Archive for January, 2010

Economist’s advice: Tell her it’s expensive and she will like it more

Tim Harford writes a column in the weekend FT called “Dear Economist: Resolving readers’ dilemmas with the tools of Adam Smith.” This week he takes up the topic of wine thanks to a letter from a student who wants to impress his girlfriend in a restaurant despite being on a budget. Here’s Harford’s advice:

You assume that the price of the wine and its quality can be neatly separated out. This seems reasonable, but is wrong. Price changes the very experience of quality. Neuro-economists have found, for instance, that while placebo painkillers work, they work best if the subject thinks they are expensive. Energy drinks give you less energy if you buy them at a discount. (Yes, really.) And of course, wine tastes better if you believe that it is expensive.

One possibility is to conceal the price of wine from your girlfriend and tell her you’re buying the expensive stuff when in fact you are buying the house red. This is a white lie: many people prefer the taste of cheap wine in blind tastings, and by claiming it is expensive you will quite genuinely improve the way she thinks it tastes.

Perhaps. But buying expensive wine might make the student look profligate. Or like a chump since price is actually an unreliable indicator of a wine’s quality especially as there are so many values in the market today. And, if caught, passing off Prosecco at vintage Champagne prices might deflate more than the bubbles on the table.

In fact, there are other ways for this student to impress rather than price: I say choose a restaurant with a good wine list, order a Zweigelt, an easy-drinking red from Austria that suffers a discount because nobody thinks they can pronounce it, or a lip-smacking, natural cru Beaujolais. After she has tried it and loves it, tell her the wine is a steal. Or go to a nice BYOB and scope out something at a good shop beforehand. You don’t have to be an economist to think that finding a terrific wine value is pretty damn sexy.

What’s your advice?

Brangelina, Texas, tariffs, Davos – sipped and spit

SPIT: wine reporting!
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had a “stormy dinner date” with friends (including Alec Baldwin) at Alto restaurant in midtown Manhattan. This story says they had five bottles of wine with dinner, the friends left and then Brangelina exchanged barbs, with him telling her to get therapy and her telling him that she thinks he’s “toxic!” Eeegad. But, really, the most important detail for wine enthusiasts was neglected: which wines did they have with dinner?!?

SIPPED: conflicting opinions
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision that had found the wine distribution system in Texas unconstitutional. The lower court ruled that it discriminated against out-of-state distributors and retailers according to the Dallas Morning News. With the recent ruling in favor of free trade in Massachusetts, wine enthusiasts will be watching to see if the Specialty Wine Retailers Association appeals to the Supreme Court.

SPIT: wine tastings
Gideon Rachman bemoans a “new Puritanism” at Davos that has banned the epic wine tastings of previous years. Never fear: he was able to find one organized by Jancis Robinson off campus (at a Zurich airport hotel) with Krug, and Chateaus Cheval Blanc and Yquem.

SPIT: tariffs and taxes
Canadian wine lovers visiting America, someone’s got your back: Charles Schumer! The NY senator is trying to have the 100 percent levy on wines brought into Canada to reduced to stimulate sales from NY wineries. On a related note, wineries that export receive almost full reimbursement of federal excise taxes and he also wants to keep that now-imperiled subsidy in place. [BusinessWeek]

SPIT: drinking national?
Imported wine sales rose in Australia — as well as in the US, where California wine sales fell for the first time in 16 years.

SIPPED: kind words
Vinography posts a favorable review of my book, A Year of Wine.

Fair use is made of a reduced size crop image from

Mayacamas Vineyards – tasting notes and more, from John Gilman

John Gilman, author of the newsletter A View from the Cellar, weighs in today with his thoughts on Mayacamas Vineyards. There is some duplication with Evan Dawson’s travel post from yesterday but there is also much new, including John’s tasting notes from Mayacamas Cabernet 2003, 1991, 1985, 1974, & 1968. Let’s turn the floor over to John for his views from the cellar…

Mayacamas Vineyards is one of the greatest cabernet sauvignon producers in the history of California. Read more…

Visiting Mayacamas Vineyards, Napa Valley [guest post]

Evan Dawson, who writes about Finger Lakes wines for the New York Cork Report (and who we last saw here), recently tweeted that he was in Napa. I asked him if he wanted to contribute a post from his travels and he suggested his stop at Mayacamas Vineyards. Today we have his thoughts. Tomorrow, John Gilman offers his tasting notes on several decades’ of Mayacamas wines.

By Evan Dawson

Whither Napa Cabernet? The economy dealt a blow to the iconic American wine as consumers started reaching for less expensive bottles. Now, a growing number of critics and consumers, including those in California, are openly wondering if the Napa Cabernet train has come off the rails: commentator Dan Berger, for one, last week dismissed California Cabernet as “little more than a parody of itself.”

High up the side of Mount Veeder one sunny but cool, midwinter morning a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t help wondering if the way back might offer ideas for Napa’s way forward. After all, the Cabernets of the 1970s helped put Napa on the world wine map, so it seemed reasonable to wonder if in wine, as in fashion, the past could provide inspiration.

To find one answer to this question, I had ventured to the Maycamas Vineyards. Celebrated in the 1970s as a leading producer of Cabernet, I was curious if the once-hot style would seem as out of place as bell bottoms or as appealing as Mad Men. After all, not much had changed there. Read more…

Wine in New York food stores – an encore!

Have you ever been in a New York wine store and thought there was something missing? Maybe gourmet cheese? Gift bags? Cigars? No, no–an ATM!

Well, if you’ve ever thought that then you will like Governor Paterson’s latest proposal to allow wine sales in food stores. He tried it last year but the measure was poorly thought out since it just focused on the grocery stores selling wine and not what would happen to current wine and spirits stores. Ultimately, it met resistance, and was dropped.

But it has been re-animated this budgetary year and this time the governor is trying to mollify the opposition by allowing wine stores to also sell Read more…

Meat pies: impossible food-wine pairing?!?

The Australian Open is underway. Tomorrow is Australia Day. So today, instead of focusing on the current troubles of the Aussie wine biz, let’s pay homage to Australian, erm, cuisine by thinking about pairing up the iconic dish, the meat pie.

The hand sized-pie is made of a variety of meats (perhaps at once), and topped with ketchup, known locally as tomato sauce. Served hot, they can be purchased in grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, sporting events and pretty much anywhere in the country.

So even though Eric Asimov reaches for the closest dump bucket every time he hears us ask it, is pairing wine and meat pies… impossible?!

Friend-of-the-blog Eric Arnold did his own meat pie and wine experiments while spending a year in New Zealand, a country with its own pie predilection. As he details in a chapter in his book, First Big Crush, Eric lined up an array of “greasy, heart-attack inducing” pies including steak and kidney, steak and cheese, and “Mexican.” He poured New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot and a rosé and invited the makers of those exact wines along for a tasting. Lo and behold, not only did they take it surprisingly seriously, but they had fun with it! To see the results of their pairings, check out chapter 18 of his book.

Riesling buzz, grower Champagne, 2009, nude breakfast – Terry Theise

Is Riesling a hard sell? Has the bubble burst on his Champagnes made by those who grow the grapes? Just how good is 2009? On Tuesday, I pulled wine importer Terry Theise aside at the trade tasting of his New York distributor, Michael Skurnik Wines. We discussed these topics–and more. To the tape!

2009—great vintage or the greatest vintage? Read more…

Talking PET, Paks, & pouches with Dave Pearce of Grove Mill

Dave Pearce crunches carbon numbers for breakfast. The kiwi winemaker at Grove Mill winery has studied the carbon footprint of wine, reduced what emissions he can at his winery, and purchased offsets for the rest.

We sat down over a macchiato in NYC one morning and discussed his views on alternative packaging. Although he recognizes the weight of glass and its role in the overall carbon footprint, his own wines still come in glass bottles. His thoughts, in brief: Read more…


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