The New Yorker ran a piece called DOES ALL WINE TASTE THE SAME?. The obvious answer is, “No”. The actual answer is also “No”. So, how did Jonah Lehrer (“on science, imagination, and the mind”) manage to get more than 1,150 words out the question?
Jonah asks, “if most people can’t tell the difference between Château Mouton Rothschild (retail: seven hundred and twenty-five dollars) and Heritage BDX (thirty-five dollars from the winery), then why do we splurge on premiers crus? Why not drink (New)Jersey grapes instead? It seems like a clear waste of money.”
Firstly, most of us don’t. Most of us happily drink £6.99 bottles from Australian, Chilean and Californian plonk. With the introduction of the screw-top (outside of France for the most part) most of us haven’t even tasted a corked wine in years. We can, however, tell if we like a wine or not.
But Jonah is writing for the New Yorker so we’ll give him his $750 vs $35 choices.
Secondly, Jonah writes about “Judgment of Princeton” and the earlier “Judgement of Paris” whereby some Californian wines (cheap, nouveaux, feisty) beat some French wines (expensive, old, classy) in a blind tasting.
This proves that wines taste differently to each other but that experts in qualifying subjective aspects of real life (in this case ‘taste’) often disagree.
Jonah also dives into the ‘fact’ that if you put a posh label on a bottle people will think that the thing in the labelled bottle will ‘taste posh.’ Makes sense. Also it’s a massive retread of things we’ve known for ages. What he doesn’t deal with is why.
Well, it’s a consensus issue. We are told by the kind of people who work at The New Yorker what makes good taste and, if we read The New Yorker, well, we agree. The same goes for Eames chairs, Bauhaus architecture, Picasso. It goes for writing, painting, music.
Wine is priced as it is for three reasons: Rarity. Consensus. What the market will bear. Of course a Merlot made in 2001 will taste differently compared with a Grenache made in 2012. Don’t be daft. But the consensus of ‘experts’ and that includes wine outlets (shops) will decide the price.
Like all markets in “taste”, taste has nothing to do with it. Sales techniques, snobbery and extant capital do. When it comes to markets in subjectivity, wine is the same as pigs’ feet, Damien Hirst and top-end cars. You make your choice based on the minority of consensus makers and the majority of those people who follow those consensus makers. After that you probably don’t even drink the wine.