ripped off.

Same here. I love old Burgundy (having had the very occasional opportunity to taste it), and I despise the know-nothing attacks on wine appreciation that usually deface threads about wine, but this was a great story.
posted by languagehat at 3:21 PM on May 14, 2012


I have drunk great wine, and I have made a living selling wine. Yes, you can taste the difference between a $900 bottle of wine and a $9 bottle of wine. But it ain't $891 worth of difference. Rare wine collecting is a hobby for people with more money than sense. Wine has NEVER been better, and cheaper, than it is right now. Five hundred bucks, a half-empty closet, and a weekend of doing your homework and you can start a wine cellar that'll be paying you back in delicious vintages in 3-5 years.

The market is flooded with well-made sub-$20-a-bottle wines. I'm about to drink a $9 bottle of Orvieto that smells like fresh-mown grass and summer sunshine and is going to make this boring piece of previously-frozen fish stand up and do a little dance in my mouth.

After a certain price point, whether it's wine or cars or what have you, it's no longer about the product itself. It's just a bunch of preening peacocks.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:21 PM on May 14, 2012 [63 favorites]


downing street memo: the super tasters didn't catch him because they recognized the wine the caught him because some of the wine was obvious young (almost anyone can taste this) and because he used a laser printer for some of the labels.

He got lazy. But his earlier efforts were repeatedly endorsed by the tasting elite. The article did not say that this was what he had done but mentioned that he bought a lot of old and relatively low value burgandy wine to mix. This implies he was attempting to make a close tasting forgery through mixing.

It may be that he beat them using his own super tasting to make an effective forgery. Or it may be, and what I suspect is the answer, that super tasting is still not very exact and relies on only a couple markers and a trained palette. (If I had a guess they would be funk, tannin (astrigency), suger, acidity (both tartness and sensation) and fruity scents.)
posted by darkfred at 3:28 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Chavenet's previously link is one that I remember. But those guys, as I recall, were actually concocting a vinter's mix to impersonate particular wines. I believe they used choclate, coffee, manure, and other things to match the taste profiles. Gotta respect that.

This guy did what? Just replaced labels? Boo.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:29 PM on May 14, 2012


As I've said before, without documentation, you don't have a lost masterpiece, what you have, at best, is a really good forgery.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 3:30 PM on May 14, 2012


1f2frfbf brings up a good point. Does Proof of Provenance even work the same in the wine world?

I can't see how even the maker of a vintage could effectively judge an unopened bottle wine. And given that most of these bottles started out as relatively cheap and mass produced item which then sat in someone's basement for upwards of 60 years I can see them having any real paper trail. Even if you did have the papers, receipts, letter from the wine maker, how do you connect them to the specific case much less individual bottles?
posted by darkfred at 3:36 PM on May 14, 2012


From the article:
And you really had to wonder about the bottles of 1923 Roumier Bonnes-Mares included in the sale. The domain was founded in 1924.
Heh.
I somehow find myself laughing at the prospect of these obnoxious billionaires getting ripped off. There's a particular style of aggressive high-end frat-boy wine snob that just annoys the crap out of me, and I enjoy watching them get taken.
Might... inspire someone to start selling them fake wine!
posted by delmoi at 3:39 PM on May 14, 2012


Don't forget too - provenance isn't just ownership chain on these things, its also storage conditions.

Auctions are just too much of a crapshoot. Find a merchant and pay them the markup for the right to return it if its shot.
posted by JPD at 3:40 PM on May 14, 2012


My father was very much into wine, and made a semi-viable second career out of turning a high-ish end supermarket's wine selection into a chance to educate people about wine, and introduce them to new things. He also spent way, way more money than he could really afford on wine.

Me? I can drink it. If I like the taste, I might have some more. The prohibitive costs, combined with the inevitable "oh, you like wine" conversation that starts when an enthusiast sees you drinking wine, which then gives them an opportunity to show off their vast knowledge, ending with a tsk of disappointment when they find out you're not as cultured as they are.

Beer? Good beer? Comparatively cheap, and if you didn't like that one, spend a couple dollars and get a different one.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:44 PM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


What makes the story even better is that (if this account is to be believed) the forged wine labels were stunningly inept, with incorrect fonts, missing accents and even basic spelling mistakes (e.g. 'Sackvillee Street' for 'Sackville Street'). It seems none of the savvy, competitive wine experts had bothered to look closely at the labels.
posted by verstegan at 3:45 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why are people laughing about the idea of wine connoisseurship in this thread? The super-tasters caught the guy!

No they didn't. They were consistently fooled by him repeatedly, even if some lone voices questioned him behind closed doors. It was the FBI breaking into his house due to immigration violations that really exposed him.

Wine connoisseurship as a concept is a mass delusion that is an emergent property of a myriad of self-delusions held by numerous individual "wine connoisseurs." It is like a very specific and limited group consciousness for wealthy idiots.
posted by Falconetti at 3:47 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


No discerning 1927 DRC from 1947 Ponsot is mass delusion. Telling a $25 of wine from an $8 dollar bottle of wine isn't.

Also the FBI ran through his front door because of the wine accusations. The immigration charges came later.

Yes my favorite head shaking thing was how bad the forgeries were.
posted by JPD at 3:57 PM on May 14, 2012


Bill Koch, brother of tea-party-funding Charles and David Koch

Well that certainly wasn't an important detail to add to a story about wine. If it was that important, couldn't the author just write Koch Industries?

"Pak Hendra," Ponsot learned, was equivalent to "Mr. Smith."

In case this is confusing to anyone, in general "Pak" (shortened from Bapak) in Bahasa Indonesian is the equivelant of "Mr" in English.
posted by lstanley at 3:58 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bill Koch, brother of tea-party-funding Charles and David Koch

Well that certainly wasn't an important detail to add to a story about wine. If it was that important, couldn't the author just write Koch Industries?
True, but I have to admit a Wine Party sounds like more fun, so long as the snobs stay at home.
posted by smirkette at 4:09 PM on May 14, 2012


BitterOldPunk: Please share your $500 wine starter set with us.
posted by percor at 4:10 PM on May 14, 2012 [19 favorites]


lstanley: "Bill Koch, brother of tea-party-funding Charles and David Koch

Well that certainly wasn't an important detail to add to a story about wine. If it was that important, couldn't the author just write Koch Industries?
"
I skimmed the article and missed that line. Here's how it's an important detail:

I just assumed he was one of the asshole tea-party funders based upon his last name. Now I know he's just brothers with them.
posted by wcfields at 4:16 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


BitterOldPunk: What percor said. Share your thoughts with us, comrade.
posted by Sokka shot first at 4:33 PM on May 14, 2012


I despise the know-nothing attacks on wine appreciation that usually deface threads about wine

Know nothing attacks on anything are annoying, but if you look into genuine double blind tests of wine tasting it is pretty clear that almost the entire edifice of wine "expertise" is built on a systematic series of delusions. This story is just one of many that have demonstrated over and over again that a very large proportion of the pleasure that even "experts" derive from a given wine comes from conditioned expectations rather than from the inherent qualities of the wine itself.
posted by yoink at 4:36 PM on May 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


This thread reminds me of f for fake. I wonder if the "super tasters" are in league with wine sellers.
posted by Golden Eternity at 4:50 PM on May 14, 2012


I haven't read the article but, "biggest hoax in history"? Really?
posted by tunewell at 4:52 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Standing up, Rosania noisily sabered open a $10,000 Jeroboam of 1945 Bollinger. “Shut the fuck up and let’s finish this,” said Kapon, in equally high spirits.

Without commenting on the validity of wine tasting as a practice, the article makes me want to eat rich people.
posted by fatbird at 4:52 PM on May 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


I haven't read the article but, "biggest hoax in history"? Really?

I think it's safe to infer they mean the biggest high-end wine history.
posted by mreleganza at 4:57 PM on May 14, 2012


Not to speak on BitterOldPunk's behalf, but at the price point he's talking about, specific chateaux and vintages aren't the point, since what he might recommend based on what's available in your area probably isn't in yours, and vice versa. The thing to do is, find a small independent wine shop and ask them for specific advice.

Don't go in and blow the whole $500 at a shot. Despite those little numeric tags on the shelf in your supermarket, wine isn't about a continuum from 50-100 (85 to 98, in actual practice); you can't just walk in and say "gimme all the 90-pluses under $20" -- well, you CAN, but why would you? It'd be like shopping for cars by ranking them all in length in inches and picking the longest.

The secret is to find what you like and go with that -- and to expand upon what you like by trying new things. The usual differences that people get excited about are grape variety, location, alcohol percent, acidity (amount and type), amount of fruit, and amount of oak. Some people LOVE heavy oak flavors, detectable as "wood", vanilla, and buttery flavors; some people hate 'em. Some people like alcohol bombs, 16% and up; others like softer wines in the 12%-13.5% range. Some people like a lot of acid (which can be food-friendly); some people like "fatter" wines. And on and on. Pinot Noir vs. Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc vs. Chardonnay. California vs. France, Australia vs. Italy. Any decent wine shop should be able to set you up with some basic categories and styles. You take them home and see what you like.

If you find something that really pushes your button, buy some more -- buy a case. Drink a bottle or two a year and see how it changes. But keep trying new things.
posted by Fnarf at 4:57 PM on May 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


if you look into genuine double blind tests of wine tasting it is pretty clear that almost the entire edifice of wine "expertise" is built on a systematic series of delusions

This isn't true, specifically or generally. Not all wine tasters are really good at it, but most of them can tell basic styles apart, even blind, and the best of them can not only pass "double blind" tests wherein the taster doesn't know what styles are going to be included in the test, but can remember specific chateaux and vintages with a high degree of accuracy. Robert Parker is famous for being able to correctly identify samples of wines he last tasted decades before.

But that's hardly what wine connoisseurship is about. Nor is it just the classic wine-snob bushwa about identifying the range of flavors -- "lead pencil", "leather" "marionberry" "pineapple", "bluegrass", etc., though those flavors do exist and you can be trained to spot them.

The truth is that wine has a very long list of variables in what kinds of grapes you use, how and where they are grown, and how they are harvested and pressed and fermented and aged, that make for a very wide range of experiences in the glass. An educated guide can help you sort those out, whether you're talking about $4,000 Romanee-Conti or $10 box wine (both of which can be very good in the right circumstances).
posted by Fnarf at 5:07 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: It's just a bunch of preening peacocks.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:14 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting that apparently Koch used gamma spectrometry to determine the authenticity of the wines.

Any glass made after the 1950's will have measurable fallout it it, and likewise any wine produced after the 1950's would. If he used old bottles and a mixture of old wines it is less obvious to me that ferreting out a fake would be easy. Though I guess if you had two legit bottles and a forgery and there was a clear difference that would be pretty damning.

(If anyone wants to send me some old burgundy, I'll send you back the gamma spectra and some empty bottles)
posted by pseudonick at 5:21 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


What makes the story even better is that (if this account is to be believed) the forged wine labels were stunningly inept, with incorrect fonts, missing accents and even basic spelling mistakes (e.g. 'Sackvillee Street' for 'Sackville Street'). It seems none of the savvy, competitive wine experts had bothered to look closely at the labels.

"There's a secret art to forgery, and Moist had discovered it: in a hurry, or when excited, people will complete the forgery by their own cupidity. They'll be so keen to snatch the money from the obvious idiot that their own eyes filled in all the little details that weren't quite there on the coins they so quickly pocketed. All you needed to do was hint at them." – Terry Pratchett, Going Postal.
posted by zippy at 5:28 PM on May 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


So where does my beloved Two-Buck Chuck fit into all this?
posted by xedrik at 5:33 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


.


not a moment of silence but rather the smallest violin in the world playing for a Koch Brother getting ripped off in a rare wine con.
posted by JimmyJames at 5:50 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sort of a closely similar tangent:

Europe's pre-eminent Stradivarius dealer is now sitting in a Vienna prison.
posted by bukvich at 6:00 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I do not mean this to be a know-nothing-type pooping-upon of the thread, but the Mota boxed wine has been serving excellently in the role of "hey I'd like a glass of wine!"-wine at Chateau Flaterik. I particularly like not having a constant stream of bottles exiting the house empty, and it tastes pretty good for $20/4 bottle box.

I've had bottles that were in the three digit dollar range, and they tasted damn good, but I always wonder how much is expectation. I'd definitely like to try a four digit valued bottle, but I wouldn't want it to be my money.
posted by flaterik at 6:01 PM on May 14, 2012


i'll admit i'm not better than people who are into wine. and i'm not better than people who think they're better than people who are into wine. but i AM better than people who think they're better than people who think they're better than people who are into wine. those people suck.
posted by facetious at 6:10 PM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


... whether you're talking about $4,000 Romanee-Conti or $10 box wine (both of which can be very good in the right circumstances)

You're not kidding. A robust, large-scale, blinded study suggests that most people will enjoy a $10 wine much more than the $4,000 one (so long as they don't know the price tag). It found a negative association between wine price and quality.
posted by dontjumplarry at 6:17 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I too once worked in the trade, and can tell you that old money buys cheap wine, nouveau riche money falls for anything, and I've had 1982 Petrus and it was very tasty indeed.
posted by spitbull at 7:04 PM on May 14, 2012


Yes my favorite head shaking thing was how bad the forgeries were.
posted by JPD


In that 187 page pdf catalogue, the forgeries were rediculous. A crisp label with some paper pulp layered over one corner like a fake scar in a B movie. Two label elements that are almost touching, yet have different wear patterns. The lead capsule looks like it was twisted back in place by hand more than once. This has to be wilfull self-deception on some level. Maybe the buyers just want to fool their friends using a less well-lit presentation.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:34 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Strong associations exist between specific odours and colours, and these associations have been found to be both consistent within populations and over time. Experimental manipulations of these associations have shown that both taste and odour perception rely heavily upon visual cues; participants often make errors in odour judgements when stimuli have been artificially coloured, and the presence of a strongly-associated colour can greatly enhance the detection of an odour and the intensity of aromas or flavours, as well as preference and enjoyment. Such associations between colour and odour appear to be based on prior experience, and odours are usually perceived alongside visual, taste and tactile sensations, as well as higher order cues such as shape, size and object labelling."
posted by unliteral at 7:41 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"In 2001, Frederic Brochet conducted two experiments at the University of Bordeaux.

"In one experiment, he got 57 wine experts together and had them taste one glass of red wine and one glass of white wine. He had them describe each wine in as much detail as their expertise would allow.

"What he didn't tell them was both were the same wine. He just dyed the white one red. "In the other experiment, he asked the experts to rate two different bottles of red wine. One was very expensive, the other was cheap.

"Again, he tricked them. This time he had put the cheap wine in both bottles.

"So, what were the results?

"The experts in the first experiment, the one with the dyed wine, described the sorts of berries and grapes and tannins they could detect in the red wine just as if it really was red. Every single one, all 57, could not tell it was white."

"In the second experiment, the one with the switched labels, the experts went on and on about the cheap wine in the expensive bottle. They called it 'complex' and 'rounded.' They called the same wine in the cheap bottle 'weak' and 'flat.' "

excerpt of Jon Carroll article in SF Chronicle
posted by jcworth at 7:53 PM on May 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


More: "Another experiment at Cal Tech pitted five bottles of wine against each other. They ranged in price from $5 to $90. Similarly, the experimenters put cheap wine in the expensive bottles - but this time they put the tasters in a brain scanner.

"While tasting the wine, the same parts of the brain would light up in the machine every time, but with the wine the tasters thought was expensive, one particular region of the brain became more active."

McRaney says that these experiments point out the underlooked role of expectation in decision making. If you are told that a, say, hamburger is made from the finest homegrown beef lovingly prepared by a world-renowned chef, you're going to want to like that hamburger - even if the burger is just a frozen patty with a little ketchup.
posted by jcworth at 7:55 PM on May 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Some bad wine is overpriced; some good wine is underpriced. Quality does not always track with cost. I've found that most $40 Chablis, being from an overpriced region, do not give me as much pleasure as a $15 falanghina, which is less fashionable. But I guarantee that, 99 times out of 100, a $40 Sancerre will give more pleasure than $10 bottle of factory-farmed wine from some vast tract in California. The process in making Sancerre is more careful and painstaking than the process used to make, say, Gallo, and the results are obvious.

There are objective differences between good wine and bad wine. ("Heat," which is the perception of alcohol, is one of many.) However, if you are trying to fool a taster, even an experienced one, it can sometimes be done. For example, white wine tastes best when it is served slightly cooler than a red wine; it is at cool temperatures that those flavors and aromas are evident. But if you serve a white wine at room temperature, it will taste bad. So it's maybe not so hard to fool someone into thinking a "good" white wine is "bad."

There is a famous piece in the New Yorker, written by Calvin Trillin, about this fallacy. It's worth a read.
posted by Zerowensboring at 9:30 PM on May 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


This reminds me of that one episode of Black Books.
Bernard: It's all waffle! Nobody is prepared to admit that wine doesn't have a taste.
Manny: Of course you can't taste anything, you smoke eighty bajillion cigarettes a day. What's that you're eating?
Bernard: It's some sort of delicious biscuit.
Manny: It's a coaster!
posted by asperity at 10:11 PM on May 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


It seems none of the savvy, competitive wine experts had bothered to look closely at the labels.

Once a con gets going long and succesfulyl enough, it's not in the interest of the experts to demask it, as too many "innocent" people will have a stake in it. See also the entire history of Wall Street.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:08 PM on May 14, 2012


This story is just one of many that have demonstrated over and over again that a very large proportion of the pleasure that even "experts" derive from a given wine comes from conditioned expectations rather than from the inherent qualities of the wine itself.

Yes, but why is that pleasure unreal or illegitimate? People tend to have more fun in groups. To drink wine from a plastic cup in a lab, blindfold, is to do without a whole lot of ceremony, tradition, community, history and culture that people are happily conditioned to enjoy. What's cognitive bias inside of a lab is meaningful sense-data in another context. Laboratory conditions have to be repeatable, but my pleasure in having drunk the perfect, not-particularly-special bottle of wine on holiday with good friends on the perfect evening is unrepeatable by definition, and that's why I might cherish having drunk that particular bottle in that place at that time, not least because I want to.

By the same token, I'm never going to live the life in which I can buy super high-end vintage wine and not care about the price except so, yes, I am unlikely to be able to reproduce that particular pleasure. Good job I don't want to get like that, no sireee...

When do we move on to audio cables?
posted by GeorgeBickham at 12:35 AM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


A few years back, I made an FPP about '47 Cheval Blanc where counterfeiting was talked about.
posted by veedubya at 12:53 AM on May 15, 2012


Zerowensboring: There's a particularly telling quote in that New Yorker article about the red/white division:

"By taste, both of them misidentified as white a Sancerre rouge made from Pinot Noir grapes in the Loire Valley. That was also one of two wines misidentified when tasted by another guest, Larry Bain, a San Francisco restaurant proprietor considered by Bruce to be knowledgeable in enological matters—which means that if your brother-in-law is particularly arrogant about the sophistication of his palate you might consider keeping a bottle of Reverdy Sancerre rouge on hand, along with a black glass and a pair of sunglasses."

Sancerre rouge are some of the lightest, most acidic (and delicious) red wines I've ever had. Unless you're familiar with the style, and it's not a common one, it absolutely tastes more like a white or particularly robust rosé than a red from pretty much anywhere else. Holding this up as an example of a mistake indicating a lack of sophistication is wrong, and rather says far more about wine's incredible diversity and the naiveté of a simple red/white divide. The author alludes to that by suggesting that one can try to "trick" the tasters, but somehow avoids concluding that for some wines, the color just isn't a useful correlate of taste. And that's a good thing.
posted by Schismatic at 2:11 AM on May 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm interested in BOP's followup too, but as Fnarf says the best way to start enjoying wine is to find a knowledgable seller of it and hand them the wheel. Most good wine shops arerun by people who love people who ask for help almost as much as they love wine. It's kind of like the gym: there's an image of snobbery and intimidating beginner-unfriendliness, but virtually all of the professionals involved could not be more welcoming, or more eager to share this thing that brings them so much joy.

(Just don't touch the bottles without asking permission.)
posted by No-sword at 3:20 AM on May 15, 2012


Fnarf is right on target -- buy what you like to drink and hopefully some of them will cellar well.

I'm a fan of soft pinot noirs, filthy barolos and barbarescos, and flinty traditional (French) chardonnays, so when I had a modest "collection" I drank my way through it in 5 years or so, because most of the wine I like drinks best relatively young (and I lack the self-discipline to not drink that last barolo when we're having lamb...)

If you're looking for deals, stuff that you can buy on the cheap and which will surprise you in a few years, consider buying a few cases of Italian reds. I bought three cases of Nebbiolo for something ridiculous, like $2 a bottle, and enjoyed it for years. One of the best drinking wines of all, chianti, still suffers from its reputation as cheap plonk, when in fact there are great affordable Chiantis that will age well. Even some of the mass-produced stuff is pretty good: Ruffino Riserva Ducale and Antinori Classico are easily available, affordable, and benefit from a few years rest.

The wholesaler I worked for specialized in Italian wines, so my recommendations are biased that way. But two French wines worth your money and time are Chateauneuf-Du-Pape (kind of a gamble, some of it will end up as salad dressing, some of it will be glorious) and cheap Burgundy vin du table, made to be drunk young, but totally worth a few years in the cellar. I had good luck with La Pièce sous le Bois (Blagny), a red Mersault that, to me, had the softness of a pinot noir with the body of a beefier cab or zin.

But really, get to know your local wine store person, work within your budget, and buy wines you know you enjoy. Your cellar should be 70% "Drink Now", 20% "Drink Later", and 10% "I Dunno, It Was On Sale, What The Heck". That way you've got it all covered - a bottle for now, a bottle for later, and a surprise bottle for whenever.

Don't read Wine Spectator. Don't read reviews. Don't follow wine message boards or chase trends. Don't be ashamed of your tastes. Look, everyone says Cabernet Sauvignon is king, right? Well, not to me. I've yet to find a cab that pleases me at a price point I can afford. So I'm a philistine to all the purists. Fine. I accept that, and I don't waste my money buying and storing wines that I know will make me think "I wish this were a meritage or a Zinfandel."

Buy what YOU like to drink, expand your horizons by trying lots of different things, and don't be intimidated by the blandishments of an industry that still sadly relies on snob appeal.

And drink as much decent champagne as you can afford to. Life's too short.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:21 AM on May 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


In one experiment, he got 57 wine experts together and had them taste one glass of red wine and one glass of white wine. He had them describe each wine in as much detail as their expertise would allow. What he didn't tell them was both were the same wine. He just dyed the white one red...

Every single one, all 57, could not tell it was white.


loloenophiles, amirite?

I would believe without hesitation that cheap wine served in fancy bottles gets better reviews from critics (which is why anybody who takes this remotely seriously insists on blind tastings), and that most people can't tell the difference between $10 and $90 and $9000 bottles of wine. There's a huge amount of baggage that people bring to wine-tasting, and BitterOldPunk's advice is spot-on: find something you like, and build outward from that, and you will probably find $10-15 gems that absolutely blow away anything that Serious Wine Drinkers will tell you is the best out there.

However, the idea that someone with even a modicum of wine-tasting experience can't tell the difference between red and white wine is the most preposterous thing I've ever heard. It's like telling me that you got the judging crew from Top Chef together and served them mechanically separated chicken dyed with brown food coloring and got them all to rave about the wonderful ribeye you'd prepared. They're two wildly disparate things, and for this guy to claim he'd fooled every single last one of these is the single most brazen act of hubris I have ever seen committed to print. He's absolutely full of shit, and I can't even begin to fathom why anyone would believe anything he wrote after that "scientific result."
posted by Mayor West at 6:32 AM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm about to drink a $9 bottle of Orvieto that smells like fresh-mown grass and summer sunshine and is going to make this boring piece of previously-frozen fish stand up and do a little dance in my mouth.

You've nailed what it is that I love about wine. Decently paired, it can make a boring meal SO much better, and a great meal an exercise in pure bliss.

I've volunteered in a SE MI winery for the past 7 years, and have learned boodles about pairing wine with food. Indeed, at my house, wine is a food group unto itself! The winery's philosophy is "Drink what you like!", and we try to get this across to all visitors to the tasting room. The vintner likes to gently needle people who come in and put on wine snob airs, letting them go on for a little bit, then asking them "Yes, but how will it taste with dinner?"
posted by MissySedai at 6:37 AM on May 15, 2012


We tend to go for the cheaper offbrand stuff made by good vintners. Caymus Conundrum and Duckhorn Decoy, stuff like that.

Although since the baby, we've been hitting up the boxed wine more often. There's just something about an open bottle that demands to be finished in an evening, which doesn't always jibe well with a 4:30am wake up cry. Thank you, Big House, for helping us through our evening but not standing in the way of our mornings.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:46 AM on May 15, 2012


Mayor West, wow. It's not like he simply went and wrote this down. He submitted it to a doctoral committee, published it in a journal, went through peer review. And checking this would be easy. Simply call the experts he hoodwinked and see if they were never tested.

We receive most of the information (by a very large amount) about the outside world through our eyes. We tend to believe them and adjust our mental views around them.

Calling a result of double blind testing hubris is, well, arrogant. Proving the pompous wrong has not been punishable since the Ancient Greek myths (see, Arachne, Medusa, etc.)
posted by Hactar at 7:57 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mayor West, wow. It's not like he simply went and wrote this down. He submitted it to a doctoral committee, published it in a journal, went through peer review. And checking this would be easy

I'd love to, because I wasn't decrying the thesis, I was decrying the simplistic and completely incorrect analysis of it that got parroted all over the internet! If you start following the trail backwards from the SF Gate story, (I'm assuming jcworth meant this article) you find an ever-expanding web of twee analysis of this very phenomenon. Its genesis in popular culture can most likely be tracked back to a discussion in "You're Not As Smart As You Think You Are," another blogging success story that launched a book deal. Unfortunately, as part of that book deal, the original article has been taken down, and they've opted not to allow Search Inside to index it on Amazon, so I'm stuck working with synopses of the article (which was itself apparently a reasonably poor synopsis of the paper in question, frequently confusing the individual studies performed and misattributing the number of subjects and the conclusions actually reached by the author. But I digress). Following the trail, here's the paper in the original French, and an English translation without diagrams. My French is middling at best, and I certainly don't know the full vocabulary of tasting notes, so let's stick with the English version and refer back to the diagrams in the original, yes?

OK! The setup: bring in a bunch test subjects, give them glasses of red and white wine and write down their tasting impressions, and then bring them back a few days later with the great ruse in place: two identical glasses of white wine, one dyed red. The subjects are then asked to describe their olfactory and gustatory impressions of the wine, with specific mind to their choice of adjectives. Crucially, you will note the lack of any mention of the subjects' wine-tasting expertise--I'm left to infer that these were undergraduates he recruited for the day. I wonder where the later summaries got the idea that experts were involved? Perhaps it was this, buried in the discussion:
The hypothesis of very strong variations in representations, even among expert subjects, could also be demonstrated by a third experiment.
It could indeed be demonstrated. Let me know when it is.

To the conclusions! In which we learn that this is primarily a study of word choice, noting the words used to describe the wines in their various circumstances. (note the list of adjectives referenced, which includes terms we're familiar with like "balanced," "open," and "complex" versus "unbalanced," "closed," and "simple") Here's the meat of the results:
The real red wine was described from an olfactory and gustative point of view in classical red wine terms. Whereas the white wine was described in usual white wine terms during this first experiment. In a similar fashion the white wine of the second experiment was described with white wine terms, this opposed to the same white wine coloured red. The Chi test carried out on the descriptions permitted the affirmation that the subjects described the two wines of the colour red in an identical fashion whereas one of them presented the aromas of a white wine. On the contrary the presence of the colour red in the white wine reversed the description of its descriptive parameters. In this experiment the perception of fragrance and taste conformed therefore to colour.
"[I]n an identical fashion" probably leaps out at you, but you'll note from the context that we're talking about abstract descriptive terms, and not "notes of lemon and citrus" versus "oaky and full of cherry and pomegranate." So. Sounds to me like he's actually talking about abstract descriptive language, couched in terms that the subjects were only peripherally familiar with from reading Parker's guides to the great chateaux. Maybe there's something in the analysis that warrants a sweeping generalization like "experts couldn't tell the difference between red and white wine?"
It should absolutely not be imagined that the perceptive representation of great or small wines relies only on their label or their colour
Nope, that still sounds like it's contributing toward the general theme, "sensory inputs can color the analysis of other, seemingly-unrelated sensory inputs." He did MRI studies and everything! What he did not do, however, is make any sort of statement in support of how the article was synopsized by "You're Not As Smart As You Think You Are" (and the irony therein is duly noted). Which leads me back to my original statement:
He's (editor's note: pronoun refers to Jon Carroll of the SF Gate and everyone else who took the snippet and ran with it) absolutely full of shit, and I can't even begin to fathom why anyone would believe anything he wrote
No serious person would ever make the claim that red and white wine cannot be distinguished by someone who knows what s/he is talking about. It's a ridiculous statement, parroted by those who enjoy sneering at people who like different things than they do. There's plenty to laugh at in this story without insisting that wine enthusiasts are all either deluded or playing a long con.
posted by Mayor West at 10:40 AM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


However, the idea that someone with even a modicum of wine-tasting experience can't tell the difference between red and white wine is the most preposterous thing I've ever heard.

Mayor West, I'd agree it sounds preposterous, but scientific truth isn't really interested in our opinions.

The results outweigh opinions, no matter how strongly held. The only thing that could overturn those results would be a failure to reproduce them in a very similar double-blind test, with sufficient sample sizes of tasters & wines.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:40 AM on May 15, 2012


I read "The Billionaire's Vinegar" (about the Hardy Rodenstock wine forgery case) about a year ago. It is so similar to this story that if this were fiction I'd accuse the author of ripping off "The Billionaire's Vinegar." I guess there's some cons that you can run over and over again without people catching on (except Mr. Koch - who has now sued Rodenstock three times but keeps running into jurisdictional issues).
posted by rednikki at 1:17 PM on May 15, 2012


Zerowensboring: There's a particularly telling quote in that New Yorker article about the red/white division:

Exactly! If you try to fool someone, by selecting wines intended to deceive, you can. But if you serve wine in the condition (temperature, etc) in which it is designed to be served, with all the various sensory inputs untampered with (including the label!), the person tasting it stands the best chance of experiencing the wine honestly and directly. But if you lie to them--well, if I put on a dress, put on tons of makeup, shaved, talked in a high voice and said I was a woman, I would be deemed a very unusual looking woman, but surprisingly few people would assume i was a man. (This is how some transsexuals begin to pass.)

To put it another way: The experience of looking at an action-painting changes once you know it's a Jackson Pollock. You bring certain expectations that the painting either satisfies or resists. Can you fool someone into thinking a forgery is a Pollock? It's been done, whereupon the dupe reacts to the painting in a false frame. I'm not sure where the suspicion of loving wine comes from, nor the weirdly triumphant gloating when wine lovers are fooled. There's something in us Americans that hates our own senses.

Anyway, a few months ago, I suspected a waiter had accidentally switched my glass of wine with the person i was eating with. It seemed I had been given my friend's verdelho, and they ended up with my chenin blanc. (For people not into wine, these are pretty different: the former is fruity, crisp and kind of nutty; the latter heavier-bodied and even a little sweet.) I asked the waiter, and she was confused for a second, but said, Oh yeah, you're right. She'd switched them.
posted by Zerowensboring at 7:06 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read "The Billionaire's Vinegar" (about the Hardy Rodenstock wine forgery case) about a year ago. It is so similar to this story that if this were fiction I'd accuse the author of ripping off "The Billionaire's Vinegar." I guess there's some cons that you can run over and over again without people catching on (except Mr. Koch - who has now sued Rodenstock three times but keeps running into jurisdictional issues).
I expect that Benjamin will be hearing from Mr. Wallace's lawyer any day now.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:42 PM on May 15, 2012


If you try to fool someone, by selecting wines intended to deceive, you can. But if you serve wine in the condition (temperature, etc) in which it is designed to be served, with all the various sensory inputs untampered with (including the label!), the person tasting it stands the best chance of experiencing the wine honestly and directly.
Is that true, though? One might argue that in order to truely experience the wine in a pure way you have to remove all potentially biasing signals. So that means no bottle, etc. The problem is the whole idea that these expensive, rare wines are somehow truly 'better', in proportion to their cost. That seems highly unlikely in reality.
posted by delmoi at 11:47 PM on May 22, 2012


If you try to fool someone, by selecting wines intended to deceive, you can. But if you serve wine in the condition (temperature, etc) in which it is designed to be served, with all the various sensory inputs untampered with (including the label!), the person tasting it stands the best chance of experiencing the wine honestly and directly.

Zerowensboring, if I'm following you correctly, you insist the test was bogus because it was performed "double blind", and if the test subjects had only been allowed to drink the wine in normal circumstances, including reading the label, they would have known what they were drinking.

Please tell me you don't work in the sciences, or regulatory industries.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:00 AM on May 23, 2012


A Vintage Crime: "Collecting vintage Burgundies, Rudy Kurniawan drove the rare-wine market to new heights, then began selling his treasures. Or so it seemed. Michael Steinberger uncorks what may be the largest case of fine-wine fraud in history." from Vanity Fair
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:08 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


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