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On Tasting
What Should You Pay for Great Wine?
Sunday, 15th May, 2011  - David Farmer

We return to a favourite Glug topic; are very expensive wines as great as the prices would suggest? Three articles I've noted over the last few weeks are worth commenting on as they hint at an answer.

The first widely reported story was about a pinot noir tasting by Red White+Bluezz, which I assume is a restaurant, in Pasadena, US, in mid March, 2011. Twenty wines from the US (California and Oregon), Australia, France, Germany and New Zealand were tasted by 13 judges. The average price was US $184 and rises to US $450 when a Domaine de la Romanee Conti La Tache 1990 is included. What appealed to the New Zealand press was the first place going to a Martinborough Vineyard Reserve Pinot 1998 made by Larry McKenna. The $5,500 La Tache had its head bowed in fourth place.

Tastings like this are going on every day of the week and results like this are the norm. Also normal is for the best wines to be seen be several judges as the best or second best while the same wine is pointed by one or two others as the worst or second worst. At this tasting this spread went right down to the 14th wine. After that it settled down and the spreads narrowed somewhat.

Then I chanced to look at the Jancis Robinson web page and came across an article first published in the Financial Times, 15th January, 2011; "The other evening over dinner our host poured six Pinot Noirs of which one came from each of Burgundy's two smartest domaines, Romanée-Conti and Comte Georges de Vogüé, one was the 1995 Isabelle from Au Bon Climat, producer of some of California's most burgundian Pinots, and the rest from three of New Zealand's most revered Pinot Noir producers, Ata Rangi, Dry River and Felton Road. All the wines had had the benefit of considerable time in bottle; vintages varied from 2000 (Dry River and Felton Road's Block 5) back to 1991 in the case of Ata Rangi, which acquitted itself very creditably next to the more youthful and energetic DRC 1992 Romanée-St-Vivant."

"If my experience is anything to go by, the gap between the best of France and the best of the rest continues to narrow. And yet demand for Bordeaux's first growths and Burgundy's grands crus has never been stronger".

Then from the Daily Telegraph, 13th April, 2011 by Richard Alleyne: "Wine drinkers wasting money on expensive wines".

The result, "A total of 578 members of the public took part in the "blind" taste challenge during the Edinburgh Science Festival.

They were offered a range of red and white wines costing less than £5 and other vintages priced between £10 and £30. Participants were asked to say which were cheap and which were expensive. Purely by the laws of chance, they should have been able to make a correct guess 50 per cent of the time.

This was exactly the level of accuracy seen, demonstrating that the volunteers could not distinguish between wines by taste alone".

Alas I do not offer the 'three proven laws to spending heaps on wine' but simply caution you to be careful when spending lots of money and please do not kid yourself. Do not think for a minute that these stories do not apply to you, as they do.

It is said in identifying the origin of a wine that a glimpse of the label is worth a thousand years of experience. This can be rephrased to 'a glimpse of the price fools us all of the time'.

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