The Witless Wisdom Of Wine Snobs

I’m not a wine snob.  I can distinguish between outright swill, of the $3.99 a bottle variety, and better wines, but my palate’s capabilities end at about the $10 a bottle mark, and from there on up I can’t really appreciate the fine nuances and subtle distinctions that effete wine drinkers claim to enjoy.  Now, a recent taste test suggests I’m not alone, and that wine snobs are faking it.

The taste test follows in the wake of famous blind taste tests of the 1970s, in which experts were unable to distinguish between esteemed French wines and upstarts from California — and indeed, twice selected Stag’s Leap wine over the finest wines of France.  The latest blind taste test contest pitted wines from France against wines from, of all places, New Jersey.  The French wines won, but only barely, against the New Jersey offerings that were 20 times less expensive.

As the New Yorker article linked above demonstrates, there’s lots of evidence that the supposedly educated palates of the wine snobs really are influenced mostly by labels, and that supposed experts will describe the same wine in diametrically different ways, depending on whether a high quality label or one indicating the cheap stuff is attached.  The studies all point to the conclusion that most people really can’t distinguish the high-cost vino from the $10 bottle.  I think that’s right, and that’s why I don’t spend more than $15 a bottle in stores and refuse to buy the outrageously priced bottles in restaurants.

Our friends the Cave-Dweller and his lovely wife soon will be taking a wine-tasting trip to the Napa Valley, to celebrate their 25th anniversary.  Perhaps next year they should head to New Jersey?

The Cheap Wine Competition

When we took our trip to Italy years ago, Kish and I concluded that it was impossible to get a bottle of bad Italian wine.  Go to any restaurant, get their table wine, and you would inevitably get a very good wine that would sell for a pretty penny in the States.

The cheap wine contestants

My experience this trip suggests that France is the same way.  There is an excellent wine shop right across the street from our apartment.  I’ve purchased several bottles of wine there for between 6 and 9 Euros each (roughly $9.00 to $13.50) and they have been uniformly excellent.  All were French wines from wineries I’d never heard of — and they made me decide to test my theory, with the help of Richard and two of his friends.

First I bought a 2008 Cotes du Rhone for 3.85 Euros — about $5.75. We agreed it also was quite good. Then we put my theory to the acid test last night, by buying a Vieux Papes for 2.95 Euros (about $4.50) and a Cuvee du Pere Bernard for 1.90 Euros (about $2.95).  The Vieux Papes was pretty good, and the Cuvee du Pere Bernard was still decent, although we were probably reaching the outer limits of drinkability and common sense with that purchase.  (I’ve seen the street people of Paris drinking other kinds of wine that undoubtedly were cheaper, and I didn’t really want to go there.)

France therefore finished strong in the cheap wine competition.  There’s probably a bad bottle of French wine somewhere out there, but you’d have to look pretty hard to find it.