Quotulatiousness

August 6, 2017

The allure of fine wines

Filed under: France, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Dan Rosenheck recounts his first encounter with one of those mysterious Premier Cru wines:

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So say those who have never had a whiff of 1998 Château Lafite Rothschild. In late 2011 I had been an aspiring wine connoisseur for about a year, long enough to have learned the names of the world’s most exalted beverages, but not to have tried more than a handful. Like many novices, I started out on Bordeaux, memorising the 1855 classification of the region’s reds into price tiers – called crus, or “growths” – and developing a childlike reverence for the premiers crus (“first growths”) at the top. Although there were no sub-rankings within each class, Lafite was listed first because it was the most expensive tipple in the France of Napoleon III, and my drinking buddies told me it was still considered the premier premier cru today. Chinese drinkers certainly thought so: they had bid it up at auctions to stratospheric heights after deciding, for still-obscure reasons, that Lafite and only Lafite made for an impressive gift – perhaps because its name was easy to pronounce in Mandarin, or because the estate had stuck the character for the lucky number eight on the label of its 2008 vintage.

So when a friend in the wine trade snuck me into Wine Spectator magazine’s “Grand Tasting” in New York that November, I made a beeline for the Lafite table. They were pouring the 1998: a middling harvest overall for Cabernet Sauvignon, which Messieurs Primi Inter Pares had nonetheless turned into a masterpiece. As a Frenchwoman doing her best to smile sprinkled her elixir among the parched mob, I made off with a couple of thimblefuls, and scurried to the corner of the room to stand watch over my booty.

The perfume wafted into my nostrils before I had time to lift my glass. “zomfg,” began my tasting note. (The “o”, “m” and “g” stand for “oh my God”, you can guess what the “f” is, and the “z” comes out when exuberance makes you miss the shift key.) The scents were so intense, so focused, so easy to distinguish: ripe blackcurrants quivering on the branch; cedar that conjured up a Lebanese hillside; tobacco or thyme leaves floating on the wind. How could a wine be this powerful and yet this elegant? At the tender age of 13, the 1998 Lafite did not yet offer much complexity, and its firm, astringent tannins left me puckering after every sip – the punishment a fine young Bordeaux inflicts on impatient drinkers who disturb its slumber prematurely. But oh…that smell. “I smelled this across the room,” I wrote. “I smelled this at the bar afterwards. I smelled this even when I was shoving pizza down my throat at 3am. And then I smelled it in my dream.”

My first experience of a premier cru was at an LCBO tasting in downtown Toronto. I had developed an interest in wine a few years before, so I was very excited to try some of the well-known wines for the first time. Here’s what I wrote on the old blog (no longer online) in 2008: “That’s not wine … it’s an ostentatious status symbol”

At some point, an expensive bottle of wine stops being just wine and starts being primarily a status symbol. Case in point:

    Staff were delighted at the sale and the three customers were eager to taste the £18,000 magnum of Pétrus 1961 — one of the greatest vintages of one of the greatest wines in the world — which they had reserved from the cellars several weeks before.

    Unfortunately, the guests at Zafferano in Knightsbridge proved to be a little too discerning.

    As the magnum was uncorked, they declared it to be a fake, refused to touch the bottle and sent it back.

I enjoy wine, and I’m usually able to appreciate the extra quality that goes with a higher price tag … up to a limit. The most expensive wine I’ve tasted was a $400 Chateau Margaux, which was excellent, but (to my taste anyway) not as good as a $95 bottle I sampled on the same evening (a Gevry-Chambertin). Wine is certainly subjective, so my experiences can’t be easily generalized, but I think it would be safe to say that the vast majority of wine drinkers would find that their actual appreciation of the wine tapers off beyond a certain price point.

If you normally drink $15-20 bottles of wine, you’ll certainly find that the $30-40 range will taste better and have more depth and complexity of flavour. Jumping up to the $150-200 range will probably have the same relative effect, but you’ve gone to 10 times the price for perhaps 2-4 times the perceived quality. Perhaps I’m wrong, and the $1,000+ wines have transcendental qualities that peasants like me can’t even imagine, but I strongly doubt it. Any wine over $500 has passed the “quality” level and is from that point onwards really a “prestige” thing.

Update: A commenter at Fark.com offered this link as counter-evidence:

    “Contrary to the basic assumptions of economics, several studies have provided behavioral evidence that marketing actions can successfully affect experienced pleasantness by manipulating non-intrinsic attributes of goods. For example, knowledge of a beer’s ingredients and brand can affect reported taste quality, and the reported enjoyment of a film is influenced by expectations about its quality,” the researchers said. “Even more intriguingly, changing the price at which an energy drink is purchased can influence the ability to solve puzzles.”

This is why wines are generally tasted blind for comparative purposes (that is, with no indication of the wine’s identity provided). It’s a well-known phenomena that people expect to enjoy more expensive things than cheaper equivalents.

You can try this one for yourself: next time you’re pouring a beer or a wine for a guest, hide the container and tell them that what you’re pouring is much more rare/expensive/unusual than what it really is. Most people, either from politeness (they don’t want to be rude) or fear of being thought ignorant (that they can’t actually perceive this wonderful quality) or genuine belief in what you’ve said, will go along with the host’s deception and praise the drink as being so much better than whatever they normally drink.

Human beings are wonderful at rationalizing … and self-deception.

H/T to Colby Cosh for the original link.

Recap Of Our Trip To England I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 5 Aug 2017

Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome: http://www.stowmaries.org.uk/

The Tank Museum, Bovington: http://www.tankmuseum.org/

The Prince of Wales, Restaurant: http://www.prince-stowmaries.net/

Shock, horror – “local or organic food is … often available only in Canada to the wealthy”

Filed under: Cancon, Germany — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Chris Selley just got back from a European vacation, where he observed some odd German activity:

Last month, on vacation, I happened across what might be the platonic ideal of a fancy urban farmers’ market. The smell of wood smoke led me to a quiet street in Berlin’s leafy Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood, where a man was smoking various kinds of fish in the middle of the road. As one does. There was a little mobile bicycle-powered coffee shop selling vastly overpriced espresso. There was the requisite improbably expensive produce and charcuterie and cheese. (My God, the cheese. Why do Canadians put up with our benighted dairy industry?) And to shock my Ontarian senses, there was a big booth selling local wines — which one could drink, out of glasses, in whatever quantities one saw fit, right there out in the open. Tipplers weren’t even confined to a secure pen. There wasn’t even a security guard!

Even more than at Toronto’s fancier farmers’ markets, it was abundantly clear this was a place for wealthy people with time to spare. And it never occurred to me that was a problem. A new study co-authored by Kelly Hodgins and Evan Fraser of the University of Guelph suggests it is, however — and a recent headline on the matter made my eyes roll so far back in my head I feared they might get stuck: “Access to ‘ethical’ food often available only to the wealthy, study says.”

“While eating local or organic food is often touted as superior from a health, environmental and oftentimes ethical perspective, such foods are often available only in Canada to the wealthy, with limited access for those living on lower or even middle incomes,” The Globe and Mail reported.

I know. I’m just as shocked as you are. Who would ever have expected that?

A Shooting Board – Why You Should Make One – 264

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 23 Oct 2016

Build article: https://jayscustomcreations.com/2016/10/a-shooting-board/

QotD: Confessions of a book-hoarder

Filed under: Books, Humour, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

Well, tomorrow I’d bring up stuff from the basement. So the next day I go downstairs to the utility room. The floor’s wet. The rug is sopping. I open the freezer, and discover that I’d locked the freezer door before closing it. The door had been open all night. Dead meat, droopy brats, sloshy ice cream — and water everywhere. The utility room was full of boxes from the storage room — we’d just had some shelves installed, and I’d moved out crates I’ve hauled around since my dorm room days. Books. Hundreds of books.

I felt the sides of the boxes to see if they’d wicked up the horrid slurry from the fridge — were they ruined? Would I have to throw out all these old, venerable friends? Everything I read and saved from 1976 to 1997 — were they lost to me forever?

They were dry.

You cannot imagine my disappointment.

This was the perfect opportunity to be rid of these mummified albatrosses forever. Friends, let’s be honest: Books are a curse. We’d all love to have a library with shelves stretching up to heaven, a ladder on rollers that lets you access the 17th level, where you keep the minor Polish poets and the monographs on eighth-century Chinese mandarins. But you end up with boxes of books in the basement, and you cannot part with them. Simply throwing them away feels sinful — hey, why not build a time machine and go back to Nazi-land and burn them, dude? You could sell them, but there’s something depressing about getting $7 for 70 pounds of paperbacks. It’s like auctioning your kid’s baby pictures on eBay and getting a high bid of a buck-fifty. The last time I divested my excess books I dumped them off on a Goodwill dock in the middle of the night, and I felt like someone pushing the family dog out of the car on a country road. The books will find a good home. I’m sure there’s a farmer around here they can live with.

James Lileks, Star Tribune, 2004-07-11.

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