Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fruit of the vindication

Forget politics. Forget child tax credits or the lunatic photo-op of pushing 11 million across the border. Enough but-but-Benghazi! and titanic comb-overs. No more grain-fed Egyptian pyramids. No more about the plain red cups.

Let's focus on what really matters:

I'm right about the folly of wine.

Overwhelming evidence has just come to light — well, this is from May, but I was distracted by all the war and pestilence and refugee crises and other trivia.

Not Vox, the news site where I learned this six months after the fact. Vox had its priorities straight.

Vox has blown the lid off this scandal: People wrongly buy more expensive wine because they think it's better. And it isn't.

I have been trying to warn the world about wine time and again, and I've been marginalized and ignored — mostly ignored — for it.

Maybe nobody took me seriously when I said all wine comes from one municipal tank somewhere near Modesto, and that the flavor and nuance of wine comes from the power of wine servers to suggest this wine tastes different or better than that wine.

But the world is going to listen to me now!

In something called Vox Observatory, Vox reported "Expensive Wine is for Suckers," and had its staff members taste three Cabernet Sauvignon wines, one $8, one $14 and one $43.
The most expensive is a 2011 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley," explained the video voiceover. "Wine Spectator Magazine rated it "Outstanding." And it costs five times more than the ($8) one on the right."
(The video shows Wine Spectator Magazine's 93 out of 100 score for the wine, and its opinion, "Extremely well done for the vintage, with style and panache."
"So," says the narrator, "does it taste five times better?"
Vox staffers gave the same average rating for the cheapest and most expensive wines in this taste test. This is consistent with a 2008 study that compiled more than 6000 blind tastings from 17 events across the United States.
"It found that unless they had undergone wine training, people didn't actually enjoy the taste of expensive wines," said the narrator. "In fact, they enjoyed them slightly less."
See?! Education, man, it's only gonna get you in trouble.

Vox implicates the power of suggestion, specifically the 2004 movie Sideways (great movie, even if you don't like wine; plus, you get to see the places where I grew up, in the proper light), which skyrocketed sales of Pinot Noir over other red wines, based on Paul Giamatti's character's fussy adoration of the variety ("That's 100 percent Pinot Noir. Single vineyard; they don't even make it anymore.").

Conversely, his character's infamous trashing of Merlot damaged sales of that variety.

Who judges what's good in wine? Why, wine judges! But Vox pointed to a study that showed not only are professional judges so inconsistent they cancel out each other, but their awarding of gold medals to wines are statistically no different than the awarding of gold medals by random chance.

Judges aren't even good judges of their own tastes. When some judges were secretly given the same wine to taste three times, only one in 10 gave it the same medal each time, Vox reported.

Not all professional critics from wine publications taste the products blindly, and are privy to the wines' prices. An Australian study Vox cited showed wine tasters consistently preferring the most expensive of wines selected, even though though the creators of the study had been adding acid to the most expensive wine to make it taste worse.

Another study even strapped wine tasters to brain wave machines, and gave them the same wine to drink. When told one of the wine was nine times more expensive than the other, brain wave activity increased in pleasure centers for taste and smell.
"So, expensive wines may taste better after all," said the narrator, "as long as you know they're expensive."
That's not quite the conclusion I draw. I say winemakers use the most cynical selling point — unmitigated profit from arbitrary pricing — to bamboozle wine drinkers, who must. have. their. wine!

I'm not against wine. I don't like it, but I don't care if others do. What I can't stand is the pretense and flim-flam and mind-meld that goes into the selling of wine.

Even wine expert and former Sacramento Bee TV critic Rick Kushman says the fuss over wine is ridiculous.

"There's two things you need to know with wine," Kushman told local public radio yesterday. "How to get the cork out, and which end of the bottle to drink from. After that, it's all minor."

Here's what I want wineries and restaurants to do: Simply give someone a glass of wine. Let the patron drink and enjoy, or not; if the patron wants to know things about the wine — what grape, where grown, how long in the barrel — despite the overwhelming evidence that it's been sitting in a giant tank with all the other wine — then the patron can ask. Otherwise, live and let freaking live.

But enough with the sell job. And enough with the arbitrary prices.

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