I am not a wine drinker so cannot speak from personal experience but know that suggesting to people who consider themselves connoisseurs of wine that some tests have shown that there isn’t that much difference between expensive and cheap wines (and that some tests found that experts cannot distinguish even between red and white wines) is sure to arouse indignation. I know personally someone who when he visits his parents’ home, takes some of their wine and pours it down the sink because he thinks it is inferior. My own attitude to any matters of taste is to follow Duke Ellington’s advice in music that “If it sounds good, it is good.” If you like the taste of something, you should ignore other factors like its cheap price or the attitude of experts.
But I have always found amusing the rituals and language used to describe wines and the January 2021 issue of Harper’s Magazine reproduced an October 2020 Instagram post by the owner of a fancy New York City French restaurant that recounted a story about two sets of diners at his restaurant. One set consisted of four Wall Street businessmen and the other was a young couple. The four businessmen ordered the most expensive wine that sells for $2,000 a bottle while the young couple ordered the cheapest wine which cost $18 per bottle. Apparently, the custom in this restaurant is to pour the wine from the bottle into decanters and then take the decanters to the table. This seems a bit silly to me but then in addition to not drinking wine, I never eat at fancy restaurants either so maybe this is standard practice at high-end eateries.
You can guess what happened. The restaurant managers accidentally switched the decanters. The owner recounts what happened.
The young couple, who ordered the $18 pinot noir, were then inadvertently served the $2,000 Rothschild. On taking their first sips of what they believed was cheap wine, they jokingly pretended to be drinking an expensive wine and parodied all the mannerisms of a wine snob.
Five minutes later, the two managers discovered their error and, horrified, phoned me at home. I rushed to Balthazar. The businessmen’s celebratory mood was clearly enhanced by the wine they had mistakenly thought was the restaurant’s most expensive. This put me in a dilemma: whether to come clean and admit the manager’s mistake, or allow them to continue drinking the cheap wine in blissful ignorance. It was unthinkable at this point to pull the real Bordeaux from the young couple’s table. Besides, they were having too much fun pretending to be drinking a $2,000 bottle of wine. I decided to tell both parties the truth. The businessman responded by saying, “I thought that wasn’t a Mouton Rothschild!” The others at the table nodded their heads in servile agreement.
I recently watched the 2008 film Bottle Shock that dealt with an earlier form of wine snobbery that existed in the 1970s when it was believed by wine connoisseurs that California wines could never compete in quality with French wines. The film is loosely based on the events that led up to the famous 1976 blind taste test between French and Californian wines. It is an amusing (but not great) film. It stars Alan Rickman (who is always watchable) as a British expatriate in France who sets up the test and comes to California in search of wines for the competition.
Of course, now there are wines being produced on every continent that are widely appreciated by wine lovers.
Here’s the trailer.