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Wine = Art

July 19, 2012 7 comments

The title of this post is not misleading. I plan to talk about wine as an art form, which is the way I look at it. Why all of a sudden? Couple of articles, both great in its own right (I mentioned both in the Meritage post a week ago), prompted this blog post, despite my claim that I’m not going to enter this debate. I don’t know why is that, but I have a habit of saying “No” where deep inside, as soon as I finish my full and long “no” sentence I already know that, “oh it will be a yes”. Anyway, this blog post is not about me, it is about wine, so let’s get closer to the subject.

In case you didn’t have a chance to read those two articles, they were both on the beaten up (badly beaten up, I have to say) subject of cheap wines versus expensive wines. The first article, published in the Forbes magazine, provided a number of illustrations to the fact that…there are many factors affecting perceived taste of wine – temperature, label, feel of the moment, critics’ opinion, rating and many more (I’m not going to cite a full article here – it is well worth reading if you are into the wine world). I believe that one of the points of the article was to suggest that for the most of us, we can’t distinguish between cheap and expensive wines anyway, so why bother – drink any wine, be happy (I’m oversimplifying, I know).

Then Steve Heimoff took the subject close to his heart and went on to explain that there is a very big difference in taste between $15 and $150 bottles of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, that more expensive wine is always better than the cheap wine and that the the whole premise of Forbes article in Steve’s words is “man bites dog” attempt at a cheap publicity.

Let me take step aside and explain the meaning of the concept “wine = art”. When you are at home, take a look around you. I would make a safe assumption that for absolute majority of people, your home is decorated in one way or the other. You might have pictures and photos on the walls, statues big and small, flowers live and not, little (or big) mementos and many other things which surround our lives with only one purpose – to give us pleasure, set the mood or may be create lasting connections between time and memories. Taking pictures as the simplest example, they can be your kids’ pictures, copies of the works of the famous artists, works of the completely unknown artists or may be they are actual original paintings. Those pictures can be mass produced and acquired at the neighborhood convenience store for $4.99. But they also can be acquired after a long battle at the auction, where you had to put down $4.9 million to beat another guy and get that painting you always dreamed of.

Now, when was the last time you read an article telling you that you are not supposed to buy any works of art more expensive than $19.99, because you are not capable of understanding the difference between $19.99 and $199 pictures? Or when was the last time you read an article telling you that expensive painting is always better than cheap print? I can bet I’m giving you a very taxiing memory-combing exercise which will yield no results.

So my question is – why wine is treated in any different way than any other works of art? Read (or talk) about the wines, read about vineyards and places, read about wine makers, grape growers, oenophiles, wine collectors – what do you get out of that reading or talking? Passion, obsession, emotions, feelings. We eat because we have to, but we drink wine because we want to, because of its ability to resonate with our beings, to create emotional response. This is my premise of “wine = art” statement. I believe that wine is a form of the renewable art, which also has a pretty unique advantage compare to a simple painting, for instance. Whatever you see on the painting will be exactly the same in 10 years or in 50 years. It will create different emotions on a different day, of course – but it will not change in principal. At the same time, even the simplest wine will change in the bottle. For better or worse, but it will change. Last weekend we shared a bottle of 1997 Toasted Head Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend (probably $9.99 or less) – believe it or not, but this wine was outstanding – it evolved, it had beautiful fruit, great balance and nice finish. It was memorable, it solicited emotions, it created mental staples for that particular moment. If this is not art, I don’t know what is.

Where am I going with this? I don’t believe cheap versus expensive is a meaningful or useful argument for the wine world. Yes, there are many reasons for the wine to be expensive – best quality grapes with very low yield, state of the art facilities, manual processes, need for aging before release, market demand, reputation and many many other factors define the price and can drive it very high up. But if you will exclude snobbery, arrogance and blissful ignorance, price is simply one of many factors which affect your buying decision – nothing more and nothing less. Yes, $150 bottle will taste different than $15 – but can we say “better”? If someone is a Pinot Grigio drinker (and enjoys it very much), will you be able to prove to him or her that $150 Cabernet Sauvignon is really better that $15? I want to see that happening. When it comes to wine, “better” is a difficult category, as the definition of the best wine is 100% personal – the best wine is the one which tastes best to you. Yes, critics matter, ratings matter – but only as a reference, as food for thought.

Wow, did I bore you to death? I truly hope I didn’t – I think this post was brewing for a very long time, slowly ripening to the point of wanting to get out. These are my true feelings, this is how I see the wine world, and “wine = art” makes it so fascinating for me.

Is this arguable? Of course (comments section is down below and only a click away). I don’t pretend to possess the absolute truth – but “wine = art” makes me open a bottle of wine with hope and excitement. No matter what anyone said about that bottle, how much it costs or what the rating is – I hope you will enjoy it and I hope it will create a special memory, a special moment – just for you. Cheers!

Should You Really Drink Really Cheap Wines?

November 9, 2011 9 comments

My friend Emil forwarded me a copy of an article in the Slate magazine from November 2nd called “Drink Cheap Wine“, where the author explains his rationale behind the suggestion that everybody should drink really cheap wine. As someone who doesn’t have an unlimited budget and constantly looking for the QPR in wine, the subject stroke a cord, so I thought – how about we will discuss this with my readers?

Should we all start drinking only cheap [the cheapest?] wines? May be, but let’s take a look first at the reasons we drink wine.

Why do we drink wine? If the answer is “to get drunk”, we can stop right here, as there is no need to continue the discussion – at any price wine is too expensive for this purpose (switch to industrial alcohol, I think it should be a cheaper option).

Next reason can be – because it is a habit, a custom. I would dare to say that this is probably the main reason for Europeans to consume wine – this is part of the culture, this is how people there had being born and raised – wine is something which should accompany the food. Period. I’m not saying that people in Europe are not enjoying wine by itself – all I’m saying that they look at it differently. By the way, quite on contrary to what is stated in the article, I would sincerely doubt cheap wine in Europe is worse than in US – cheap wine and wine produced by cooperatives had being around for hundreds and hundreds of years, and it was produced to be consumed with food, so I expect it to have much higher acidity than any cheap US wine, which will be mostly sweet – and I will take acidity in wine over sweetness at any time.

Reason number three to drink wine is to get pleasure – as good bottle of wine is really an art! This is my main reason to drink wine – I like phenomenal range of variations of taste you can reflect upon – this is what makes wine so magical for me. Now, as soon as we look at the wine from this angle, while the cost is still very important, it is a whole different perspective – if cheap wine doesn’t give me pleasure, should I really drink it? Of course not, as still it will be a waste of money – it is better to drink water in such a case (yes, yes, all opinions expressed here are my own).

I perfectly understand what he author is saying about blind tasting and inability of the average consumer to distinguish between the cheap and non-cheap wines. However, if you will taste 10 wines (in the same blind tasting, of course), I would definitely expect that some of them you will like more, and some of them you will like less. Actually, if you like them all the same, or if you don’t like any of them at all, may be you should stick with the cheap wine. Otherwise, if you will find out that your favorite wine in the tasting costs $15, and the one you didn’t like was $3, what are you supposed to do? That is correct – you have to make a decision which will be suitable for you. If we agree that finding pleasure is one of the main ideas behind drinking wine, you simply have to make a decision based on your budget and your preferences – but you shouldn’t drink cheap wine!

So, what do you think? Should we all switch to the cheap wines and force ourselves to be happy with them? Or should we look for wines with the good QPRs which give us pleasure?

Comment now – it is your turn to speak. Cheers!

Categories: Experiences, wine Tags: ,
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