Price Differentiation and Class Consciousness

Apparently, more expensive versions of products are often better.

NYT wine critic Eric Asimov, reflecting on the recent death of budget wine purveyor Fred Franzia, asks, “Two-Buck Chuck: Wine of the People or Cultural Wedge?

Mention Two-Buck Chuck, the nickname for the famously cheap Charles Shaw wines made by Bronco Wine Company, and you are likely to get two completely different reactions from wine drinkers.

On the one side are people who see it as a bottle for those who want to enjoy wine without spending a lot of money. On the other are people who see it as a cheap wine whose producer used it to make a cynical case that those aspiring to better (and more expensive) wines constituted a snobbish elite.

I have wine with dinner just about nightly and say: Why not both?

I remember the wine as uninteresting, but I last drank it more than a decade ago. I wanted to try it again, but the line of Charles Shaw wines, which includes numerous variations beyond the original red blend, is sold only at Trader Joe’s. The sole Trader Joe’s wine shop in New York shut down last month, so I was out of luck.

I was going to snarkily suggest that Asimov could probably have gone to New Jersey (which turns out not to have any Trader Joe’s locations) or Connecticut (which has stores in eight cities) but it turns out that twelve cities in New York have stores. Including Brooklyn, which has three and Long Island, which has one. And nine in New York City—including a location on 6th Avenue that’s an 8-minute drive from the New York Times building. Alas, New York and Connecticut have bizarre laws that confine wine sales to specialty stores.

Having had Shaw wine more recently than Asimov, though, I can corroborate his recollection. It’s perfectly drinkable table wine. No more, no less.

Still, the relative quality of the wine was beside the point. The price was the attraction: $2 (or a few dollars more outside of California).

Compromises must be made to sell a wine for just a few dollars. Almost all of them work against high-quality wine.

Well, yeah.

How were the grapes farmed, and who provided the labor? What steps were taken at the winemaking facility to ensure some semblance of consistency, since the sources of the wine changed year to year? We can only guess.

It may not occur to many wine drinkers to ask these questions. But they do matter, especially if you are concerned about farming methods and conditions for agricultural workers. 

Well . . . sure. But that’s true of just about any product we buy in a globalized economy.

And they matter to people who care about where a wine comes from and whether it expresses the distinctive character of a place.

Well, by definition. But what if—and this is a hypothetical here—price matters? What if—hear me out here—sometimes people aren’t willing to shell out twenty bucks for a bottle holding four glasses of wine? Or—and I’m just spitballin’ here—they can’t afford to?

Most people don’t really care about how wine is made or where it comes from. They just want an inexpensive drink that gives them a buzz and tastes good or, at least, doesn’t offend. A smaller group of wine lovers spend a considerable amount of time, energy and money on wine because they find it delicious, as well as rewarding intellectually and aesthetically.

The latter group is much, much, much smaller. I at least overlap with that group, although I spend less time and energy on wine now than I did before I had kids.

A lot of people would never pay more than a modest price for a wine, regardless of how it’s made. But I do take issue with cynical companies that peddle false messages to consumers to hype their products.

Two-Buck Chuck did not damage American wine culture. But Mr. Franzia relentlessly told American wine drinkers that no wine could possibly be worth more than $10. “Elites,” he argued, were trying to brainwash people with all their talk about terroir and nuances.

“You tell me why someone’s bottle is worth $80 and mine’s worth $2,” he said in a 2009 profile in The New Yorker. “Do you get 40 times the pleasure from it?”

His message not only promoted his own company’s products, it also destroyed the notion that any wine could be better.

You don’t have to become a trained sommelier, or even drink a lot of wine, to differentiate a $5 bottle from a $50 bottle—although I’ve had some pretty mediocre high-priced wines. But Franzia wasn’t arguing otherwise. He was suggesting that you can get a perfectly enjoyable bottle for a modest price and that the increased enjoyment from a super-expensive wine might not be proportionate to the price differential.

This is not a remarkably controversial idea. I doubt many folks would argue that, say, the Mercedes S Class isn’t a superior automobile to a Toyota Camry. Whether it’s worth four times as much is debatable. But it’s an academic debate for most people, who simply can’t afford to shell out more than $100,000 for transportation. And the Camry is a damn fine automobile.

Beyond that, Franzia most assuredly did not “destroy” the idea that some wines are better than others. The New York Times still employs a wine critic! More importantly, despite the interview being published way back in 2009, stores—including ones like Costco that target budget-minded consumers—still continue to offer wines at a shockingly wide variety of price points to this very day.

People who are passionate about wine knew better, but for others it confirmed a suspicion that wine was all a bunch of foolishness. And for people who might have been curious about wine, it raised doubts.

Not any more than the existence of a shoe aisle at Walmart killed off Manolo Blahnik and Gucci. Sure, there are people who genuinely don’t care about fashion, cars, and wine and just see them as clothing, transportation, and an intoxicant. Mostly, though, people simply make trade-offs with limited resources at their disposal.

I’m a suit guy. I make a decent living. So, I would never buy a suit at, say, Target. But while I could theoretically afford it, I can’t justify dropping $10,000 on a Saville Row bespoke or even $5000 on an off-the-peg Brioni. For those with the means, though, I fully understand why they’d spend the extra dough on the best.

Many in the wine industry rationalize industrial, inexpensive wines as starter bottles. Novices begin with these wines, the thinking goes, and then make better choices once they get accustomed to wine. Mr. Franzia blew up that argument as well. If all wine was the same, why would anybody move up?

I have never accepted the positioning of bad wines as starter bottles. Sure, some wine drinkers don’t want to spend a lot of money. But for $8 to $10, wine lovers have much better options. And then spending $15 to $20 is like going from drab grays to a world of beautiful hues.

Right. I mean, why would anyone spend $200,000 on a crappy little starter home when they could get a decent place for $500,000? Or just spend $1,000,000 and get something really nice? The fools!

Even as a regular wine drinker solidly in the upper middle class income-wise, $20 is a bit much to drop every evening. I’m perfectly content to step down to a $7 bottle of perfectly decent table wine and move up to more complex bottles for special occasions or even Sunday night dinner.

There is a really odd class dynamic going on here:

Mr. Franzia, who was born and reared in the Central Valley, reserved particular vitriol for Napa Valley, which he regarded as the headquarters of wealthy, self-important wine elites.

“Take that and shove it, Napa,” he said in 2009 after passing the 400-million-bottle mark in sales of Charles Shaw.

His role model, he told The New Yorker, was his uncle, Ernest Gallo of E. & J. Gallo Winery, the biggest wine producer in the United States, whom he compared with leading figures in Napa Valley like Robert Mondavi. (Bronco is seventh-biggest, according to Wine Business Monthly.)

Mr. Gallo “never wanted to forget he was poor. Bob Mondavi’s objective was to forget he was poor. That’s the essence of the San Joaquin Valley versus the Napa Valley right there,” Mr. Franzia told the New Yorker writer Dana Goodyear. “We are who we are. They want to pretend they’re royalty.”

My parents drank a lot of Gallo wine and its equivalents. I find them just about undrinkable these days. Ditto Folgers and Maxwell House coffee.

We have a lot better options, even at relatively affordable price points, than existed fifty, or even twenty, years ago in food and drink options. But those differentiations in quality and choices also create resentments.

In 1972, the banker and the baker were likely drinking the same brand of coffee, beer, and bourbon—maybe even smoking the same cigarettes. Peet’s coffee opened its first store in 1966 and Starbucks followed in 1971 but it took quite a while for that wave to go national. Single malt Scotch was barely a thing and craft beer and bourbon were a ways off.

The variety of choices is amazing now and there are really excellent options at just about any price point. But, like wine, Scotch and bourbon have limited supplies and the most coveted bottles are mostly available to wealthy speculators. There are some willing to spend the time, effort, and money to chase down a unicorn bottle of Pappy Van Winkle; most of us will just settle for Maker’s Cask Strength.

One might accept Mr. Franzia as a jovial huckster, promoting a message so obviously exaggerated that nobody would take him seriously. But many people believed him.

Mr. Franzia was not the first person in the United States to argue that expensive wines are no better than cheap ones and to gleefully dismiss a long history of appreciation and understanding of these wines. Wine has long been singled out as a con game intended to separate fools from their money.

Mr. Franzia liked to say that Two-Buck Chuck was the People’s Wine, but in his hand it was a crowbar, used to divide wine drinkers.

Yes, it was only Franzia and his ilk that used wine to divide people along class lines. Eyeroll emoji.

It’s of course not all Mr. Franzia’s fault that wine has been associated with snobbery. The wine industry itself is much to blame with its history of pretentiousness, and its absurd rituals and vocabulary that convey the message that one must be a connoisseur before one can enjoy wine.

If all Mr. Franzia did was belie that association, I would have no quarrel with him. Instead, he did his best to corroborate it.

Honestly, I think he was just trying to sell more wine. And make people who mostly drank cheap wine feel like it wasn’t a crime. But, yeah, he clearly seemed to resent those who looked down on those who thought they were better than him because they made or consumed more expensive wine.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    There are some willing to spend the time, effort, and money to chase down a unicorn bottle of Pappy Van Winkle; most of us will just settle for Maker’s Cask Strength.

    A friend once shared with me from his bottle of Pappy van Winkle Family Reserve 23 and it was absolutely spectacular. I enjoy a lot of different bourbons and scotches, and the Pappy was far and away the best liquor I have ever had. It definitely lives up to the hype.

    I truly appreciate my friend sharing his because there is no way in hell I am shelling out multiple thousands of dollars for my own (to be clear, he didn’t either, it was a gift from his father).

    As far as wine goes, I will generally pick around $12 for a bottle, although my wife and I have a very special wine that goes back to one of our first dates and that runs about $45.

  2. SC_Birdflyte says:

    We don’t drink Two Buck Chuck (no Trader Joe’s near us), but we do drink boxed wines with our evening meal. A French critic we met on a cruise some years ago told us that the sealed pouches in wine boxes preserve the flavor better than either screw-on caps or corks.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey: Oh, I’m sure it’s a spectacular bourbon. It had that reputation before the current craze kicked off 15 years or so ago. But even Weller 12, long touted as the next best thing to Pappy, has become next to impossible to find and often $300 or more if you can find it. I just can’t justify it.

    @SC_Birdflyte: My wife and I will generally finish a 750ml bottle the evening we open it but, yes, re-corked and even re-screwtopped bottles degrade quickly.

  4. Scott says:

    About 20 years ago, I made a good run at reading about, analyzing, trying, tasting, and differentiating wines. I just couldn’t find that much of a value differentiation between a $5 or a $20 wine. It may be a matter of taste buds or just drinking habits. So I gave that up and just stick to the lower price wines that are quaffable. I’m just as happy with a Bota Box Old Vine Zinfandel as I am with anything else.

    And also, I find myself impatient with corks. Why can’t they all be screwtops?

  5. Mu Yixiao says:

    This is a timely post, as my local wine bar officially changed hands this week. Yesterday was the final “invite the regulars to finish off all the empty bottle of wine and liquor” (I had a nice scotch and a cigar).

    Thursdays are (and will continue to be, under the new owners) “Bottle Night”. $20 for a bottle of wine that you can’t get at any of the local liquor stores (cork what you don’t drink, and take it home). There are a few standards, but mostly the selection changes every week.

    The previous owner always laughed at my comments about the wines. I have very little sense of smell, so my tongue does most of the work, and I don’t get all those subtle aromatics. Quite frequently–especially with the “nicer” wines–all I can taste is an overpowering bitter citrus at the back of my tongue. Absolutely horrid.

    My go-to wine is the 120 line from Santa Rita vinyards in Chile. It’s $10/bottle and is a very serviceable table wine. I don’t think I would ever pay more than $20 for a bottle. It’s just not worth it to me.

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  6. KM says:

    But, yeah, he clearly seemed to resent those who looked down on those who thought they were better than him because they made or consumed more expensive wine.

    Exchange “wine” with “anything” and you’ve got a universal sentiment. A good rule of thumb is the more expensive product is of inherently better quality because you’re assuming the final cost is going towards recouping loss from investing in the product – better materials, better practices and overall resulting in better goods. It’s usually true but not always; think no further then Trump Vodka to see why price cannot be the main determinant for a snob to use. Sometimes things are priced higher specifically to appeal to the “expensive = better” crowd regardless of brand or location and it’s fair to point out its solely due to snobbishness…. apologies, appeal to exclusivity.

    Life’s too short to drink the cheap stuff all the time – spoil yourself often. It’s also to0 short to waste money on the expensive stuff when the cheap stuff will do just fine.

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  7. Matt Bernius says:

    What we have here is a perfect example of a “Feed the beast” editorial–no good ideas? Create a straw man and knock it down in 1000 words or less. Honestly, it’s something I love about blogging is that, while we don’t get paid, we also don’t have to feed the beast this way. That means I can start a post, realize there is no “‘there’ there” and pull the ripcord without worrying about it.

    Also, on the topic of not letting facts get in the way of a good story:

    I remember the wine as uninteresting, but I last drank it more than a decade ago. I wanted to try it again, but the line of Charles Shaw wines, which includes numerous variations beyond the original red blend, is sold only at Trader Joe’s. The sole Trader Joe’s wine shop in New York shut down last month, so I was out of luck.

    We New Yorkers have never gotten to buy Two Buck Chuck in state as wine and liquor cannot be sold through Grocery Stores here (much to the chagrin of Wegmans and others who have been trying to overturn that law for years). I’m pretty sure the wine writer for the NYT is aware of this.

    As far as the premise, of course, this is the case.

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  8. Kathy says:

    As far as wines go, I’ve two settings: like it, and don’t like it. I can’t be any more specific than that. Sometimes it will be a cheap wine I like, sometimes and expensive one. About the closest I can come, is to say I tend not to like drier wines.

    As to prices for luxury goods, a lot of it is the snobbishness factor. For most things, the cheaper versions are as good, sometimes they are better. In particular, things like cosmetics and moisturizers.

    Take the latter. One that works wonders for me is a Belgian creme called Dexeryl, first prescribed by a dermatologist years ago during a bout of neurodermatitis. It’s about $7-10 for a 250 gr. tube (that’s a bit ver half a pound for the metrically impaired). Far better than the fancy, pricey creams and lotions from top brands that feature sciency and buzzy terms in their packaging.

  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    Yes, sniff-sniff, that was an eye rolling read. It’s the kind of article that lends justification to the reverse discrimination by ‘real americans’ for the coastal elites.

    A few years ago, I had a conversation with an acquaintance who lives in Paris about wines, and she admitted that the table wine that would go with all but special occasion dinners, seldom cost more than 5 Euros, particularly since half the bottle would likely go into the sink. I no longer felt guilty for the box wine and yes, Two Buck Chuck in the wine cupboard.

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  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    It helps to have a realistic assessment of your own palate. Back when I was reviewing restaurants I made the effort to educate myself a bit and for a while I had a fairly educated palate. But that requires continued effort and life is short. I’d say before you buy a $300 bottle of Corton-Charlemagne ask yourself whether you really have the palate and the focus to appreciate what you’re consuming.

    To appropriate your car analogy, there are faster, more nimble cars than my Merc, but I’m not enough of a driver to appreciate them. I might be able to afford a Lambo, but the difference in price would not provide me a superior experience, subjectively.

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  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Scott: You, like me, are lucky. I find that if I shop around and go away from the big brand names I can get boxed wines that I enjoy perfectly fine at $25-30 for 3 liters. In the bottle I love Bogle reds, and my favorite white is just $13 for a full liter. I’m glad my tastes don’t run more expensive than that.

  12. Jen says:

    I haven’t read the NYT article in its entirety yet, but wasn’t Charles Shaw born out of a glut of grapes grown by higher-end wineries that weren’t being used? That’s the origin story I remember at least, and if that was indeed the case, it’s far fairer to agriculture and workers to actually USE those grapes than having them spoil and/or get dumped into a compost pile.

    The French typically serve vin de table, they don’t have the Chateau Lafite with every meal (in fact, most of their premier crus are slated for export).

    This sounds like a column in search of a problem.

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  13. grumpy realist says:

    Having swigged (and used) wine from different levels of price points, there does seem to be a happy medium when it comes to wines. The only thing I can state is that in general, the cheaper the wine, the sweeter and less complex it will usually be. And believe it or not, there are certain brands of wine that are so bad there’s no way the price makes up for it–I can’t even use them for cooking.

    I think I got a bottle of Two Buck Chuck Chardonnay some time back and decided nah, never again.

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  14. MarkedMan says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    What we have here is a perfect example of a “Feed the beast” editorial

    I don’t think that’s fair to Asimov. I’ve read several dozen of his columns over the years and his message is consistent: if you want to enjoy wine you don’t have to spend a fortune. Take your time, think about what you are drinking, enjoy what you like and if you analyze enough you can start to predict what you will like. Only very occasionally does he review very pricey wines. A recent column focused on his differing reactions to a few bottles when he experimented with chilling them a bit more or less. None of them were pricey.

    1
  15. MarkedMan says:

    My taste in beer is a lot more discriminating than my taste in wine, but one technique I have learned is to be skeptical of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and most especially Cabernet Sauvignon. No one is selling a Viognier because the weekend crowds are snatching it off the shelf. The price points for nice wine is tend to be a lot lower.

  16. Neil Hudelson says:

    There’s also an enjoyment to cheap wines (and bourbon) that you can’t have with expensive wines: finding the great deal. I get much more enjoyment out of finding a $10-$15 bottle of wine that tastes like your conception of a $30 wine, than a $30 bottle of wine that tastes exactly as it should.

    2
  17. James Joyner says:

    @Matt Bernius: It appears that there was a standalone TJ’s Wine Store in the city that recently closed.

    1
  18. Argon says:

    I still laugh about Sony and other stereo system makers removing controls and features from their receivers and to sell them at higher prices to “audiophiles”…

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    and that the increased enjoyment from a super-expensive wine might not be proportionate to the price differential.

    Isn’t this the definition of “conspicuous consumption?”

    I have no “palate” whatsoever, fell out of the habit of drinking wine early in my adult life and literally cannot distinguish Glenlivet from Jim Beam White Label in a blind tasting. This is one of those “first world problems” for me.

    4
  20. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Ditto. This is why Luddites drink Famous Grouse or Elijah Craig at Casa Luddite.

    Although arguably the worst drink ever was a toss up between MD 20/20 and Annie Green Springs. They made terrible Slurpies. Wonder what Asimov would’ve thought of that?

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  21. Jen says:

    Speaking of palates, my husband and I were pleasantly surprised that one of the Irish whiskeys we tried and liked was very reasonably priced. We picked up a bottle of the Connemara (it’s a peated Irish whiskey) for about $38 at the duty-free store.

  22. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @James Joyner: On the other hand, I insist on drinking only premium bourbons.

  23. Matt Bernius says:

    @MarkedMan:
    I agree that he’s been a champion of affordable wine. As has the Wall Street Journal’s wine writers (whose names are escaping me). I still think this is a “feed the beast” column.

    @James Joyner:

    It appears that there was a standalone TJ’s Wine Store in the city that recently closed.

    TIL. Having a hard time understanding that particular business model.

    [Edit: And now I see it was right there in the quote you included. I’m clearly having an off day and my reading comprehension clearly is suffering because of it.]

  24. Kathy says:

    Some years ago there circulated in the news an experiment about wine tasting. As I recall, the subjects were given a glass of white wine. there followed descriptions of its taste along the lines of white wines in general.

    Next they were given a glass of the exact same wine, but with some food coloring to make it look red. the descriptions of how it tasted were wildly different, employing terms along the lines of red wines in general.

    I’ve heard of other similar experiments. From the Classic Coke diehards in the 80s who couldn’t tell Classic Coke apart from Pepsi or New Coke in blind taste tests, to children who prefer carrot sticks from a fast food happy meal box.

    This doesn’t prove a simplistic “all wines are the same,” or even “all cola drinks are the same.” But it does point to the origin or presentation of drinks and food carrying some subjective elements when it comes to judging how something tastes. Maybe Classic Coke poured from a New Coke bottle would taste repugnant to a diehard Coke fan. Maybe a cheap wine would be judged as “better” if poured from a $100 bottle.

    3
  25. Scott says:

    @Flat Earth Luddite:

    Although arguably the worst drink ever was a toss up between MD 20/20 and Annie Green Springs. They made terrible Slurpies.

    Oh, my youthful memories. Don’t forget Boone’s Farm.

    3
  26. MarkedMan says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    I still think this is a “feed the beast” column

    I took it very differently. Shaw was essentially calling Asimov and everyone else in his profession as just bullsh*t artists. Shaw regularly and sneeringly attacked anyone who felt there was worthwhile value in wine as a hobby or as a profession. Is it any wonder that Asimov resented him?

  27. JohnSF says:

    Wine is an indulgence of mine; but limited by lack of funds. 🙂
    I have an limit on wine I’ll buy of £30 for a special occasion, maybe once or twice a year.
    At other times, upper limit £15, preferably lower.

    And if you pay attention to wine reviews, it can be possible to pick up remarkably good value lines from the supermarkets.
    For example, had a very acceptable Chianti Riserva at just £6 on Saturday, perfect with my ragu bolognese.

    Unfortunately, with the way the pound is going, wine prices are likely to be going up appreciably quite soon.
    Dammit.

    But if you avoid Bordeaux and Burgundy crus, there’s still plenty of very good wine available in the £10 to £15 range.
    And I do have a fairly good palate for wine; actually passed an amateur wine tasting course some years back.

  28. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “I’m not enough of a driver to appreciate them. I might be able to afford a Lambo, but the difference in price would not provide me a superior experience, subjectively.”

    I always felt the same way when some around here — I think you might have been one of them — talked about high-end stereo systems, which I believe involved turntables, and how the subtleties of music on these systems made everything else unlistenable. I never joined in, because my audio “palate” is such that I’m entirely happy with Spotify and my airpods or Sonos Roam speakers. I’m perfectly willing to believe that there is a much better experience for some out there, but I doubt I could ever tell enough difference to compensate for the huge convenience of grabbing almost any piece of music with a couple of keystrokes…

  29. wr says:

    It was my honor back in my Pasadena days to host a dinner where Joe Colombe — the original Trader Joe — and his lovely wife Alice would be attending. And it was stressed to me over and over again that I had to be particular with the wine selection, because Joe loved good wine… but he HATED expensive wine. It just pissed him off to think of anyone paying more than twenty bucks for a bottle of wine. I was steered to a local wine store where I explained that Joe C was going to be a guest for dinner, and they knew exactly what I should buy…

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  30. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: I can argue both sides of this. Before digital signal processing and transistors it was very difficult to design low distortion audio amplifiers. Double blind testing was widely used amongst audiophiles. However, when less expensive equipment reached par with amplifiers costing 10 or 20 times their price, audiophiles suddenly decided that the “artificiality” of blind testing created such a negative environment it made it impossible to concentrate on the music.

    On the other hand, I worked with a guy, French, who had literally been through sommelier training, a four year extensive course that many didn’t make it through. One part of the final exam, if I understand it correctly, involved a blind tasting of a wine and then a listing of which “notes” were present. These notes were precisely defined based on a set of dozens of samples in a case. None of these samples had anything to do with wine and contained some real oddities like petroleum. If you think about it, this means that master sommeliers could all blindly taste the same wine and agree on these core flavors that were present and in roughly what proportions. And I can say that whenever I went to dinner with him, whether in a big departmental crowd or just a few people, he would unassumingly and without calling attention to himself, pick a red and a white for the table just from the menu. There are tens of thousands of different wines available around the world yet no matter what country we were in he would pick two modestly priced wines that punched well above their weight. And, at least the first few times this happened, I had no idea he was picking or that he had any formal training.

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  31. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Scott:
    Well, AGS in the slurpee machine* was a sugar overload, IIRC. Mad Dog was vile. Boones was ok.

    *Late nights at the store when the machine was scheduled for cleaning.

    1
  32. JohnSF says:

    @wr:
    I still love my Thorens turntable too!

    Just need the funds to get my amplifier fixed 🙁
    Keep spending the money on wine! 🙂

    1
  33. JohnSF says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Good rule of thumb: if in restaurant in France, and you haven’t got a particular wine in mid, ask the sommelier what he recommends, and indicate your price range.
    Always worked a treat for me.

    Even if you don’t indicate a price, in my experience they generally suggest two, one lower down and one higher up the price scale.

  34. JohnSF says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    “Feed the beast”

    No, obviously not.

    This is “give the beast a drink”. 🙂

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  35. Mister Bluster says:

    @wr:..turntables

    I don’t understand the attraction to vinyl records. I used to have hundreds of them. All they ever did was scratch and skip and get full of dust. Those little brushes that I would put on the tone arm were pretty useless. I know that CDs are about as ancient as 8 track tapes (remember them. CLUNK! right in the middle of a song when the track changed, but you could play them in the car!). CDs will skip too. Like when I use chopsticks to play the drums on my dashboard when I’m listening to Steve Winwood do Gimme Some Lovin’ as I run to California dreaming of old Route 66.
    Gimme digital any time.

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  36. Michael Reynolds says:

    @wr:
    Not me with the stereos. I freely admit I don’t hear the difference.

    The Gordon Ramsay show, Hells Kitchen, has a regular event where they put the competing chefs though a blind taste test of pretty basic foods, and they almost all fail. It’s the culture version of Dunning-Kruger – people think they are much more discerning than they really are.

    It’s a tactical error to hold oneself up as an expert in wine because it’s too easily disproved. IIRC even Robert Parker (erstwhile god of oenophiles) has failed blind tastings. Always deny expertise which in itself makes you seem honest and humble, lower expectations, then wow the suckers when you start in with the leathery notes and the blackberries and the wet paving stones bullshit.

    ETA: Also, great speakers are not needed for punk. If you have expensive speakers you are, by definition, not punk rock.

  37. Michael Reynolds says:

    @wr:
    Off-topic, but since you’re here, if one had been scheduled for a Zoom pitch for, say, a major management company, and that meeting was turned into a breakfast meeting IRL, what is the Kremlinology on that? Good thing, bad thing?

    1
  38. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    …there are faster, more nimble cars than my Merc, …a Lambo…

    Nah.
    Lamborghinis are showboats.

    1
  39. Gustopher says:

    Single malt Scotch was barely a thing and craft beer and bourbon were a ways off.

    Single cask scotch is a thing. It’s a bit ridiculous, as each cask produces a bit more than a hundred bottles, but it is quite … something.

    Scotch is often aged in casks that were used for something else first, so it picks up some of those flavors, and each cask ends up a bit different. A single malt is a blend of many casks, which cuts the peculiarities down and makes the result a lot more consistent.

    Or you can sell what is basically an unfinished product, in tiny batches of a few hundred bottles, targeting people with more money than common sense.

    2
  40. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Fortunately I have the palate of a buzzard and the cheap swill and foods are just fine by me.

    3
  41. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Not me with the stereos. I freely admit I don’t hear the difference.

    I can often hear the difference, I just don’t care.

    I’m happy with music coming out of the speakers on my iPad more often than not. Sure, it sounds better with headphones, and would sound better still on a real system, and way better out of a good real system, but… sounds fine coming out of a weird tiny speaker.

    ETA: Also, great speakers are not needed for punk. If you have expensive speakers you are, by definition, not punk rock.

    And then there’s this: No audio system is going to overcome my poor taste in music. With crappy enough speakers, everything is punk.

    2
  42. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    This reminds me of “psychics” and others with “supernatural” abilities who suddenly can’t do what they claim when placed under controlled conditions.

    I take it to mean there’s no there there.

    As to audio, it’s like wine. I can tell some diferencie sometimes, but it’s usually like “clearer” and “not clearer.”

    Back in the heyday of vinyl, records stamped in Mexico were not as clear in their sound, played in the same equipment, as records stamped in the US or Europe. The volume was lower, too.

    the other thing is that higher playback speeds meant greater audio resolution, or something like that. I couldn’t tell the difference between the same song played on a single at 45 rpm and an LP at 33.3 rpm. I don’t recall every playing a 78 rpm record.

  43. Andy says:

    In pretty much everything, I look at value. I recognize that seeking status is endemic to our species, but for me, spending orders of magnitude more on something that only offers marginal benefits is just dumb.

    Especially since it’s been shown time and again that expert tasters usually cannot tell the difference between a decent wine and the best wines.

    It’s the same thing for people who buy expensive cars they can barely drive or the $10k purse or the huge house with 16 bathrooms for two people. It’s all about status.

    Sadly, I can’t drink much anymore (Dr.’s orders), but my wife and I do share a bottle of wine once or twice a month. And even at that, we wouldn’t spend more than $15 a bottle unless we’re eating out, in which case the cost of wine isn’t merely the drink.

  44. Mu Yixiao says:

    All of this reminds me of a Chinese meme (from a TV show, apparently) that sums up Chinese women’s views very succinctly:

    “I’d rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle.”

    2
  45. Matt Bernius says:

    @wr:

    I was steered to a local wine store where I explained that Joe C was going to be a guest for dinner, and they knew exactly what I should buy…

    I know that this was a while ago, but I’d love to hear what they recommened.

  46. Modulo Myself says:

    I get what Asimov is saying. This reminds me–in a way–of when Harold Bloom criticized Harry Potter and specifically adults reading crappy books intended for kids, and he was treated like a total snob for his efforts. He was not a snob, he just had taste. You can have bad taste or good taste, but not having taste is different. There’s something about cheap stuff which creates a need for the elimination of taste. I like fast food, but it would be weird to take McDonalds as the arbiter of how things should be prepared, and to call everyone who believes otherwise a snob or a liar. Same goes with wine.

  47. Modulo Myself says:

    @Kathy: @Andy:

    I don’t know that much about wine, but I have sat down and nailed a blind taste with French wines by variety. It’s not that difficult. And there’s absolutely no way an expert taster would mistake the difference between, say, a decent burgundy you can buy at a wine store for 30 bucks and a mature grand cru taken out of a cellar. Wine has a bazillion ways to rip you off, but what a wine that is drinking well is doing is obvious to someone who has tasted those wines.

    And as far as wine pricing goes, I doubt you can get a good Chenin Blanc for under 20 (at least in NYC) but you can get an amazing one for about 35.

    If ee

    2
  48. Modulo Myself says:

    Guess the edit button has gone again…

  49. MarkedMan says:

    @Mister Bluster: Exactly twice in my life I’ve walked into a place and looked around to see where the grand piano was and who was playing it only to discover it was recorded. First time was in the early 80’s in an audiophile store. Second time it was late ‘90’s in an a near empty bar off Thames Street in Baltimore’s Fells Point. Both times they turned out to be KEF speakers, and I’m sure what was driving them was very different.

  50. JohnSF says:

    @Modulo Myself:
    Yep.
    With bit of practice it’s not that difficult to distinguish some of the more distinctive gape/wine varieties: riesling from sauv. blanc from chardonnay from chenin in whites; cab sauv. from syrah from pinot noir in reds.
    And like most things, the more you practice, the better you get.
    (Until you fall over, at any rate 🙂 )

    At this point can I pipe up with a bit of advocacy?
    In terms of quality for the money ratio, the best in the world IMHO are South African, especially reds. And especially cabernet based blends.
    If you ever come across something from eg Rustenberg, Journey’s End, Tamboerskloof or similar give them a try.

    Next best in price/quality is Chile, I think.

  51. dazedandconfused says:

    2018’s most ridiculous wine reviews…

    A taste:
    . …this texturally silken, supremely elegant effort transparently and kaleidoscopically combines moss, wet stone, gentian, buddleia, coriander, pepper, piquant yet rich nut oils and a saline clam broth savor that milks the salivary glands. But besides this impressive array of non-fruity components, white peach and lemon deliver abundant primary juiciness and animating tang, rendering the finish as invigorating and refreshing as it is vibrant, mouthwatering and dynamically complex….

    1
  52. JohnSF says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    Or in the case of wine:
    “I’d rather throw up in a BMW than fall off a bicycle.”
    🙂

    2
  53. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I used to be able to “hear the difference” (but not to any significant degree even then) when I was young but now that I’m completely deaf in one ear and almost that way on the other side, hearing at all is the new benchmark. 😛

    2
  54. Mu Yixiao says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Many years ago, I took my (somewhat younger) girlfriend to the local art museum. One of the “installations” was a series of 12×12-inch frames with some water colors swished across the canvas, and twigs tied on the front of the canvas. She asked (in all seriousness) “What is that supposed to be?”

    I went into a 10-minute long “explanation” of how the collection obviously represented femininity–breaking it down into the use of color, the placement and orientation of the sticks (the inverted triangle of sticks was, of course representative of the Mons Venus, and the twigs themselves represented fertility), and tied the progression of the images into the stages of feminine growth…

    When I finished she looked at me and asked how I knew all that. “I don’t. I was spouting bullshit about some sticks tied to finger paintings”. 😀

    3
  55. Jen says:

    @JohnSF:

    Next best in price/quality is Chile, I think.

    I think that Chile has the last remaining vines that were never affected by phylloxera. Most if not all of their rootstock is original–imported from France and never chewed up by that horrible aphid.

    1
  56. JohnSF says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    You remind me of me, when visiting a museum of modern art in Ghent, because the gallery of renaissance Flemish art next door was closed for renovation.

    Got halfway through trying to come out with somesuch blather with a straight face, over IIRC some tanks of bundled newspapers suspended in stagnant water with empty vodka bottles floating on top.
    Before effort just got too much, and I said: “Oh soddit, wanna go to that pub in the market square and guzzle some Belgian beer?”
    Much better option. 😉

  57. Mike in Arlington says:

    I was in Italy in March of this year, and one of the things that kept flooring me is how many different kinds of really good but inexpensive wine there is in Italy. I went to one winery near Paestum and they had some whites that were fantastic at around 15 euros. I picked up 3 bottles and lugged them back home (sadly only one remains).

    I think part of the problem here is that making wine here is just expensive. It’s my impression that land prices in the prime grape growing areas in the states are exorbitant (at least in California, maybe not so much in other places, but I assume those are increasing too). And that’s before you get to the regulatory web that we have thanks to prohibition. The old joke I remember from when I was first learning about wine is this:
    Q: How do you make a small fortune in the wine industry?
    A: Start with a large fortune.
    *rim shot*

    1
  58. JohnSF says:

    @Mike in Arlington:
    I recall a wine retail centre in Tuscany; not as cheap as cellar direct but a treasure house of loveliness at reasonable prices (compare to UK which piles on costs,duties, taxes)

    But always the best way to buy wine was always to go direct to a producer in France, buy by the case and drive it back.
    Still have a bottle left of Cahors I bought with my late father.
    We also got some damn good Burgundy, Chablis, Bergeracs, Loire wines, Monbazillac, Marcillac etc the same way over the years.
    That Santenay (Burgundy) was so lovely!
    I loved our holidays in France.

    Oh for free movement and the pound at 1.70 euros. 🙁

    2
  59. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kathy:

    I’ve heard of other similar experiments. From the Classic Coke diehards in the 80s who couldn’t tell Classic Coke apart from Pepsi or New Coke in blind taste tests, to children who prefer carrot sticks from a fast food happy meal box.

    Human perception is really weird: there was an experiment I read about a couple years ago where they were giving people who preferred Coke samples to drink of Coke in an actual Coke bottle vs. Coke in a generic container, and the Coke in a Coke bottle was getting much better ratings.

    What made it weird is that the were doing fMRI scans while the samples were being consumed, and the subjects were actually getting a significantly larger pleasure response when consuming the Coke in a Coke bottle, so they weren’t just making it up: the visual aspects of the bottle were actually making it taste better!

    1
  60. Andy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    I don’t know that much about wine, but I have sat down and nailed a blind taste with French wines by variety. It’s not that difficult. And there’s absolutely no way an expert taster would mistake the difference between, say, a decent burgundy you can buy at a wine store for 30 bucks and a mature grand cru taken out of a cellar.

    Sure, people can distinguish different varieties. In the same way, I can tell the difference between an ale and a lager.

    Beyond that, there have been lots of studies that show pretty clearly that blind and expert tasters are not that good at distinguishing quality and the few that are tend to be biological super-tasters. For the average person, it makes no real difference.

    There are a couple of exceptions, though, and one I’m familiar with is Port. Drinks like port that require a lot of aging are much more are much easier for average people to taste the quality that comes from aging.

  61. Richard Gardner says:

    QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) is a term used in the wine world that sums this up nicely. Often it is a minor improvement for a huge increase in price. These days I rarely buy wine at my local grocery store and I don’t understand folks that only buy a bottle to drink that night, why not have it on hand? Then again I have lots of wine in my basement and usually buy by the case (not necessarily all the same), usually at a decent discount. I also visit wineries but rarely buy much; I’m only on two winery mailing lists (3.5 cases total for this Fall).

    Years ago Two Buck Chuck was OK, today it is plonk. I’d rather pay a few dollars more for something decent like Bogle Essential Red – mentioned above, or a decent box wine. At TJs I’d buy something out of South America or South Africa. I’m rather sensitive to TCA (“corked”) and remember a “wine share” I went to with a slightly corked Magnum of a CDP, no thanks.

    The NYC Metro area drinks a huge portion of the higher end and imported wines in the USA, plus much of the premium (= over $10) domestic wines. Sometimes wineries will put on a different label just for this market (and restaurant only labels) so the consumer can’t find out how much they are being up-charged.

    I use the Vivino App to check crowd sourced ratings for wines (highly recommended). I’ve been following the economics of the wine trade too. In the pandemic there was a glut of “restaurant wine” and I knew of a couple of retailers that took advantage of the wineries and distributors needing to clear it out of storage to make room for the next year’s vintage = usually over half off retail price. I loaded up.

    If you’re interested in the international wine trade I recommend this blog https://wineeconomist.com/ – he also has several books and has covered the Charles Shaw market. I review it about every 6 months.

    3
  62. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: It’s hard to imagine it as bad, unless you pissed someone off so bad they want to say no to your face. (You laugh, but I got on the wrong side of this once — I was pitching a pilot with Fred Dreyer and we got meetings right away with the heads of five networks. Turned out they all hated him so much they wanted to reject him in person…)

    Most likely they’ve decided to make you a priority. But it could also be that they’ve scheduled another breakfast for just before or just after and figured it would be easier to have your meeting there instead of rushing back to Zoom. Or they were really hankering for a Hugo’s breakfast…

    So I can’t see any real downside. But please feel free to correct me if I’m hideously wrong!

    1
  63. Michael Reynolds says:

    @wr:
    Thanks, man. I don’t think I’ve done anything to make them mad, but hey, give me time.

  64. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Richard Gardner:

    why not have it on hand?

    In my case, aside from not drinking enough wine in a year to warrant buying more than one bottle, it’s because I have no storage. At all.

  65. wr says:

    @Matt Bernius: “I know that this was a while ago, but I’d love to hear what they recommened.”

    Man, I wish I could remember! It was good, and it was from a foreign country, and that’s all I got!

    2
  66. wr says:

    @Modulo Myself: “And as far as wine pricing goes, I doubt you can get a good Chenin Blanc for under 20 (at least in NYC) but you can get an amazing one for about 35.”

    You can barely get a bottle of two-buck chuck for under 20 in NYC, thanks to liquor laws completely controlled by a corrupt distribution lobby.

    1
  67. Kathy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    In a blind wine taste test, I’d give myself slightly better than even odds of distinguishing a red wine from a white one.

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I’m not sure if tastes better equates with a more pleasurable experience.

  68. Mister Bluster says:

    Trigger Warning!

    What’s the word? Thunderbird
    How’s it sold?
    good and cold
    what’s the jive?
    Bird’s alive
    What’s the price?
    thirty twice!

    1
  69. Ken_L says:

    @dazedandconfused: I used to think that kind of wankery was peculiar to wine writers. Then I began to wade into whisky blogs.

    Nose: the smoky notes are indeed quite deep and sooty, with glowing charcoal and hints of roasted hazelnuts. However a fragrant touch (in between fresh herbs and pine refreshener) seems to wipe out some of the smokiness. Then lemon peel and vanilla. There’s a hint of banana chocolate and sweet peach too. Quite nice, although it comes out thinner than I was hoping.

    Mouth: the burnt wood theme continues, also adding a slightly acrid touch of scorched sage with a drops of herbal bitters. Iodine and sea shells. The bitter edge is quickly balanced by caramel sweetness, cinnamon, aniseed and some nutty notes. While there was a fruity element on the nose, it doesn’t appear in the mouth. Vanilla and wood spice towards the end.

    Finish: long, with cigarette ashes, tarry notes, black peppercorns and rubber.

    1
  70. Modulo Myself says:

    @Andy:

    Well, the average drinker is not getting a chance to compare 2 buck chuck to a bottle of Hermitage which has sat in a cellar for 15 years. But trust me, the difference is not something you need super-tasting for.

    Where the bullshit enters is when people try to rate a vintage of Hermitage. I doubt I could tell (and know I could not afford to tell) the difference between what the experts say is a ‘good’ or ‘great’ vintage of Hermitage.

    1