Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Magnificently Bad Values

A couple days ago, I came across a rather critical article from the Wall Street Journal's wine columnists concerning several First Growth Bordeauxs from the 2006 vintage. The authors outright panned the wines, at least in the context of costing close to $600 a bottle. To put this in context, these folks consider a $50 bottle of wine one they "might actually drink and enjoy for no particular reason" instead of "a wine that falls into the dreaded save for a special occasion" category. If critics who would drink a $50 bottle of wine without reservation on a Wednesday night are playing the poor value card, that's saying something.

One excerpt is particularly trenchant:
Keep this in mind: When you buy a young first growth, you are truly on your own. If you drink it now and don’t like it, the wine’s supporters, not to mention the people who sold it to you, will say that you simply drank the wine too young and you don’t understand young wines (your fault); if you drink it in five years and don’t like it, they’ll tell you it’s going through a dumb period (your fault for drinking it in its awkward adolescence); if you drink it in 10 years and don’t like it, they’ll tell you that you must have stored it badly (yep, it’s your fault). So let’s be clear: These wines aren’t great. They aren’t worth the money. It’s not that they are young and it’s not that they will be in a dumb period when you open them years from now and it’s not that you will have stored them badly. They’re just not worth buying.
I have my own thoughts on rich winos rationalizing otherwise ordinary wine based on its reputation or price. But when it comes "straight from the horse's mouth" as they say, there's a real impact in the statement.

Of course, as if to prove the authors' point, a wine snob with a decidedly anti-American bent follows up in the comments with the following statement (among other choice words):
To slate these magnificent wines when your credentials are having worked as a journalist on race issues, seems to me to be arrogant in the extreme. Bordeaux first growths, together with many quality French wines, are the product of painstaking trial and error, research and investment spanning several centuries. It is a tradition for which new world countries, including the US, have since paid handsomely to import. In the last 10 years there hasn’t been even a mediocre vintage, they have all been magnificent. Their prices follow demand, so demand is high and the rest of the world can't be wrong.
There you have it. If a $600 wine isn't worth its price, you're the problem, probably because you aren't French. In fact, stratospheric prices simply reflect a correction to the historically low prices of the previous century. Also, the weather is always good in Bordeaux and every vintage is better than the previous. In a word, magnificent!

Rich winos say the darndest things. Which reminds me, I've been meaning to link to an amusing discussion in the online altar of Parker worship, Mark Squires' Bulletin Board. The topic: What is the most difficult wine to lay your hands on (at release) but not overpriced? Well, it doesn't take long before one uber-snob unleashes an all-star list of wines that cost $100s if not $1000s per bottle. Tongue in cheek? Perhaps. But I suspect this fellow would get along with the above Bordeaux fan who is convinced you can't lose paying a thousand dollars per liter for fermented grapes.

Indeed, rich wine snobs do say the darndest things. I think I should make this a regular feature, one that will always be magnificent.

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