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DeVos: Rotten grape juice

Jon deVos
The Friday Report
Jon DeVos
Staff Photo |

“Why can’t a person find a powerful, mouthfeel Zin with a sunny nose and a constructed mid-fruit palate, topped by an earthy, red-brick finish for less than 30 bucks a glass?”

This common question is asked at fine drinking establishments everywhere by folks who are growing from mere chuckleheads who drink too much, into self-styled wine snobs. From there it’s an easy path to a full-blown oenophile, a fancy word for a person who’s just a few steps from the gutter.

A recent study conducted by the Journal of Wine Economics analyzed over 6,000 blind tastings. The results were clear: If people didn’t know what they were drinking, they preferred cheap wines over the higher-priced vintages. But if the prices were casually displayed, the wines were reassessed in the order of their cost. Even wine experts picked the more expensive wine only half the time, matching the flip of a coin.

Pinot aficionados tie that deep plum color with that rich, smoky, oaky, buttery flavor. And that explains why they consistently rate higher the Pinot that has been colored with purple food dye over naturally colored Pinot. Just don’t look for dye among the ingredients on the label.

Two experiments at the University of Bordeaux were conducted among 54 wine authorities asked to use expert terms in describing two glasses of wine, one red and one white. Both glasses contained the same white wine with red food coloring added to make the red. Not one of the 54 experts detected the cheat, describing the red wine in terms of tannins and berries as if it were truly a red wine.

In the second experiment, the same experts were asked to compare and contrast (college, you know) two red wines, one terribly expensive and the other terribly cheap. In reality, the identical cheap red wine was in both bottles. The experts described the perceived expensive wine in terms of complex and rounded while describing the cheap wine as weak and flat.

Beer and wine have been around for 10,000 years but early years consisted of fermenting yak milk that was gagged down before grabbing a club and stumbling off to pick a fight with the neighbor. It took that many millennia for science to produce wine snobs.

Don’t be put off by the fact that dirt and ground shark bladders are used to clarify most wines. Product labels are supposed to tell you what’s in them. But wineries are not required to list many ingredients routinely found in their products, such as clay and ground crab shells, both heavily used in wine processing. Sweeteners, oak powders, sulfites, dyes, flavorings, and preservatives are routinely added but not required to be noted on the label.

Now, about that label: One of the world’s most prestigious wine dealers, Rudy Kurniawan, got thrown in the slammer for 10 years and fined nearly 50 million bucks for selling cheap wine with forged labels. Nobody ever called him on the wine, it wasn’t until someone noticed a misspelled French word on his faux labels during an auction of nearly a hundred bottles of supposedly rare wine at an average price of nearly $10,000 per bottle. Bottles just like the thousands he’d auctioned away before them.

Hopefully they only clarify wine with bladders from range-free sharks that had a happy life and a peaceful demise.


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