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The Greatest Wine on the Planet
May 30, 2008 5:00 AM   Subscribe

How the '47 Cheval Blanc, a defective wine from an aberrant year, got so good.
posted by veedubya (58 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
At ~$3000 a glass it damn well better be transcendant.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:18 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


What if it's corked? It may be the greatest wine on the planet, but I bet it's in an ordinary bottle.
posted by three blind mice at 5:20 AM on May 30, 2008


That does raise a question. If you buy fine wines like this at auction and it's corked, what do you do? Can you ask for your money back?
posted by treblekicker at 5:31 AM on May 30, 2008


You aren't getting the best performance out of your wine unless the rim and stem of your glass is gold-plated.
posted by DU at 5:36 AM on May 30, 2008


That was a neat article; I didn't know about this wine. I was also pleased to realize that the name of Cheval Blanc's director -- Lurton -- is an anagram for ULTRON.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:07 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Nice article, thanks for that.
*takes another swig of 3 Buck Chuck*
posted by Floydd at 6:24 AM on May 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


"Consider the fact that this wine is, technically, appallingly deficient in acidity and excessively high in alcohol,"

Well, no wonder it's popular. Sweet 'n boozy.
posted by piratebowling at 6:27 AM on May 30, 2008


The discussion on the second page of the article on wine counterfeiting, linked from the one in the FPP is very interesting:
...Merchants in Britain and Belgium, upon receiving new vintages from Bordeaux and Burgundy, habitually blended in wines from other vintages (and sometimes other places) in order to make the new arrivals more pleasing to their clients. This wasn't necessarily viewed as cheating; it was considered good customer service. Meadows estimates that about 20 percent of the older wines he tastes nowadays show signs of having been so doctored. Several years ago, he sampled a négociant-bottled 1959 Grands-Echezeaux (a grand cru red Burgundy) in the company of the firm's current director, who freely admitted that the wine included some 1985 Grands-Echezeaux.
In other words, people actually thought it a Good Thing to mess with wine to make it taste better. I guess they stopped doing that when they realised it killed their chances of making a gazillion bucks off a bottle of wine down the road.
posted by ghost of a past number at 6:41 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


God, that was good reading.
posted by brautigan at 6:56 AM on May 30, 2008


*Buries case of Orange Jubilee MD 20/20 in the desert, right next to all the copies of the Atari 2600 ET game.*
posted by cog_nate at 6:56 AM on May 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


That was an excellent read, thanks!
posted by languagehat at 7:16 AM on May 30, 2008


Great article on a subject I know absolutely nothing about! I understood what I was reading, while still feeling awed by the stuff other people know A LOT about.
posted by nax at 7:23 AM on May 30, 2008


You aren't getting the best performance out of your wine unless the rim and stem of your glass is gold-plated.
posted by DU at 8:36 AM on May 30 [+] [!]

You know nothing about wine, DU. True Oenophiles use a special green magic marker on the rim of the glass. It's been scientifically proven to increase Total Alcoholic Distortion.
posted by The Bellman at 7:26 AM on May 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


Thanks for posting this.

One of his other articles argues that blind tastings are not the best way to evaluate wines, an interesting proposition.
posted by voltairemodern at 7:39 AM on May 30, 2008


That was great writin'. I liked the line, "movement, heat, and light (the Furies of the wine world)".
posted by notsnot at 8:07 AM on May 30, 2008


Fun article. I love wine snobbery and wish I were a wine snob. It's so cool. But let's not pretend that there's an objective way to evaluate wine. Recent science suggests that wine tasting is so deeply subjective as to be almost meaningless:

"A few years ago, Frederic Brochet, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Bordeaux, conducted a rather mischievous experiment. He invited 54 experienced wine tasters to give their impressions of a red wine and a white wine. Not surprisingly, the experts described the wines with the standard set of adjectives: the red wine was "jammy" and full of "crushed red fruit." The white wine, meanwhile, tasted of lemon, peaches, and honey. The next day, Brochet invited the wine experts back for another tasting. This time, however, he dyed the white wine with red food coloring, so that it looked as if they were tasting two red wines. The trick worked. The experts described the dyed white wine with the language typically used to describe red wines. The peaches and honey tasted like black currants."

So, do wine experts "know" anything about wine? It's not clear that they do. The only thing we can be sure of at this point is that they have entertaining opinions. Enjoy judging wine and reading experts' opinions, but always bear in mind that that knowledge is no more legitimate than, say, religious belief or literary analysis.
posted by sdodd at 8:11 AM on May 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


That does raise a question. If you buy fine wines like this at auction and it's corked, what do you do? Can you ask for your money back?

Nope. Caveat emptor.
posted by ericb at 8:19 AM on May 30, 2008


The discussion on the second page of the article on wine counterfeiting...

Previous MeFi thread: Two tales of fraud from the New Yorker.
posted by ericb at 8:22 AM on May 30, 2008


In related news: Collector Accuses Chicago Companies of Wine Fraud
"Energy executive and wine collector William Koch has taken his personal crusade to clean up the collectible wine business to the Windy City, filing a lawsuit on Friday that accuses both the Chicago Wine Company and Julienne Importing of selling him counterfeit wine.

Koch claims that from 1987 to 1990, the Chicago Wine Company, a retailer and auction house, sold him 15 bottles of counterfeit wine for $150,000, including a bottle of 1787 Château Branne Mouton (now Mouton-Rothschild) that may have been owned by Thomas Jefferson. The lawsuit also alleges that 14 bottles of wine Koch purchased for $63,000, which were imported by Julienne and sold by the Chicago Wine Company and other retailers, are also counterfeit. Ironically, Koch was a major investor in the Chicago Wine Company for seven years.

...The Chicago suit is the third in Koch's campaign. He is currently suing Hardy Rodenstock, the German wine dealer who claims he found the Jefferson bottles, for fraud in federal court in New York. Koch bought a total of four Jefferson bottles. He is also suing Zachys Wine Auctions and wealthy California collector Eric Greenberg in New York over alleged counterfeits from Greenberg's cellars he bought at Zachys auctions. Since he began investigating the authenticity of the Jefferson bottles, Koch has had experts examining his entire collection

...Koch's court filings in Chicago show how serious he was to build a sizable collection. Invoices show that Koch purchased several hundred rare wines from the Chicago Wine Company between 1987 and 1991, spending well over $1 million. The lawsuit also details why Koch's experts think the 15 wines from the Chicago Wine Company are fake. For example, several wines from the 1800s and early 1900s are allegedly in bottles with seamed mold marks on the bottom, a type of bottle not manufactured until the 1930s. A magnum of Château Pétrus 1945 has the vintage stamped on the label while the label on a magnum of Latour 1959 has creases and air bubbles from the wrong glue."
posted by ericb at 8:25 AM on May 30, 2008


What nax said. Thanks for the fun read!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:41 AM on May 30, 2008


I've actually had the '47 Cheval Blanc, and yeah, it was without a doubt the best wine I've ever tasted. It smelled like someone had melted down a box of fancy chocolates - ones with exotic spices. If I was trying to guess what it was only by the smell, I would have immediately said "Port", but when tasting it, it was a normal dry wine like any Bordeaux.

Now to be fair, we all knew what we were tasting, and so we were expecting something great. This was a group of 10 that does monthly wine tastings, including many Bordeaux tastings.
posted by Teppy at 8:42 AM on May 30, 2008


Interesting, well written article. I have passed the link to a wine-retailer (knowledgeable) friend whom, I'm sure, will praise it further.

Cheers, veedubya.
posted by Shave at 8:54 AM on May 30, 2008


*is jealous of Teppy*
posted by languagehat at 8:56 AM on May 30, 2008


sdodd: So, do wine experts "know" anything about wine? It's not clear that they do. The only thing we can be sure of at this point is that they have entertaining opinions.

If the third slate article, provided by voltairemodern is to be believed, the good ones do quite well in identifying specific vintages in blind tests. Actually, far better than I would have guessed, to the point where I'm not entirely convinced the whole fine wine business is a con.

But it's obvious as hell relying on puny human tasters is no way to do things with the sums of money flying around. I say we get a gas chromatograph, a bottle of this here '47 Cheval Blanc and go to town.
posted by ghost of a past number at 9:00 AM on May 30, 2008


I've actually had the '47 Cheval Blanc, and yeah, it was without a doubt the best wine I've ever tasted. It smelled like someone had melted down a box of fancy chocolates - ones with exotic spices.

Oh God stop it. I'm drooling over here! Damn this article. It's only noon and it's got me wanting wine in the worst way.
posted by lysistrata at 9:08 AM on May 30, 2008


Back around 1971, I helped decant a case (yes, a case) of 1947 Petrus that was being consumed by a group of gourmets at the St. Francis Hotel in SF, where I was working at the time. I would guess this would rank in the top 10 of all time, as well. Unfortunately, I only got to smell, not taste. It's now listed for up to $17,000 per bottle.
posted by beagle at 9:09 AM on May 30, 2008


I vote the fine wine business is 45% a con, 15% legit and 40% drunk.

(not wine-ist)

Personally I like it all. A bit too much. Which is the problem.
posted by tkchrist at 9:12 AM on May 30, 2008


> So, do wine experts "know" anything about wine?

It depends on the expert and what their asked. Part of the problem in that test may be in that there is no official white wine flavor or official red wine flavor. Another part of the problem is that the experts tested in that experiment (which I like, honestly) might not have been leaders in their fields.

If you got the greatest oenophiles and sommeliers in a room and told them to rank a random bunch of mediocre wines by age, they might not do all that great a job; they have not spent their careers studying the distinctions of mediocre wines. If you gave a great sommelier a glass of classic vintage, they could accurately identify the vineyard and tell you what the weather was like that year, because the well-trained person will know enough about vintages, characteristic tastes of those vintages, and have studied the reasons for those characteristics.
posted by ardgedee at 9:20 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


It smelled like someone had melted down a box of fancy chocolates - ones with exotic spices. ... but when tasting it, it was a normal dry wine like any Bordeaux.

I hope you don't mean to imply that the taste wasn't that much to write home about, compared to the way it smelled.
posted by deanc at 9:21 AM on May 30, 2008


45% a con, 15% legit and 40% drunk.

Dude, you just described one of my closest friends.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:23 AM on May 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


The '47s signature flaws—the residual sugar and volatile acidity—were readily apparent, but it was just as Lurton had said: In this wine, the flaws inexplicably became virtues. The analogy that sprang to mind wasn't port; it was Forrest Gump. This was the Forrest Gump of wines—clearly defective, completely charmed.

This passage wins the best description of wine in terms of something that has nothing to do with wine award.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 9:26 AM on May 30, 2008


He lost me at Forrest Gump.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:36 AM on May 30, 2008


Hey, at least it ties in with the box of chocolates analogy Teppy came up with.
posted by danb at 9:38 AM on May 30, 2008


God, that was good reading.

What brautigan said. That was nice.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 10:14 AM on May 30, 2008


So, do wine experts "know" anything about wine?

I don't know how it is at the top of the game. I'm too poor to run in those circles. But I will say this: I didn't "get" wine at all until someone who knew what he was talking about sat me down in a restaurant with a decent wine list and ordered me some of the good stuff (which doesn't necessarily have to be expensive.)
posted by lysistrata at 10:22 AM on May 30, 2008


Nice article, thanks. I've been in and out of the wine industry for years now, so I always enjoy stories like this one. Even after years of traveling and tasting I've never even seen bottle of 47.... anything. This stuff is impossibly rare.

Then again, I work with wines that are sold at shops and restaurants, not the deep collector's market, which is its own little reality.
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:26 AM on May 30, 2008


Are all wine experts selling you a con? Probably not.

But it's well established that you can serve the exact same wine to a group of "experts" in two different bottles (one expensive, one cheap) and the reviews will be astonishingly different. The wine in the expensive looking bottle will be praised while the exact same wine in the cheaper bottle will be given poor reviews.
posted by Justinian at 10:29 AM on May 30, 2008


Terrific article, although I find the use of the British term "claret" on the second page a bit rude to the lay reader - it just means a red Bordeaux, and since they're describing the other great Bordeaux of '47 it would be nice to make clear that it isn't a sub-classification.
posted by nicwolff at 11:33 AM on May 30, 2008


Good writing! So persuasive, so good at coveying those mythical qualities. The dead flowers bit sold me - as if I were worth as much as this vintage.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 11:43 AM on May 30, 2008


So, do wine experts "know" anything about wine?

Wine experts know an awful lot about wine expertise, a bit like tarot card layers know an awful lot about tarot card reading.

Wine connoisseurship is the perfect self-perpetuating circus, and it's colourful enough to awe most of us into feeling, at best, mere spectators.

Want to know wine? Buy some bottles, see what you like (what tastes good to you), remember those wines (maybe find out a little more about them), and then work from there. Wine was meant to be good. Just do away with the old French myth of wines needing to be "grand" - that's where all the humbug began.

disclaimer: wine-ist, former producer, and admirer of iconoclastic wine-thinker Luca Maroni (previously).
posted by progosk at 11:56 AM on May 30, 2008


Reminds me of an old rule of homebrewing: Taste the mistakes.

Note: There's a difference here between a mistake and an error. A mistake is "Wait, I was going to use the pale malt in that batch." An error is 'Wait, I forgot to sanitize that hose..." The former will probably result in a crappy beer, but just might turn into a wonder. The latter will probably result in a stinking mess.

But sometimes, when you screw up and use the wrong yeast, or malt, or put the stout on top of the cherries, rather than the lambic you were trying (and trying, and trying, and trying -- it's easy to make lambics, but it's remarkably tough to stop making them!) you end up with Something Wonderful.

Which is why another old rule of homebrewing is Document Everything. Because nothing sucks like brewing the Wonderbrew -- and not knowing how to brew it again.
posted by eriko at 11:56 AM on May 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Reminds me of an old rule of homebrewing: Taste the mistakes.

Note: There's a difference here between a mistake and an error. A mistake is "Wait, I was going to use the pale malt in that batch." An error is 'Wait, I forgot to sanitize that hose..." The former will probably result in a crappy beer, but just might turn into a wonder. The latter will probably result in a stinking mess.

But sometimes, when you screw up and use the wrong yeast, or malt, or put the stout on top of the cherries, rather than the lambic you were trying (and trying, and trying, and trying -- it's easy to make lambics, but it's remarkably tough to stop making them!) you end up with Something Wonderful.

Which is why another old rule of homebrewing is Document Everything. Because nothing sucks like brewing the Wonderbrew -- and not knowing how to brew it again.
posted by eriko at 11:56 AM on May 30, 2008


eriko: is double posting a comment a mistake or an error?
posted by Justinian at 12:03 PM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Any wine expert worth his or her tastevin will cheerfully admit they get things wrong. I can't remember who it was, but one of them talked about mistaking a white for a red. That doesn't mean it's all a con, it means that wine tasting is not an exact science and wines are remarkably varied. If you've ever spent time with a real connoisseur and some real wine you know how complex it is and how much those people know, both in their minds and in their palates. Umpires blow calls too, and great fielders miss catches.

The greatest wine I ever had? Since you insist: a 1978 Domaine Dujac Clos de la Roche. It had been open for a week and was astonishing. For the first time I understood why "barnyard" is a term of praise when it comes to wine.
posted by languagehat at 12:07 PM on May 30, 2008


Languagehat has it. Wines are fun: Fun to taste, fun to drink and fun to talk about. Sometimes the experts make wine seem fussy and stuffy, but really the opposite is true. Start buying bottles, learn about the winemaker's and their vineyards, and open wines with friends and families. While picking out wines through blind-tasting is impressive, it's a parlor trick compared to what a winemaker has to do to make fine and balanced wine.

What's a shame is that, in America and elsewhere, wine has become a luxury item. Money and elitism have driven many people away from a perfectly enjoyable hobby. Luckily there are many affordable wines made with great care.

(Oh, and just to snob out and ruin my whole point: and while 3buck chuck is affordable, it isn't made with much care. You can do better. People who mention 3 buck chuck in a conversation about wine remind me of people who have email addresses that end with "@aol.com"
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:43 PM on May 30, 2008


The greatest wine I ever had?

1989 JL Chave Hermitage. It smelled so good I almost didn't want to drink it.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:45 PM on May 30, 2008


I always thought that as I got older and my interest in alcohol matured beyond guzzling whatever was at hand in order to get shitfaced (not that I don't still enjoy that, too) I'd start to gain an appreciation for wine. While I've branched out past beer into cocktails and whisky, almost all wine still tastes like paint thinner to me (and I've sampled a few "fine," or at least expensive, wines). To each their own.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:09 PM on May 30, 2008


Do collectors actually drink the wines they buy? Or is it all about the collecting and not about the imbibing?
posted by redfisch at 1:17 PM on May 30, 2008


Do collectors actually drink the wines they buy? Or is it all about the collecting and not about the imbibing?

Some collect for investment purposes (e.g. trading in wine futures, laying down expensive Bordeaux, Burgundy and rare "garage wines" for 10, 20 years) to resell later at higher prices; others for gustatory purposes. And others for both purposes.
posted by ericb at 1:25 PM on May 30, 2008


Just as he collects art and maritime memorabilia, Bill Koch (mentioned above) collects rare wines without any intention of drinking them. I'm sure he has another collection meant for drinking.
posted by ericb at 1:31 PM on May 30, 2008


Redfisch: Some do, most don't. Again, calling on some industry experience, there is a (somewhat fuzzy) line between wine one drinks and wine one collects. Working with wholesalers, I often see bottles selling for anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars - on release. These aren't aged bottles, and sometimes aren't even that rare (a few hundred cases produced.) generally restaurants don't buy many of these, private collectors do. Some wineries even sell different box styles. For restaurants and shops the standard is a cardboard wine box, but for collectors, numbered 6-pack wooden boxes. The auction value of unopened boxes is quite higher than opened ones, or sets of bottles.

Anyway, I ramble. But, like I said it's another reality.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:36 PM on May 30, 2008


Back in High School I got so wasted on '47 Cheval Blanc.

Can't touch the stuff now.

Or was that Strawberry Angel?
posted by mazola at 2:40 PM on May 30, 2008


Or was that Strawberry Angel?

No. It was Boone's Farm.
posted by ericb at 3:05 PM on May 30, 2008


The greatest wine I ever had?

1970 Romanée-Conti La Tâche. It smelled so good I drank it right up.
posted by nicwolff at 8:06 PM on May 30, 2008


1947 was the second of three great postwar vintages in Bordeaux, a hat trick that began with the 1945s and ended with the 1949s.

Sorry, this is not a hat trick. That would be three in a row.
posted by Wolof at 8:41 PM on May 30, 2008


The lack of snark in this thread is nice.

(You won't be getting it from me!)
posted by JHarris at 9:02 PM on May 30, 2008


The lack of snark in this thread is nice.

I was going to say that but was afraid of jinxing it. But now that the thread has died down, yes, it's great! We can have nice things!
posted by languagehat at 5:17 AM on May 31, 2008


Catchy headline for the FPP. I read it and enjoyed it, and I'm not big on wine at all. Rarely drink it. But I do have a friend that's a wine writer, and have learned to appreciate the wine thing, at least a bit.
posted by Goofyy at 9:25 AM on May 31, 2008


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