Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Must you pay for quality?

I felt compelled to write about this topic after reading (and commenting) on Tom Wark's blog. I like his posts because he writes about contemporary issues in the wine world. Today it's a book entitled, The Wine Trials. The premise of the book is that after a series of blind tastings with experts and non-experts alike, wines under $15 were preferred to those between $50 and $150. Hmmm...

I started this blog because my friends were calling me from Whole Foods, Silverlake Wine and the Wine House with the last minute question, "what should I buy for [insert an occassion]?" And generally that involved the caveat, it must be REALLY good, and of course had a price limitation - under $15. My response was generally, "can't you go up to $20?" I've found a few wines, a very few that are reliable and really top notch under $15. Those bottles were invariably recommended to me by a retailer who had to taste hundreds of bottles of bad wine to find the few good ones in that price range. (Like the guys at CheeseStore of Silverlake, Rosso Wine Shop, Colorado Wine Company who do the dirty work for us!)

The premise of this book is that in a tasting trials for non-experts and experts alike, the majority preferred wines under $15 to those over $15. All the wines were tasted blind.

My big problem with this is that if you don't know what to expect from a wine, how can you possibly judge it? Parker doesn't taste blind and neither do the guys at Wine Spectator because regional typicity and production methods are intricately linked to a wine. Therefore a $150 bottle of Grand Cru Burgundy simply shouldn't be taken out of context and placed next to a $15 bottle of Central Coast Pinot to say which is better. The standards are different. While the Central Coast wine may be immediately pleasing, the Grand Cru Burgundy will take on many lifeforms in the glass throughout an evening. One sip and then a spit is not the way wine should be judged.

Anyway, I'm a little worked up about this topic this morning - so much so that I have abandoned my studies for an hour. All this and I haven't even read the book, but I'm not going to. I can't support sensationalism and the abandonment of tradition.

Please comment and let me know what you're thinking about this??


Rebecca Hedrick said...

I know you just shake your head and sigh, but I'm always on the lookout for that fab deal under $15. I still buy every $10 bordeaux i see, no matter how many times i've been burned! What i would like to know from this book is which $15 wines are they testing -- sure, there are some really good ones, but like you said -- you normally have to go through 100 bad ones first. The more wine we drink, the more our spending creeps up per bottle. By raising the "tuesday night wine" limit to $20, we're much more likely to hit a winner.

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Amy. Blind tastings are interesting but not the final arbitor for quality. I agree that context plays a big part and here is a little story from our last weekend's tasting:

We poured California wines and I decided to match up two Rhone blends. One from the Sierra Foothills, 2004 Domaine de la Terre Rouge Tete-a-Tete ($14.99) and maybe the most prestigious Rhone blend from Paso Robles, 2005 Tablas Creek Espirit de Beaucastel ($39.99). Both wines showed extremely well. Both are fantastically made wines but in the context of tasting them side-by-side, even though most agreed the Tablas Creek was better made and more complex, the hands down favorite of the tasting was the Tete-a-Tete.

We went through 3 cases of it! Great stuff. And in the end, when you factor price and context into the equation, I think the Terre Rouge wins. So in this case if we had tasted blind the Tablas Creek would have won but in this context the results were reversed.

Funny. I read about the book you sited too. I think Eric Asimov posted about it in the N.Y. Times recently. Good timing.

Ci vediamo, Amy - JZ / Rosso Wine Shop

Anonymous said...

same topic, great post from eric asimov:
scroll down to "You Can Please All the People, Or You Can Make Great Wine."

Amy said...

I love cheap wine and John Nugent at Colorado wine Company gave me a great little $8.99 bottle of wine last week, I have to blog on that one soon. Its just that there's generally a level of satisfaction that I'm looking to achieve when Peter and I sit down to dinner to share our day and to talk about a bottle of wine together. Historically when we open a cheap bottle we end up being dissatisfied so we have to open another bottle and then I feel angry because I've wasted money. I totally agree that as you inch your way up - even to $18 - the satisfaction meter tends to rise!

Still, I love when I find a bottle of wine for $10 - nothing better that that. I have found that small independent retailers are really good at guiding me on these wines.

Amy said...

Jeff, I would love to try to the Tete-a-tete. I have a doctor appointment right down the street from you on Friday - I'm stopping by to get some wine!

Price and context mean everything... and I read Eric Asimov's article and thought it was brilliant.

I guess the other thing that gets me worked up is that there seems to be this idea that we should banish tradition in favor of the lowest common denominator. I am such a fan of classic regions and classic wines and I feel like people abandon these wines because the classics feel stuffy or it may be too difficult to learn what all the crap on the labels mean. But that's part of the mystery. So many people are trying to demystify wine and why? It's mysterious and that's what makes it so fascinating to me.

Loving classic wines has become on par with being a wine snob, and I find that offensive. Being educated and informed isn't snobby, but it, unfortunately, often appears that way.

There's something to be said about history and family tradition, and that can't be transmitted through the wine in a blind tasting.

Ok, I'm off my soap box!! Thanks for your comments and I'll see you Friday!!

Anonymous said...

"So many people are trying to demystify wine and why? It's mysterious and that's what makes it so fascinating to me"
Despite the telescopic etymology (Froggy-frog-frog mistifier, from mystère mystery, from Latin mysterium) mystification = a Twix in the swimming pool, while mystery = a Mars bar in Saddam's anorak pocket

"There's something to be said about history and family tradition"
Global warming too