The Wine Trials
“The Wine Trials” is a book I picked up yesterday at B&N. It’s pretty cool. It presents the results of a massive experiment in blind wine tasting. One of the results is that, for regular people (non-wine experts), there is a negative correlation between price, and preference for wine. For wine experts, there is a very slight positive correlation.
But, the coolest thing about this book is that it presents, as part of the results of this experiment, a ranking and, in effect, endorsement of many “cheap”, and very commonly available wines.
One interesting aspect of the experiment was its attempt to control for the difference in people’s ability to taste, and distinguish tastes accurately. To control for this, a “twin wine” was used, that is, in the tastings, one wine was surreptitiously given to the tasters twice. The “twin” wine was the number one selling red wine in the US, a Yellowtail (a Shiraz I think? I can’t recall — some kind of Yellowtail red.) Those who rated the twin wines close together had their scores of other wines weighted more heavily, and those who rated the twin wines far apart had their scores weighted weakly.
It was gratifying to see that many of the wines which I had by experience found to be good showed up in the results of the blind tastings to be good. There was one exception, a Mouton Cadet red, which I had not found to be good, yet which showed up as one of the good ones according to this book. I found out my father had independently arrived at the same conclusion that I had — he had once liked the Mouton Cadet, but dropped it when he found it had ceased to be good somewhere along the line. Perhaps it is inconsistent, maybe it’s good again, maybe I’ll give it another chance. Apart from the recommendation of the Mouton Cadet, the recommendations of the book either agreed with my tastes, or recommended wines with which I’d had no experience.
I also tried a couple of wines today which the book recommended, but which I had not had before. One was the Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon (I forget the year — I really have no business trying to be any sort of wine critic) and the other was a Spanish wine, the Osborne Solaz Tempranillo Cabernet blend. Both were very nice wines, nothing at all objectionable in either one. The Osborne Solaz was a particular bargain, at US$7.77. The Avalon Cabernet was touted in the “The Wine Trials” as being able to “pass for a $100 bottle.” It was good, but if it is the case that it can pass for a $100 bottle, then I think that there is nothing really extraordinary about the wine contained in a typical $100 bottle.
Once, at Kroger (a grocery store which is common in the area in which I live) I picked up a bottle of Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages (normally selling for $70 or so a bottle.) This bottle (and several others like it) were placed on the shelf where normally (very very similar looking) bottles of Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon should be sitting, marked on the shelf as $12 or so. This is what I was trying to buy. I got to the checkout, and it rang up as $75, and well, I wasn’t going to buy it. I pointed out their error, and they told me, very graciously, “Our mistake, and so, we’ll sell it to you for $12.” So, I ended up with a $70-something dollar bottle of wine I wouldn’t normally have ended up with, for a mere $12. I figured this would be a great opportunity to have a blind taste test. So, I went back and bought a bottle of the wine I was originally trying to buy, the Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon — $12 version — and did a blind taste test. Of the three people involved in this test, two preferred the $12 version, and one the $70 version — although none of us had a strong preference. The difference between these two wines was much less than the difference between Coke and Pepsi. There was a detectable difference, but the difference was so slight, it was hard to even figure out which bottle one preferred. Mind you, this may say more about the $12 Chateau St. Jean Cabernet then it does about the $70-something Cinq Cepages, as I have found the Chateau St. Jean Cabernet to be consistently pretty damned good over the years. It is one of my favorite wines, and that’s why I was trying to buy it when I got the Cinq Cepages by mistake, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it and in no way mean any of this as any kind of negative view of CSJ. Maybe $70 is a bit excessive in my view for their Cinq Cepages, but their Cab. Sauv. is, in my experience, excellent.
From these combined experiences, I have concluded that it is a mistake to pay very much for wine — unless, some social circumstances dictate it. That is, I can imagine some twisted circumstances in which, for reasons having nothing to do with wine, it might be advantageous to flaunt an expensive bottle of wine, although those circumstances are not ones in which I’m likely to find myself.
One of the brief anecdotes in this book, “The Wine Trials” is about an incident in which the author is in Mexico (I think, iirc) and witnesses a tableful of Kuwaitis who’ve ordered the very, very, expensive Champagne — Dom Perignon, or Cristal, one of those, and have ordered several Magnum bottles no less — and are proceeding to hose each other down with the stuff. They aren’t drinking it, because drinking is against their religion. But they’ve gone to the trouble to buy it, and are spraying each other with the stuff.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Religion is so far beyond fucked up that you cannot even imagine it if you tried.
Clearly, in the upper stratosphere of the high dollar fermented beverage industry, something weird is happenning, economicaly. It’s become a Veblen good.
If you’re smart, and not insanely wealthy, you’ll stay the hell away from Veblen goods.