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What's in the Bottle?
June 14, 2010 4:08 PM   Subscribe

An investigation into the startling fraud accusations that have upended the fine wine world. "Daniel Oliveros and Jeff Sokolin were known as the "sexy boys" because they often described the wines they sold as "sexy juice." Oliveros and Sokolin ran Royal Wine Merchants, a Manhattan retailer that was, until a few years ago, one of the biggest players in the fine wine market. They lived as lavishly as their wealthy customers—staying in swank hotels, often hiring limousines, and routinely opening thousands of dollars' worth of rare wines."

"Oliveros' marriage to porn star Savanna Samson added to the aura and the intrigue. But what really set the sexy boys apart was their seemingly limitless stock of legendary old wines, many of them in supersize bottles—quantities and formats that no one else could get their hands on. They bombarded clients with faxes touting their latest finds: multiple bottles of 1961 Latour à Pomerol ("Kinky Juice!"), magnums of 1945 Mouton Rothschild ("our latest sexy purchase"), a double magnum of 1949 Cheval Blanc ("Perfect condition. Better than 1947!!! Trust me!!!"). It seemed too good to be true. Apparently, it was."

"Oliveros, a native of Venezuela, and Sokolin, who is of Russian descent, opened Royal in 1990. The liquor license was in Sokolin's name alone. Four years earlier, according to court records, Oliveros had been arrested and charged with stealing approximately $20,000 worth of wine from Long Island's Garden City Hotel, where he had been employed. Reached by phone, Oliveros confirmed the arrest and said he had pleaded guilty."

"Koch, a 70-year-old energy tycoon" filed a lawsuit against Christie, the auction house that sold thousands of bottles of rare wines. The "lawsuit against Christie's also puts another name into play: Robert Parker, the world's most influential wine critic. The 1921 Pétrus—a wine that links Rodenstock to Royal, and Royal to the sale of counterfeit wines—became a highly sought-after collectible when Parker awarded it a perfect score, 100 points, at a tasting that Rodenstock hosted in Munich in 1995."
posted by VikingSword (98 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Waiter, this wine shop's Koched!
posted by chavenet at 4:18 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The FPP doesn't really say, but these guys are facing credible accusations of wine counterfeiting.
posted by grobstein at 4:29 PM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Serious question - is wine from the 1920s or 1940s even drinkable? Even assuming pristine conditions?
posted by desjardins at 4:29 PM on June 14, 2010


I'm halfway through the article and it reads pretty credible, grobstein.
posted by ODiV at 4:32 PM on June 14, 2010


Previously

Serious question - is wine from the 1920s or 1940s even drinkable? Even assuming pristine conditions?

Why not? they were selling wine they claimed was from the 1780s, and radio dating proved that it was made before above ground nuclear testing (which changed isotope levels world wide)
posted by delmoi at 4:33 PM on June 14, 2010


desjardins: depends on the wine of course, but yes. Not that I've ever been so lucky/rich, but it does happen.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:34 PM on June 14, 2010


Savanna Samson has her own wine label? Holy shit.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:37 PM on June 14, 2010


A Hint Of Hype, A Taste Of Illusion
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:39 PM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wine aging chart Bordeaux is in the upper left, but I don't know what type the 1921 Petrus was supposed to be.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:40 PM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


This reads like the script to a never-produced "Wild And Crazy Guys Movie Project"
posted by The Whelk at 4:47 PM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oliveros, a native of Venezuela, and Sokolin, who is of Russian descent...

Stay classy, Slate.
posted by DU at 4:52 PM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


On my iPhone screen, I tapped to read these comments but opened the "Is your Congressperson hot or not?" site by mistake.

Those were not the sexy boys I was looking for.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:58 PM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


We need to cross-reference this with Grindr.
posted by The Whelk at 5:02 PM on June 14, 2010


I'll take any old Madeira, thank you very much.
posted by bwg at 5:05 PM on June 14, 2010


If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
posted by The Confessor at 5:06 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know what type the 1921 Petrus was supposed to be.

Petrus is a pomerol.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:15 PM on June 14, 2010


Bea-bea-beaver boys...

Beaver Bounce.

Shrimp! White Wine!
posted by symbioid at 5:16 PM on June 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


shrimp 'n white wine
shrimp 'n white wine
shrimp 'n white wiiiiine

on preview: damn you symbioid!
posted by fleetmouse at 5:18 PM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wine snobs are usually full of shit! Film at eleven!
posted by Justinian at 5:26 PM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Selling $20,000 bottles of wine and calling it "sexy juice"? These guys sound like they're selling wine coolers to high school kids. I wonder if they've ever iced a bro.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:42 PM on June 14, 2010 [12 favorites]


Stay classy, Slate.

Yeah, I just perused the article again and it fails notify the reader to the ethnic provenance of everyone save for the accused.

Also, it's fermented grape juice. Can be had at your local off-license for short money. Ask any wino.
posted by jsavimbi at 5:48 PM on June 14, 2010


But, wouldn't all of those wine aficionados be able to tell?! I mean, since there's a measurable difference between good (expensive) wine and Franzia and all.
posted by cmoj at 6:01 PM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


IANAWineDrinker

Doesn't the fact that one can counterfeit wines and sell them to people who presumably care a lot about wine, and they can drink them and apparently go on happily suggest that all this wine snobbery is some kind of marketting/imagined thing? If the ten thousand dollar bottle of wine can be substituted with a hundred dollar bottle of wine and the only alarm bell is that goes off is that there are too many ten thousand dollar bottles of wine, doesn't that suggest the ten thousand dollar wine isn't 100 times better than the $100 bottle?

While phrased rant-ishly, this is actually a real question. Why doesn't the wine world get outraged that the wine is all the same (not quite, but you know what I mean) instead of that they were overcharged?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:21 PM on June 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


cmoj : But, wouldn't all of those wine aficionados be able to tell?! I mean, since there's a measurable difference between good (expensive) wine and Franzia and all.

You might have meant that sarcastically, but...

Nope.

These guys have as much accuracy as any other "experts" in subjective appreciation disciplines - ie, not a shred. Check out Welles' F is for Fake for one of the most notable examples of all time.
posted by pla at 6:26 PM on June 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


The high-end wine world is like the audiophile world: the only reason it tastes/sounds better is because you spent $10,000 on it. It is the placebo effect (plus status symbol). It's been known for a long time, but people are not up in arms about it because those who have paid the entry fee want to defend it (and, if it actually tastes/sounds better to them, I won't begrudge them), and those of us who understand the principle will be satisfied with our $15 wines and $100 amps without worrying that there's some higher quality level that we're missing out on. Or, like these dudes, we'll try to find a way to capitalize on the effect somehow.
posted by breath at 6:31 PM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


If the ten thousand dollar bottle of wine can be substituted with a hundred dollar bottle of wine and the only alarm bell is that goes off is that there are too many ten thousand dollar bottles of wine, doesn't that suggest the ten thousand dollar wine isn't 100 times better than the $100 bottle?


First, you could substitute a $1 wine for the $100K wine, and wine experts wouldn't be able to tell the difference, so you're off already. Second, nobody would ever think that the 100 time differential is proportionate to quality difference - not in wine, nor in anything else. You may pay 1000 times more for the last 1% of improvement in something, and not bat an eye - virtually nothing works according to the kind of strict proportionality you imagine.

While phrased rant-ishly, this is actually a real question. Why doesn't the wine world get outraged that the wine is all the same (not quite, but you know what I mean) instead of that they were overcharged?

Because at that level of wine collecting it's about collecting, not necessarily consumption. And even if it was about consumption, it has nothing to do with proportionality as I pointed out before. With collecting, as with any economic activity, scarcity is the key factor. So if there are only 3 postage stamps of a certain kind in existence, it's not about the artistic value, it's about the scarcity - and that's why they'll cost 9 bazillion. "Overcharging" doesn't apply to a world of demand and supply. You can only say you were overcharged if you were told you're getting X, which has a certain market value, and you actually are getting Y, which has lower market value - so then you are being overcharged.

I gather you've never collected anything?
posted by VikingSword at 6:31 PM on June 14, 2010


Also, wrestling is fake!
posted by breath at 6:32 PM on June 14, 2010


...radio dating proved that it was made before above ground nuclear testing (which changed isotope levels world wide)

A strong wine, but modest. Hints of juniper and tobacco and...hmm...an isotopey aftertaste. Probably one of my six favourite non-radiated wines.

I've had two dollar bottles of wine, ten dollar bottles, twenty, thirty, all the way up to a tasting from an alleged thousand dollar bottle of Penfold's something (which wasn't that old, early-90s I believe, cab sav or whatever, I'm a merlot guy) and frankly above about the forty buck mark the law of diminishing returns diminishes quite a lot indeed and leads me to conclude that anybody who would pay more than about a hundred quid (because I'm factoring good champagne into the equation) for a bottle of gear is a first-class wanker. Of course, the difference between a ten dollar bottle and a thirty dollar bottle will kick your face off.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:32 PM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love it when rich people who are duping themselves into spending money on something silly find incontrovertible evidence that they ARE being duped.

Apologies to Niles and Frasier, though.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:34 PM on June 14, 2010


Of course, the difference between a ten dollar bottle and a thirty dollar bottle will kick your face off.

I bet you never did a blind test of this assertion. And I bet if you did, you'd fail it, just like every other wine expert, every time a test like that had been done.

There's one, and only one rule to wine: drink what you like, regardless of price. Price aught not to be any consideration. I approach wine as I do many things, I don't look at the price tag - I sample. If I like it, I look at the price, and then decide if I like it enough to pay that price.
posted by VikingSword at 6:37 PM on June 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


heh... not surprising...

I sold wine for a lot of years, the truth is, most folks, even those who say they are informed, can't tell the difference between a $5 bottle of barefoot Cabernet and a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild.

Some of the best wine I sold to folks was a fire sale (really, the warehouse caught fire...had to unload it quick) of Chilean red... great stuff, I sold it for about $2 per bottle.
posted by HuronBob at 6:37 PM on June 14, 2010


But, wouldn't all of those wine aficionados be able to tell?! I mean, since there's a measurable difference between good (expensive) wine and Franzia and all.

Well, the fakes are quality wine. It's not as though good counterfeiters are pouring Gallo wine from a jug into old Petrus bottles. Hardy Rodenstock has a reputation for being a talented mixer-- he can combine good wines in certain proportions and the end result is a close approximation of what one would expect a given rare wine to taste and feel like. The Wine Spectator article about fakes is pretty good (I used to have a (free) subscription and that was an article I actually read)-- Koch has some evidence that Rodenstock used a 1940's Bordeaux in concocting a very expensive fake that was supposed to be from the 20's.

There's absolutely an "emperor's new clothes" issue there, but it's more sophisticated than dumping bulk wine of the proper color into an old bottle.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:40 PM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I bet you never did a blind test of this assertion. And I bet if you did, you'd fail it, just like every other wine expert, every time a test like that had been done.

Sorry, I should clarify: I probably would fail this test, but the thirty buck bottle (of red) isn't going to leave purple residue on my tongue and colour tomorrow morning's bowel movement black, which is my metric for determining wine quality. Having said that, I have noticed no difference whatsoever in the subjective quality or my enjoyment of any white wine in any price range above about five dollars. Actually I've bought boxes of white cleanskins for twenty bucks, so those bottles work out to $3.33 a piece, and they were great.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:47 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is this the thread where I highly recommend "The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine"? I'm trying to come up with a way to combine "PWND!" and Rodenstock but I'm not having much luck.
posted by MikeMc at 6:57 PM on June 14, 2010


Two Buck Chuck chardonnay and merlot - up there with the best damn wine you will ever put in your mouth. Balanced and complex, the merlot being savory and spicy, the chardonnay slightly sweet without being cloying - I had completely given up on wine, and was amazed at how good it was, and how crap highly regarded $15-$20 bottles I had been drinking were by comparison.

(The other Charles Shaw varietals aren't all that good, at least to my palate.)

Wine is about fashion and provenance more than taste and drunkenness, and that's a shame.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:59 PM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: colour tomorrow morning's bowel movement black

sorry
posted by HuronBob at 7:01 PM on June 14, 2010


The late, great Seymour Britchky once described a restaurant's ultra-expensive wine selection as being available for "those suffering an extremely refined thirst".
posted by Joe Beese at 7:05 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


In really general terms, in my experience, there are price clusters around which you really are getting better wine. In Ontario pricing, anyway, under 10 and you're getting serviceable plonk. In the 10-25 range, very drinkable and very nice wine which doesn't really change much until you hit around 90. Then there seems to be another bit of a plateau. After that you're starting to talk about either stunt bottles, or high price due to scarcity. When you get really ridiculous, I've been told ($1k++++) there's another bit of a plateau and after that it really is all stunts designed to show off the size of your wallet.

For reference, the most expensive wine I've ever had was about $5K/bottle. I got to have roughly a mouthful, and dear christ it was exquisite.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:12 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Next you're going to tell me that bottle from The Year of the Comet is not the real stuff.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:33 PM on June 14, 2010


For the last seventeen years, this, more-or-less, how I've been choosing wines:

(1) Does the label have a nifty or unusual animal on it? (Yes = +2. If it's a truly awesome animal like a sloth or a narwhal, add an additional +1.5)

(2) Does it come from a country that isn't generally considered one of the world's great wine producers, like Turkey, say, or Romania? (Yes=+3)

(3) Does it have one of those little handwritten employee recommendation cards (Yes=+4)

I have, from time to time, felt like kind of an idiot for this. But not today! Woot! Royal Estonian Lemur Merlot* ftw!

*Not an actual wine, as far as I know. But if it did exist, I'd probably buy it.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 7:45 PM on June 14, 2010 [27 favorites]


(1) Does the label have a nifty or unusual animal on it? (Yes = +2. If it's a truly awesome animal like a sloth or a narwhal, add an additional +1.5)

(2) Does it come from a country that isn't generally considered one of the world's great wine producers, like Turkey, say, or Romania? (Yes=+3)

(3) Does it have one of those little handwritten employee recommendation cards (Yes=+4)


I have an almost identical grading rubric, and that is why I have lately been enjoying semi-dry red wine from Croatia, complete with a donkey on the label and an agreeable price.

Now tell me about this narwhal wine.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:55 PM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


The high-end wine world is like the audiophile world: the only reason it tastes/sounds better is because you spent $10,000 on it. It is the placebo effect (plus status symbol). It's been known for a long time, but people are not up in arms about it because those who have paid the entry fee want to defend it (and, if it actually tastes/sounds better to them, I won't begrudge them), and those of us who understand the principle will be satisfied with our $15 wines and $100 amps without worrying that there's some higher quality level that we're missing out on. Or, like these dudes, we'll try to find a way to capitalize on the effect somehow.


If I come off as harsh then I apologize, but vapid generalizations such as this offer no substance and only propagate misinformation.

The pricing structure of most canonical wines of generational pedigree have been established for good reasons. The market isn't as stupid as placebo-effected wankers looking to please their corporate partners (even though there are a lot of those) even though they may distort and stretch things at times. While wines such as 21 Petrus, 45 Mouton, 47 Cheval etc saw exponential price increases in the last decade, they are not gimmicky wines that only idiots buy for labels. In their truest itterations, they are some of the purest expressions ever created by man and given the scarcity of such seminal productions, their prices calibrate accordingly.

Regarding the fake magnums of old Petrus: the trouble with wine is that a lot of credence is put into authority in that one's purchasing decisions often need to be steered (especially with neophytes). It takes serious time, effort and practice to calibrate a palate to top tier wines and too many of these nouveau riche preferred to jump into big splash items and huge RP points rather than doing their own diligence. I've been drinking top-class Bordeaux for many years but am still not in a position to buy a bottle of 45 Mouton and give it a whirl; while I can appreciate its aesthetic significance from a hedonistic standpoint, I would miss out on its referential significance, canonically speaking, with regards to the vintage (45 Left Bank), the producer (I drink Mouton seldom given its pricepoint) and the delicate provenance of most bottles of such age (not to mention the 6 figures!).

The sanguine investor's adage that so many seemed to have missed (do not invest in what you do not understand) afflicted the same people who were defrauded by Rodenstock et al. Royal Wine and Co. were just as convincing, persuasive and deceptive as those traders that were duped by ratings agencies and venerable investment houses into collapse; if they could fool Robert Parker, I am quite sure they could figure out how to best a status drinker. There was a rush by too much new money to taste the very best that the world had ever produced, without putting the time into learning and acclimating their palates. Due diligence is the name of the game...
posted by Hurst at 8:07 PM on June 14, 2010 [14 favorites]


You needn't go far to find a fine wine. Or perhaps this is more your speed.
posted by dhens at 8:08 PM on June 14, 2010


Damnit, pal, I was going to post a link to that drinking-in-the-MRI study!! Grr!
posted by Decimask at 8:14 PM on June 14, 2010


Hurst, I want to favourite that a thousand times.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:24 PM on June 14, 2010


Wow, now I don't feel so stupid for picking out wine based on whether I like the font on the label.
posted by desjardins at 8:24 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I also avoid wines labelled with Comic Sans.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:35 PM on June 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Carbon dating can reveal whether or not a wine was manufactured before or after the dawn of the nuclear age. Nuclear testing in the 1950s and '60s caused a spike in the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere, and if a wine has high levels of this radioisotope, it is an indication that some if not all of the liquid originated during or after that period. Cesium 137 is another marker: It is a radioisotope produced by nuclear fallout, and its presence can likewise peg a wine to the second half of the 20th century. If a Bordeaux that is purportedly from the 1920s shows traces of cesium-137 or elevated amounts of carbon-14, that could well mean the wine is bogus.

Even outside of wine concerns, this is amazing and horrifying and awesome.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:51 PM on June 14, 2010


Well there is always natural wine.
posted by VikingSword at 8:59 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


In their truest itterations, they are some of the purest expressions ever created by man and given the scarcity of such seminal productions, their prices calibrate accordingly.

This is the kind of thing I would expect a con artist to say, and spikes my bullshit detector pretty much instantly.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:23 PM on June 14, 2010 [14 favorites]


Except the scarcity bit. VikingSword is pretty much spot on, there.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:24 PM on June 14, 2010


This is the kind of thing I would expect a con artist to say, and spikes my bullshit detector pretty much instantly.

Well, I wouldn't put too much faith in that bullshit detector unless you're using Monster cables.
posted by Kirk Grim at 10:21 PM on June 14, 2010 [16 favorites]


It takes serious time, effort and practice to calibrate a palate to top tier wines...

Why do you have to convince yourself you like something just because it's "top tier"?
posted by Evilspork at 10:36 PM on June 14, 2010


You're, in effect, training your brain to associate those flavors with the (appealing) buzz of alcohol consumption and feeling of satisfaction of consuming a premier foodstuff.
posted by Justinian at 10:55 PM on June 14, 2010


It's not about comnvincing it's about learning to appreciate.

Don't get me wrong; I almost never spend more than 20ish on a bottle of wine. I don't have that kind fo budget. But when it comes to the top tier of--well, of anything really--you do need to learn to appreciate it properly. I mean, you can't really appreciate the nuances of how say a McLaren F1 handles if all you've ever driven is a Pinto, yeah?

Same thing.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:56 PM on June 14, 2010


Ever had a cheap bottle of wine that clearly contains a lot of acetylaldehyde? What about a wine full of mercaptans or hydrogen sulfide? I'm sure everyone who drinks wine, especially red wine, has at some point tasted a wine with way too much acetic acid. What about a wine with way too much residual sugar, and not a whole lot in the way of anything else (hello white zinfandel).

There are a lot of different chemicals in wine, and the ratios of those chemicals can make a world of difference. Of course a lot of this is taste. Of course diminishing marginal returns come into play, especially at $100 a bottle and up. Of course a lot of the real high end is posturing and heavily rationalized conspicuous consumption.

It doesn't follow, however, that therefore, one should go whole hog asshole contrarian and assert that the most experienced tasters cannot tell the difference between, say, a Fetzer rosé and a 2006 Clos du Papes if blindfolded.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:09 PM on June 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's not about comnvincing it's about learning to appreciate.

When talking about the brain and alcoholic beverages (or most psychoactives), this is more or less the same thing.
posted by Justinian at 11:23 PM on June 14, 2010


I bet you never did a blind test of this assertion. And I bet if you did, you'd fail it, just like every other wine expert, every time a test like that had been done.

You of course have statistically significant data to back this up and totally didn't hear it from a guy one time and on the Authoritatitive Internets.

Back in the wine industry, where the ability to map chemical properties to taste is, as you would expect, rather important, tasters and chemists work together and in fact employ Real Science to find correlations. And among other things, wine tasters know that suggestion and atmosphere influence perception. Once those perceptions are controlled for, the way to get better as a taster is to try to improve your accuracy in blind tasting, with stricter controls as you ascend from the dude who takes the course for his local appellation authority to man the counter in a mall to people who are Really Into Wine.

Hear, read about all their fruity subjective customs that have nothing to do with statistical analysis or repeatable results, really!

But it's no fun to taste wine in lab conditions, so other social networks that are supposed to act as controls to filter things out. And just like scientists, wine tasters can be tricked by having the elements their culture customarily controls for reintroduced by accident or through deliberate fraud. That your cutting observation amounts to barking that people can be fooled is . . . let's say it'd not the cutting expose on wine tasting you would like it to be.
posted by mobunited at 11:32 PM on June 14, 2010


mobunited: It wasn't me who said what you quoted so don't take this as necessarily agreeing with the assertion that you fail a blind test. That said, I don't think your characterization about tasters being tricked or fooled as unimportant is fair. That even experienced tasters commonly fail to rate wines adequately if presented with misleading bottles (in terms of price) or even when given the same wine in different bottles and so on is not just a parlor trick. It really does say something about the process.
posted by Justinian at 12:15 AM on June 15, 2010


It takes serious time, effort and practice to calibrate a palate to top tier wines

Well done, sir. Expertly crafted.
posted by breath at 12:38 AM on June 15, 2010


It doesn't follow, however, that therefore, one should go whole hog asshole contrarian and assert that the most experienced tasters cannot tell the difference between, say, a Fetzer rosé and a 2006 Clos du Papes if blindfolded.

The important question isn't whether you can train yourself to distinguish between the subtleties of different wines, but whether by doing so you are actually increasing the amount of 'taste pleasure' (for lack of a better term) you're getting out of it.

That is, do better wines actually taste better or do they merely taste different?
posted by Pyry at 1:01 AM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


If it's a kind of different that you can't get any other way and enjoy, what's the difference?
posted by flaterik at 1:21 AM on June 15, 2010


That even experienced tasters commonly fail to rate wines adequately if presented with misleading bottles (in terms of price) or even when given the same wine in different bottles and so on is not just a parlor trick. It really does say something about the process.

It does. It says that the bottle adds a bias. Wine tasters know this and compensate for it. (Yeah, some of them are jackasses and figure they can't possibly be fooled, but this arrogance happens after dozens of blind tests that they generally have to report impressions in a fashion consistent with juried analysis) If this was something the wine appreciation community didn't *already* know was a factor it would be one thing, but this is bullshit HURR DURR over frauds circumventing those precautions.

It's pretty much the same as when "psychics" use confidence schemes and sleight of hand to trick researchers. Deliberate deception is hard to design experiments and wine tasting around and most of the time it isn't even considered in the analysis, since academics rely on their institutions to perform some basic bullshit detection. I mean, I have a friend who counts turtles for population surveys. She does not magically become a lousy biologist if I start secretly shipping in turtles where they'll be seen to skew the results. Instead, I become a prick screwing with someone else's job. But if this happens enough, methods will need to be tweaked to account for evil turtle wranglers. They'll have to do the same about wine fraud. No biggie. These adjustments are natural.

Essentially, the stereotypical impression of some moustachio'd chappie barking "Oh-ho-ho!" and chucking out an off the cuff homage or condemnation of a wine is wrong in the spacial way that things are wrong, yet so charming and bias-confirming that one really wants to buy into them, instead of the sober (heh) reality of this combined with the fact that rather than just opinions, these are things with right and wrong answers, and that it is possible to get better at it with training.
posted by mobunited at 1:25 AM on June 15, 2010


VikingSword: I bet you never did a blind test of this assertion. And I bet if you did, you'd fail it, just like every other wine expert, every time a test like that had been done.

That's untrue. I've seen Oz Clarke correctly identify wines in several blind taste tests, both in person and on television (sure, the latter could be rigged in some instances). Sure, you may be right most of the time, but not always. There's a lot of bullshit out there, no doubt, but there are some people who know their wines, as well. But guess what? One of the first things they'll tell you if you end up talking to them is generally that there is no real relationship between the price and quality of a wine, and at the end of the day, you should be drinking what you enjoy, at a price you can stand to pay.
posted by Dysk at 1:29 AM on June 15, 2010


I don't know much about wine, but I know a good one can spoil you forever. A holiday dinner many moons ago, my older brother the wine lover poured me half a glass of my very first taste of red wine (I was probably only 14 years old). He asked me to describe it, and I mumbled something about brie-cheese edges, caramel and ripened plums. He smiled proudly. When college and drinking age came around I couldn't stand any red wine, since they tasted so terrible compared to that half glass I had years earlier, and have never drunk more than a sip since.

What was the wine that spoiled me? A 1982 Château Latour.
posted by dabitch at 2:02 AM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


It doesn't follow, however, that therefore, one should go whole hog asshole contrarian and assert that the most experienced tasters cannot tell the difference between, say, a Fetzer rosé and a 2006 Clos du Papes if blindfolded.

It does follow that most people who consider themselves "experienced tasters" cannot tell the difference between, say, a Fetzer rosé and a 2006 Clos du Papes if blindfolded?

You clearly forgot to account for the fact that everyone knows more people than he or she should who claim they are "experienced" with the fine nuances of wine.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:04 AM on June 15, 2010


If it's a kind of different that you can't get any other way and enjoy, what's the difference?

If you're just training yourself to enjoy a certain kind of different, why not learn to enjoy the cheap wines instead?
posted by Pyry at 2:38 AM on June 15, 2010


If you're just training yourself to enjoy a certain kind of different, why not learn to enjoy the cheap wines instead?

This actually happens. Most wine-wise folks I know have a less expensive go-to bunch of table wines and like them better than they did before they knew anything about wine.

Novelty is part of pleasure, and bad wines vary less than good wines due either common industrial processes or a flaw that screws up all wine the same, but is more prevalent when you care about it less.
posted by mobunited at 2:52 AM on June 15, 2010


The important question isn't whether you can train yourself to distinguish between the subtleties of different wines, but whether by doing so you are actually increasing the amount of 'taste pleasure' (for lack of a better term) you're getting out of it.

Yes. Yes you are. It's not just a matter of picking some flavour (ooh, this one's cigar box) and being done with it - a person with more experience can detect layers of subtelty and complexity that someone else will not notice. That makes the whole experience richer, as you're exploring an aspect of the wine that was closed to you before.

I can listen to a Chopin prelude and enjoy it, and look at Monet's work and enjoy it, and see a tall building and think it looks good. A musician, or artist, or architect, will no doubt take more from a similar experience as they can understand much more about what's involved than I can.
posted by twirlypen at 3:27 AM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just because there's a lot of bullshit in the wine business doesn't mean that it's all bullshit. Franzia is shitty wine. So is Thunderbird. So was the $2 bottle I got at Wal-Mart that one time.* There's just no way around it.

Granted, once you get much beyond $100 a bottle--and I might even be willing to drop this to $50--you've captured the vast majority of the quality differential. Certainly most of what the vast majority of wine drinkers are capable of discerning. And just because a wine is expensive/cheap doesn't mean that it's automatically good/bad. It is, in fact, possible to make a damn tasty wine for less than $10 a bottle if you've got a mind to do so.

But again, the fact that snobbish wankers pay unlikely prices for things that can't appreciate does not automatically mean that there isn't something real going on here. There is a very rough correlation between quality and price, just not as strong a correlation as they'd like us to think. A $100 bottle is probably better than a $50 bottle, but twice as good? How are we measuring that anyways?

Same goes for scotch. I can identify the region of most single malts without seeing the bottle, and with Islays I can even get the distillery much of the time. Twelve-years are not as smooth as fifteen-years are not as smooth as eighteen- or twenty-one-years. I'm pretty sure that the 25%-ish differential between twelve and fifteen is worth it--I'll pay it most of the time anyways--but I get off the train before we get to eighteen or twenty-one. The fact that there's more than enough bullshit to go around doesn't preclude there being something of substance underneath, but it also doesn't mean that I can afford that sort of flash.

*I figured, "Hey, for two bucks, how bad can it be? It's worth the risk." The answer was "No, it wasn't." *shudder*
posted by valkyryn at 4:42 AM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you're just training yourself to enjoy a certain kind of different, why not learn to enjoy the cheap wines instead?

I never meant to say that seminal wines cannot be enjoyed on an aesthetic level with little to no experience. Go buy a bottle of 2003 E. Guigal La Mouline and trust me you don't need any experience with wine to enjoy the kaleidescopic range of evolving aromas and flavors that the wine presents. However, you will not learn about the aging structure of the wine just taking it off a shelf without having tasted different vintages of Mouline, without understanding the weather conditions in 2003 for the Northern Rhone, without studying the terroir of these SVD regions and without understanding the vigneron's harvesting philosophy and craft.

The 21 Petrus bottle that Rodenstock poured for Parker was likely great juice; here is a man that drinks thousands of great bottles per year and has been drinking Bordeaux primeur for over 30 years and he was dutifily impressed by what Rodenstock offered. It is indeed possible that what he poured was a fraud (a master blender perhaps?), or it is possible that Rodenstock was pouring real wine to Parker to confirm his products' quality and then passing on fradulent wines through distribution channels or to novices that would see Parker's affirmation as a guiding post.
posted by Hurst at 5:36 AM on June 15, 2010


As a final note, I am a wholehearted champion of drinking wine blind, especially in peer groups of varying quality. Do not always follow the critique; one should always follow one's palate (it is often much lighter on the wallet!).
posted by Hurst at 5:38 AM on June 15, 2010


I mean, you can't really appreciate the nuances of how say a McLaren F1 handles if all you've ever driven is a Pinto, yeah?

Given the condition of the road and the legal speed limit, the Pinto is gonna do as well. And when the Pinto barfs you won't feel so bad. You'll notice a difference with say a bicycle.

Not everyone has smooth, good looking roads.

(I wanted to somehow tie this back to "Wino Brothers - A dry white wine. Add water - its wet. Add catsup and blow in the bottle, a sparkling rose." but just couldn't make the leap as I lack the Gen. Lee.)
posted by rough ashlar at 7:12 AM on June 15, 2010


the fact that snobbish wankers pay unlikely prices for things that can't appreciate does not automatically mean that there isn't something real going on here

This argument works equally well for psychic powers. The burden of proof is on the believers, not the skeptics.

While I believe there are a rare few with the ability to identify the properties of wine typically associated with "quality", those skills are a negligible part of the culture and industry of wine as best I can tell.
posted by Riki tiki at 7:27 AM on June 15, 2010


Two Buck Chuck chardonnay and merlot - up there with the best damn wine you will ever put in your mouth.

There is fraud in that end of the market, also.
posted by Danf at 7:59 AM on June 15, 2010


Let's say, for sake of argument, that not even the best wine tasters could agree on any qualitative distinction between $50 wine and $500+ wine in a blind test. The taste is still only one part of the puzzle about wine culture, as this outsider sees it. There is still the aspect of talking about each wine's history and character, about collecting rare gems, and about, yes, bragging rights. At the end of the day, it's just an expensive hobby, but the same could be said about many, many things.

The idea that fraudsters in the wine world could succeed is no more evidence that oenophiles are all full of crap than the existence of various successful artistic, literary, and other academic frauds (affairs both Sokal and Bogdanov) destroy those fields.

Con artists can be very talented and driven. People underestimate how easy it is to get taken in. Oftentimes the expert is more vulnerable than the layman, because the expert is not going to want to look like a fool after s/he has put some social capital on the idea of not only, say, possessing great quantities of rare wine, but also on having vouched for these people, these people who seem so charming and who seem so in tune with all of the social cues and reference points of the wine world.

A successful con artist could be brought down by a smart 9-year-old walking in and pointing out some obvious facts. In this case, said smart 9-year-old could have walked in and pointed out that these guys had an awful, awful lot of rare commodity whose authenticity is almost impossible to truly ascertain, and that people were paying dearly for it based only on the dealers' word and on the egos of wine tasters who would not want to look like chumps.

I also find it interesting that the clues pointing to the wine's counterfeit nature had no relation one way or another to the wine's actual taste, although the clues were tied into the world of wine itself. It's fascinating that the size of the bottles, the length of the cork, the doctored label, and the simple improbability of having so much of precisely what every collector would want were what brought these guys down.

Again, it's interesting that the taste of the wine was largely irrelevant to solving this puzzle, whether the con artists performed a bait and switch on the tasters or just blended an appropriate-tasting mix. Those collectors who want the genuine article would do better to look at the bottle than to drink the wine.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:07 AM on June 15, 2010


This argument works equally well for psychic powers. The burden of proof is on the believers, not the skeptics.

Oh, come now. You're treating me as if I'm arguing for a more ambitious point than I am. My argument is that some wines are better than other wines and that people, especially with a little training, are pretty good at telling the difference in blind tests.

Do people sometimes think cheap wine is tasty? Yes, even in blind tests, so-called experts will occasionally give high marks to dark horses from little-known vineyards. But that only means that that particular wine is tasty. It doesn't mean that all wines are the same.

Having tasted many good wines and a depressingly large number of bad ones, arguing the contrary doesn't strike me as a sensible thing to do.
posted by valkyryn at 8:11 AM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the WSJ:

Francesco Grande, a vintner whose family started making wine in 1827 Italy, told me of a friend at a well-known Paso Robles winery who had conducted his own test, sending the same wine to a wine competition under three different labels. Two of the identical samples were rejected, he said, "one with the comment 'undrinkable.' " The third bottle was awarded a double gold medal.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:20 AM on June 15, 2010


some wines are better than other wines

This is where the rubber meets the road. What is the metric that determines which wines are better? Of course not all wines are the same, but it's not at all clear what makes some wines better than others.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:58 AM on June 15, 2010


Of course not all wines are the same, but it's not at all clear what makes some wines better than others.

Like I said upthread, there are definitely things that make some wines worse than others. Most would agree that hydrogen sulfide is one. I'm not aware of anyone who likes their wine to have a distinct nose of rotten eggs. Most people dislike wines with substantial amounts of acetylaldehyde and volitile acidity as well. Older, expensive wines often suffer from this particular fault.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:57 AM on June 15, 2010


Is this the thread where I highly recommend "The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine"?

Seconded.
posted by ericb at 9:58 AM on June 15, 2010


Ok, but no bottle of wine I have ever had (and this includes Charles Shaw) has ever smelled or tasted of rotten eggs.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:06 AM on June 15, 2010


In The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine, they ask the disgruntled collector why he collects wine. He explains that he loves to drink, that wine is the best-tasting alcoholic beverage, and that he has enough money that cost is no object. Understanding that mentality is key to understanding the super-high end of the wine market.

I find the comments in this thread fascinating. I enjoy a good glass of wine and have done several blind tastings with wines that I like with friends. My price range is generally $10 - $65, but then I'll sneak in some $3 stuff and a really expensive bottle. Rarely does the $3 bottle end up at the bottom, and rarely does the pricier stuff end up at the very top, but the middle ranges are consistently ranked highly and the cheaper stuff is usually closer to the bottom.
posted by cell divide at 10:06 AM on June 15, 2010


Anti-freeze in the wine? That is a very serious crime!
posted by atbash at 10:16 AM on June 15, 2010


The high-end wine world is like the audiophile world: the only reason it tastes/sounds better is because you spent $10,000 on it. It is the placebo effect (plus status symbol).

I disagree. The audiophile world is more grounded in the physics that back it than the chemistry which forms part of the wine world. You have bit-rates, scientifically graded materials and measurable (with machines, not ears) sound waves. There is no equivalent of the "aquired taste" thing, that I know of, in the audio world. I'm sure the graded materials aspect gets alot of hype because of slimy marketers but they are most certainly not the same thing.

posted by Student of Man at 10:24 AM on June 15, 2010


First, you could substitute a $1 wine for the $100K wine, and wine experts wouldn't be able to tell the difference, so you're off already.

Never thought I would end up as the defender of pricey wine here, but let me just say that this statement is not, in my experience, true. An anecdote:

When I lived in Berkeley, I had a friend who occasionally hosted "wine dinners," which consisted of him picking a theme ("Bordeaux vs California Cab," for instance), selecting 8-10 bottles of wine appropriate to that theme, and then hosting a double-blind tasting of those bottles. ("Double-blind" just meaning, in this case, that he and his wife did something like a) he decants the wines into identical carafes with numbers on them and b) she shuffles the numbers around and records how she did it. She didn't know which wines were in each carafe, he didn't know how she'd shuffled them around, but at the end of the night they could together figure out which wine was which.) There were typically 8-10 people at each tasting, and we'd each chip in maybe $50 or so; he would open wines worth typically two or three times what we'd contributed. These were pretty serious bottles: I have no idea how this guy had amassed his wine collection, but it was (by my standards) insane. Anecdote for sense of scale: he kept most of his collection at an off-site professional cellar -- the same one Chez Panisse uses, apparently a fairly nondescript but highly-secured warehouse in the area (the high security being pretty essential given that they had millions and millions of dollars worth of wine stored within).

So anyway -- every time he had one of these dinners, we would have one "flight" of maybe five wines, each of us privately recording our thoughts; then we'd have some food, and pass around the wines a bit more (so we could try them with food); then we'd each rank the wines from 1 to 5 or whatever; then he'd poll us for our votes, assigning (say) 5 points for each number-1 ranking, 4 points for a 2nd-place ranking, etc. Then we'd tally up the points to get our group "rankings," and only then reveal the wines. We'd then do the exact same thing for another flight of 4-5 wines along a related theme.

It seems worth pointing out that, these experiences notwithstanding, I don't consider myself a wine snob. I mostly drink (and drank then) $10-20 bottles of wine at home, I don't keep a "wine journal," don't subscribe to wine magazines or know the ins and outs of different vintages, etc, etc. Most of the other people on the invite-list to these things were similarly inclined. So when I started going to these dinners, I was fully expecting our rankings to be pretty egalitarian, price-wise, to reflect little of the enormous cost differences that sometimes existed between different wines in these flights.

My experience was that this was almost never true: very often our rankings were disturbingly similar to what a straight rank-by-cost list would've looked like, at least within each narrowly-defined flight.

An example: I still remember that Bourdeaux and Cab tasting, which consisted of an "old"-ish flight (all pre-1995 or so bottles; we were tasting in 2006, I think) and a "younger" flight. Every bottle on the old flight was more than I would basically ever pay for a bottle, but there was a pretty big range, from $70 to $250 or so. We ended up ranking the old flight in rank-price order: everyone liked the $250 bottle better than the ~$150 bottle, which was better than the ~$100 bottle and so on. In the younger flight, there were some differences of opinion, but by-and-large the more expensive bottles (which were say $150ish) did a lot better than the $30ish bottle.

This proves nothing, of course, but at the time I was stunned and maybe even a little depressed that the law of diminishing returns hadn't quite kicked in enough, even at the $100+ level, to make our rankings uncorrelated with price.

There were, you will quickly note, some special things about these tastings: most importantly, I think, the individual bottles were all selected by somebody who really, really knew his wines; they were presumably excellent wines at each price point. (I don't think this guy ever picked wines he didn't think were good.) So although his favorite $200 wine of a specific type might be recognizably better than his favorite $150 bottle of the same type, it doesn't (I thought, and still think) follow that a randomly chosen $200 bottle would beat a randomly chosen $150 in a similar test. That's what I keep telling myself, anyway. The other important point is that although we didn't know which wines were which as we were tasting them, we did know (more or less) what 10 wines we would be tasting each night -- so, for instance, you knew one of them was a 1982 French Bourdeaux, another was a Cab from 1990, etc. It is certainly possible that our rankings were subconsciously influenced by this, because it can become pretty obvious when, say, one wine is a lot older than another -- the old wine will usually have faded in color quite a bit, for instance. Contrast all this with the case someone linked to above, where the wines were in some cases deliberately doctored to fool the wine tasters.

Does this mean that more expensive wine is always better than cheaper wine? Of course not. But I did come away from these events with a sense that there are tastes and colors and smells possible in really, really good wines (which, tragically, also tend to be pretty expensive) that were just not present in most lesser wines. The rare exceptions to the more-expensive-is-better rule -- and there were some, like the $20ish Shiraz that beat out $100ish wines in the same Syrah/Shiraz tasting -- became the wines I bought by the case; the rest -- i.e. the delicious but unbearably expensive wines I had at those tastings and never since -- became fond memories and reminders that, much as I hate to admit it, not all wine is created equal. I still never spend more than $30/bottle, though.

bonus: writing this, I went back through my email from those days. The $20ish Shiraz that we all really, really liked was the 2003 "Mad Hatter" Shiraz; my favorite from that same tasting (tragically, pricier) was a 1998 Kay Brothers Block 6 Shiraz. For the mostly-Bordeaux tasting, our top-ranked wine was apparently a 1982 Canon St. Emilion.

tl;dr summary: sure, there's a law of diminishing returns, and there are some crappy expensive wines and some great cheap wines. there's also a lot of wankery and obfuscation in the wine-tasting world. But some more expensive wines really are very, very good, way better than anything I've had in the sub-$40 category.
posted by chalkbored at 10:47 AM on June 15, 2010 [6 favorites]


There is no equivalent of the "aquired taste" thing, that I know of, in the audio world.

Go hang out in the Tube Amp and LP vinyl parts of the audio world.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:57 AM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


It reminds me of the episode of Northern Exposure, where Shelly breaks the bottom off the 1929 LaTour that Maurice is going to serve at his party and she ends up replacing it, with the help of Eve, by refilling the bottle with box wine plus a little butter and peat moss and stuff. When she asks Holling if they have any wine he says, "Sure do. Red, white AND pink".

Also: "given the scarcity of such seminal productions". Sexy juice, indeed.
posted by dirtdirt at 11:02 AM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


One of my very favorite table wines is Symphony Obsession, by Ironstone vineyards. It's made from a modern hybrid grape; it retails at about seven or eight dollars a bottle. Every time I take it to a party or serve it up to guests people are really impressed with it.

Mostly, though, I find that if I spend $20-$30 on a bottle of wine, it's gonna be a lot better than if I spend $5-$10 on a bottle of wine. The question is whether it's 3-6 times better, and I'd say, frankly, probably not. And I'm a cheap bastard, so I mostly shoot for <$15. You can get a lot of perfectly good wine at that price.
posted by KathrynT at 11:30 AM on June 15, 2010


Two Buck Chuck chardonnay and merlot...

At the 28th Annual International Eastern Wine Competition, Shaw's 2002 Shiraz received the double gold medal, besting the roughly 2,300 other wines in the competition.

Shaw's 2005 California chardonnay was judged 'Best Chardonnay from California' at the Commercial Wine Competition of the 2007 California Exposition and State Fair. The chardonnay received 98 points, a double gold, with accolades of 'Best of California' and 'Best of Class.'
posted by ericb at 11:53 AM on June 15, 2010


So when I started going to these dinners, I was fully expecting our rankings to be pretty egalitarian, price-wise, to reflect little of the enormous cost differences that sometimes existed between different wines in these flights.

My experience was that this was almost never true: very often our rankings were disturbingly similar to what a straight rank-by-cost list would've looked like, at least within each narrowly-defined flight.


There is zero correlation between how good tasting a wine is, and price. Indeed, three seconds of thought tell you that this must necessarily be so. The reason is simple: price is a market measure, not a taste measure. Many factors enter into price, and demand/supply is only one. And in turn, demand is not perfectly correlated to taste - most wine (i.e. bulk of demand) is consumed by people who are responding to marketing, not taste (btw., this phenomenon is especially egregious in the case of beer), or have tastes that do not correspond to what wine experts regard as good wine (for example, they like wines which are much more fruity etc.), or finally, are subject to fashion (different characteristics of wine are found to be tasty over time). So you do not have demand corresponding to taste in any great degree - and demand is one of the primary drivers of price. Then there is supply - which again is not driven by taste, but by production.

I think what makes people think cheap wine is bad tasting is that there are phenomena that occur mostly with cheap wines (as a result certain industrial production methodologies), that have become associated with cheap wines - and which because of that association, are weeded out in more expensive wines (precisely to avoid that association). But the problem here is a Venn diagram problem: not all cheap wines have a "cheap" taste, in fact tons and tons of very inexpensive wines cannot be spotted as such in blind tasting. There is another phenomenon - certain wines are very characteristic (f.ex. specific Bordeaux), and those happen to be expensive, therefore if you can pick that characteristic reliably, you can say "wow, I spot expensive wines", which of course is again a Venn diagram problem, because other expensive wines will not have those characteristics.

Once you get past the obvious Venn diagram issues I mentioned above, I don't believe you can reliably spot the $30 vs the $1 or the $1000+. Because it is impossible to "taste" price which is a market measure.

I have been drinking wine for over 35 years. Five times a week. I have seen many instances of the Venn diagram issues I mentioned above, but there is no reliable 100% Venn exclusive of price/taste. Regarding tastings, I feel extremely confident that I can fool any expert by bringing in certain super cheap wines (think $3.99), and also any number of $100+ and not have them be able to pick out the cheap wine. The reason is simple: know what to look for to exclude the obvious "cheap wine cliche taste", and to exclude the "this characteristic wine taste is associated with f.ex. certain Bordeaux wines which are generally expensive" - and you got them dead. I have, as any wine drinker, my "secret weapon" wines - very inexpensive wines of excellent and complex taste I can always pull out and never have anyone, no matter how "expert", be able to guess the price.
posted by VikingSword at 12:38 PM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


The high-end wine world is like the audiophile world: the only reason it tastes/sounds better is because you spent $10,000 on it. It is the placebo effect (plus status symbol).

I disagree. The audiophile world is more grounded in the physics that back it than the chemistry which forms part of the wine world.


..can I interest you in a $649 cable burner?
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:42 PM on June 15, 2010


Btw., it has in fact become harder and harder to pin down wines. My grandfather was a wine collector and my father was one too - growing up, I frequently accompanied my father on various wine buying trips (disguised as "vacations", to my mother's annoyance). My father had certain favorite wineries and vintners, but was pretty adventurous and willing to try new things. But by the 90's wine production changed, in that many vintners were starting to "game" their wines, with consultants brought in, to basically change their wines for marketing reasons. Take oaking - let's say, you can reliably tell if a wine has been sitting in an oak barrel for a certain length of time, and in turn, that can be associated with higher cost, because you can't simply "make more" if a given vintage proves popular. Presto, perfect proxy for "could be expensive". Except, people started chipping their wines - first crudely, but then got so good at it, that there isn't an expert around who can tell if it's been in a barrel or merely well chipped. And so on with many characteristics. Btw., the Americans have lead the way in many of these "innovations". So, if anything, it's even harder to find a correlation between production cost, demand, supply and taste. Basically, I don't believe it is even possible (with the exceptions like I outlined for specific wines above... which in time may be imitated too!).

Ultimately, that's why natural wines have become more popular. I'm tending in that direction myself, but more for health and taste reasons both. I hate the trend of higher alcohol content in wines (adding sugar), bunch of taste and coloring agents and monkeying around with a very natural process. I'll take the grape, and nothing but the grape, thank you. When that happens, the playing field levels out, and you can focus on the wine, and good wines can really stand out regardless of price.

Again: drink what you find tasty, and find affordable - there is a wine for every taste at every price-point.
posted by VikingSword at 1:18 PM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


VikingSword --

I actually agree with much of what you are saying, but statements like, "There is zero correlation between how good tasting a wine is, and price" are true only in such a very specific way that (imho) they are fairly useless.

You note that the price of a wine depends on both supply and demand, and infer that because a) demand is whatever the market (not wine experts) wants, and b) because supply is "not driven by taste, but by production," that no correlation between price and taste exists. I argue that, in many but certainly not all cases, both supply and demand are correlated with taste (the former inversely; the latter positively) -- supply because it is easier (and less expensive) to plonk down lots of vines, pick them unselectively, etc, than it is to nurture a small vineyard, pick only the best fruit (maybe selling the rest to Franzia), age it in barrels for a while, and so forth; demand because it's not as though what "wine experts" look for in a wine is completely divorced from what the average mid-market winetaster is looking for. In other words, wines that are phenomenally popular and have limited supply become expensive partly because of the supply-demand imbalance: but part of the reason they are popular is that they taste pretty good, and part of the reason they are in limited supply is often because they are difficult or expensive to make (or can be made only in a small area). (There are, of course, lots of other reasons why wines can become expensive -- great advertising, a famous location, etc, etc. These are part of the reason I would never argue that all expensive wines are great. It does not, however, follow that all expensive wines are expensive for reasons totally unrelated to taste.)

I completely agree with you that there are fantastic cheap wines to be had, that many of the attributes people associate with expensive wines are just hallmarks of a particular region or style, and that many other tastes or smells we often associate with good wine can be "faked" (e.g., by chipping). But you seem to be arguing that price and taste are just completely orthogonal axes, and that contention does not jive with my (also fairly considerable and thankfully-regular) wine-drinking experience. Do you really not think that there are wines that simply wouldn't be profitable to sell for sub-$20, given the way they were made? Or are you simply arguing that the things that make a given wine expensive to produce do not affect its taste at all? And are you claiming that a randomly chosen $7 wine from the local liquor store is likely to be as tasty as a randomly chosen $30 bottle (which I don't generally agree with), or simply that there are $7 wines that are as tasty as most of the $30 ones (which I do).

In the end, what's important is your final conclusion: "drink what you find tasty, and find affordable - there is a wine for every taste at every price-point." On that, I agree completely (with the possible caveat that if what you find "tasty" is something very similar to the taste of really old Bordeaux, that happens to be a little difficult to duplicate on the cheap). As I mentioned up-thread, most of what I drink is sub-$20, and like you I have many many favorites at that pricepoint that would happily serve to wine-geek friends. Let's leave it at that.

(Though, on a side note, I would genuinely love to hear your favorite $3.99 wines that you think compete with the best $100+ wines -- not as a point of argument, but because I would go buy them, like, yesterday.)
posted by chalkbored at 2:15 PM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or are you simply arguing that the things that make a given wine expensive to produce do not affect its taste at all?

I'm saying that there are things that make certain wines expensive to produce, but do not necessarily affect taste positively, first, and universally second (i.e. these characteristics are not shared by all expensive wines, often can be faked cheaply etc.).

But it's worse than that - tastes change. I am old enough to remember how wine characteristics which were praised 30 years ago, were deprecated later, staged a revival, went into decline again etc. - tannins being a notorious example. So tell me, how is that famous 1970 vintage you've been squirreling away going to taste if you uncork it when those characteristics are deprecated at the moment? You should have struck earlier... or wait longer, if the wine can take it. Consensus is a funny thing, driven by many factors, taste being least of all IMHO.

A friend of mine, a great wine lover, takes note of things which in my view are related to price - glancingly - but completely wrong-headed taste-wise. For example, he'll carefully examine a wine "for color and consistency", taking particular note of the residual sludge in a bottle. Now, if a bottle has been stored (properly) for a long enough time, there will be some settling - and if it's been stored long enough, odds are it will be more expensive than your average wine out there (nobody stores a Thunderbird). So to him, sludge=expensive wine. Fine. But what does that have to do with taste? First of all, people routinely store wines in the belief that this enhances the quality - and nothing could be further from the truth for the vast majority of wines out there. Most wines - good, very tasty wines - are not meant for storing, and should be drunk within a few years. But let us say you got ahold of some pinot noir, and cleverly put it away for 20 years. I'm not saying that wine cannot keep maturing for up to 20 years - some limited wines, sure, but frankly, there's a peak where perhaps the tannins become well balanced, but after that, you start getting overpowered by acidity, bite, and the structure of the wine collapses - I cannot tell you how many times I've drunk chalky, dead wines that are falling apart already in the glass... people hear you are a wine lover and they'll pull out something they've kept ("in ideal conditions!!") for decades - and what am I to say? I'm not going to be ungracious, but frankly, it's just bad stuff. It's very rare that I've had great wines older than about 25 years.

And I cannot overemphasize how taste is an individual thing. People who don't drink a lot of wine, in general like mild, smooth, fruity wines with little tannins. Personally, I like my wines a bit more robust, but some "experts" rush in the other direction (tannins are back in fashion seems) - so sure, they can be expensive, but now, are we supposed to say that these wines are "good tasting"?

Though, on a side note, I would genuinely love to hear your favorite $3.99 wines that you think compete with the best $100+ wines

When I lived in France (80's), I like many others, would regularly go to some no name vineyard and stock up on wines that were dirt cheap and extremely tasty - $3.99 equivalent and below in price. This still applies in places - I've had some surprisingly good and inexpensive German whites on a recent trip over there. However, this wouldn't do you any good, since what you're looking for is something that you can buy readily at any neighborhood store. That's a big challenge, but I accept it - and even make it tougher, by excluding whites (since it's much easier to find cheapo but excellent white wines).

Here's a quick, off the cuff list of wines from the Trader Joes closest to me, that have worked really well. When one of my wine-lover friends comes over, I'll bring out whatever I'm trying out that week from Greenblatt's (WeHo), but I have some cheap wines from TJ's on hand as well. That's when the fun begins. Unless it's a specific range of bordeaux wines, often, people can't tell which is which, unless you pull out the bottle. That $150 wine from Greenblatt's? And the sub $10 from TJ's? Often the TJ's wins! This is especially true for Italian wines. So try this list next time you're with your group of oenophiles - but remember, we're going for taste, not proxy markers like sludge or musty cork(!)(yes, I've had people look to that!) - so pour it into a glass and let it breathe for a few minutes before serving:

French

1)L'Authentique - $3.99 - bog standard French table wine. Served from a bottle: "good, but lacking in subtlety, clearly filtered". Served in a glass: "wow, nice mouth feel, good nose" etc.

2)Cotes du Rhone Caves des Papes - $4.99 - usually 3 year or so (right now they've got 2007s at my TJ's).

3)Reserve Perrin - $6.99 This used to be great a few years ago, still quite decent today.

Italian

Their whole range of nero d'avola is quite good, with the Archeo Sicilia Nero d'Avola a great buy at $4 or so (there's another one at TJ that's even better, but I don't remember the name, also Sicilian Nero d'Avola, but with a black label).

German!

OK, when you think of great red wines, Germany is not the place that springs to mind (unlike some whites), but even here I managed to dig up something: Rheingau Pino Noir Maximillian Edition $5.99 - serve it up, and watch people guessing from all over Italy and Portugal (yes, it's light and lightly colored).

Anyhow, look, a lot of this is going to be semantic tussles, "how do you define 'good'" which are not that interesting, but I basically am the anti-snob when it comes to wine, and I come to this not from a contrarian asshole perspective, but as someone who has grown up around wine talk and wine tasting. If you think you see a direct relationship between taste and price, fine - not my experience, nor do I see how it's even possible, but ultimately, go for what makes you happy!
posted by VikingSword at 4:05 PM on June 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you think you see a direct relationship between taste and price, fine - not my experience, nor do I see how it's even possible

Again, just because there isn't a direct relationship doesn't mean that there's no relationship. It just isn't a relationship you can do science with.

I happen to believe that there are plenty of things that are real that you can't do science with--politics, economics, art--so this doesn't bother me all that much. Maybe it bothers you, but that doesn't bother me either.
posted by valkyryn at 4:45 AM on June 16, 2010


vintage viper
posted by Hammond Rye at 10:34 AM on June 16, 2010


The first bottle of wine I ever had was a $70 Pinot Noir (left over from a corporate law firm party). I can assure you that was better than anything I've had since.
posted by desjardins at 10:56 AM on June 16, 2010


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