Some Thoughts from the Wine World

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haparnold

Preferred Member
Aug 9, 2018
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Lexington, KY
We often talk on here about whether expensive/hard to obtain pipes and tobaccos are objectively better than cheaper options. I know there are people firmly entrenched in both camps on here, and I tend to find myself somewhere in no-man's land on the issue.
However, I'm reading a book entitled Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker, which concerns the world of wine. Her words here immediately put me in mind of the pipe world:
Researchers at Stanford University and CalTech put subjects in an fMRI machine and had them taste five bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon priced from $5 to $90 each. The tasters predictably panned the cheap $5 and $10 wines, while applauding the pricier $35, $45, and $90 bottles, which made their brains' pleasure centers go nuts with glee. But there was a twist: The bottle that cost $5 had been served a second time, disguised as a $45 wine, and the $10 wine had actually been poured from the $90 bottle. The supermarket swill was deplorable when it cost $5, and divine when accompanied by a $45 price tag.
The scientists concluded that our brains derive pleasure not only from what we experience-- those aromatic molecules tickling our noses and tongues. Rather we're delighted by what we expect we'll perceive. In other words, all that careful attention to flavors, aging, and vintages could, for some tasters, be overshadowed just by saying a $50 Chardonnay is really a two-buck chuck. Knowing my Latour cost $275 might have enhanced its flavor as much as the oak barrels it was aged in.
I am skeptical about scientific studies until I have a chance to read the methodology, but I find this very interesting. People in the "cheap can be good too" camp sometimes suggest that those with tastes for Balkan Sobranie in an Eltang are just pretending to get more from the experience than a cob full of Carter Hall. But it may well be that their brains are really experiencing more pleasure just by knowing the rarity and expense of their smoking materials.
I'd love to hear what the rest of y'all think about this.

 

irishearl

Preferred Member
Aug 2, 2016
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Think this applies to a lot of products, but, particularly gustatory ones. I can't afford $45 or $90 bottle of red wine but, fortunately, find that my "swill" tastes mighty fine enough.

 

haparnold

Preferred Member
Aug 9, 2018
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Lexington, KY
I agree, Irishearl. I think this really goes both ways: one ought not to assume that the cheap stuff isn't great just because it's cheap, but we also shouldn't assume people who prefer pricier options are just being snobby.

 

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coyja

Senior Member
Feb 10, 2018
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I tend to stick in the $10-15 range most of the time... mostly because I've been burnt on pricy bottles that sucked and because there is a large amount of options in that low/mid price point. Sometimes is horrid, other times is awesome, but I'm never out much. The result is I've got a good couple dozen options in that range that are good to go, for me at least.
Now I want a glass of wine...

 

carolinachurchwarden

Preferred Member
May 9, 2018
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Raleigh, NC
Sounds logical to me. I, for one, am what my mom always used to, and still does on occasion, call me cheap. I don't look at it as cheap, but more frugal. I search for those $90 tasting bottles of wine for a $10 price. I know for a fact that I was never happier than I could ever remember being one night sitting at a picnic table by a sushi joint on Hatteras Island enjoying the freshest sushi while guzzling down ice cold $0.50 PBR cans. Can't explain it. Probably don't even want to in order to keep from ruining a great time with logic or theory.
That said, there are some people in the world who derive great pleasure from being able to afford the most luxurious wines, whiskies, foods, etc. Whether they truly taste as good as they think they do, I have no idea. Could be similar to the placebo effect.
I for one would gurantee that in a blind study, where no cost is identified, most would consider a lot of the cheaper swill to taste as good or better than the pricier stuff. It could all just be relative, like so many other things in life. Because you "think" that $200 bottle of wine tastes better than the $10 bottle, you will never find anything on the cheap side up to your standards.
I grew up drinking homemade wines and couldn't tell you the difference between a Cabernet or a Merlot simply on taste alone, unless I can tell that the Merlot is drier than the Cab, but if not, I'm not going to really care, so long as it tastes good to me. I've seen my Step-Dad turn his nose up at a wine I thought was great while he goes to pull the cork on an $85 bottle that he liked.

 

mso489

Preferred Member
Feb 21, 2013
29,614
9,400
My wife is a professional food person, so has quite a bit of wine knowledge to go with it. I've had some truly fine wines, price-wise, and truly appreciate her ability to pair up wines with food, even with specific courses. However, when I buy table wine, mostly for myself now since she has meds that don't go with alcohol, I am usually pleased with distinctly inexpensive wines. I will shop by grape and take recommendations if I am in a wine store, but don't spend much. I'm often quite content with what I think is a lesser wine, and also think that I appreciate the good when when I can. On the other hand, I believe in the power of the mind to change our sense of reality. There's an old experiment where they get inexperienced drinking college boys roaring drunk on non-alcholic beverages, being told the are drinking potent booze. This ploy, old as it is, is usually effective in getting these people sauced. I don't know, but I kind of suspect the hangovers aren't too bad.

 

workman

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Jan 5, 2018
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I believe in that effect. I'm sure I like a lot of Bob Dylan songs, that I wouldn't have liked if they weren't Dylan songs. I was a little awed at meeting the prime minister of Norway a couple of weeks after the massacre at Utøja, that he handled exceptionally well, even though I am aware that he is just a man lika all other men. I own expensive french cast iron frying pans that seem to fry stuff better than other pans. Etc etc.

I'm sure about the mind's power to alter our perception of facts under the influence of different fancys. I don't think it is a bad thing. It's just the way it is. As long as nobody gets hurt, whatever pleases you is a good thing.

 

haparnold

Preferred Member
Aug 9, 2018
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Lexington, KY
Well said, Workman. Why does it matter to me one way or the other if I like cobs and my fellow smoker only smokes high grades?

 

ashdigger

Preferred Member
Jul 30, 2016
5,296
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As long as nobody gets hurt, whatever pleases you is a good thing.
So your safe word is "Merlot"?
In all seriousness, the whiskey world is just like the wine world. I have great expensive whiskey, bourbon, etc. and I have great inexpensive drams.
I truly believe quite a bit is about the mental experience.

 

coyja

Senior Member
Feb 10, 2018
309
30
Bottle Shock is a reasonably fun movie dramatization about the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 in which Californian wines swept French wines in a blind taste test.

 

warren

Preferred Member
Sep 13, 2013
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I don't do tests. I buy and drink the wines I like. Now, keep in mind, my wine of choice in high school was from that well known vintner ... Boone's Farm.

 

sablebrush52

Preferred Member
Jun 15, 2013
10,825
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I remember that blind Paris wine tasting. California wines won in all classes. But you have to remember that Clos du Val, which kicked ass at the tasting and which was founded just a couple of years before the famous "Judgement Of Paris", was founded by two of France's top winemakers who knew exactly what soil and climate made for an outstanding wine. That was the end of "California swill" type comments from French wine snobs, at least the ones who didn't want to be ridiculed.
I certainly enjoyed drinking the California wines of that era. But I certainly was no connoisseur. One of my best friend's father was a member of Les Ami Du Vin and he gave me a rare Romanée Conti as a gift. I didn't like the wine, but I thought it would do for Boeuf Bourguigon. That was the last bottle he wasted on me.
Branding can play as much of a role as quality. An ex-girfriend worked in the interior design business, selling fabrics to hotels, resorts, and other public spaces. The fabrics were largely made in India. The SAME fabric that sold for $10 a yard was rebranded at $40 a yard and rebranded yet again at $100 a yard and all of it sold quite well. The buyers perceptions were based on price and the brand's reputation within the interior design industry and it was the same fabric, just with a different label and different price.

 

cosmicfolklore

Preferred Member
Aug 9, 2013
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Outer Space
Funny, when people start talking about wines, I start to salivate and get the urge to go out and buy a bottle. But, then I remember that all I taste with wine is a burning gasoline-like acid burn all the way down my throat, and then I start to get sick, like the feeling a flu gives me. Two glasses, and I am sick.
Yeh, you know, pinto beans and cornbread is amazing to me. For under $2, I can cook a meal that is tasty in all aspects, spicy, savory, a touch of sweet. Some people really enjoy a can of Vienna sausages. Some people prefer caviar... that makes some people gag. BTW, in the US, the highest quality caviar is scum by comparison to what they serve in Russia. We only ever get the dregs here, so if you see someone enjoying caviar, let that give you a chuckle.
But, yes, I could live off of eating cheap... but, in my life I want a few flame broiled fat primeribs, aged to perfection and served hot and crisp on the outside, and blood red on the inside. A few $70 steak in one's life isn't going to hurt.
So, what it boils down to is that, yes, you can drink box wines and smoke grocery store cigars and have a fine life. Or, maybe you can splurge a little, for variety, and novelty. If I were on more of a budget, I would live just fine, and enjoy every minute of it. But, while I can, I don't mind dropping a grand on taking my family out for the finer things every now and then. It's just money. And, it's nice to get out of my element.
As to something being better than another... as I will say to my dying day, it's all subjective.

 

lawdawg

Preferred Member
Aug 25, 2016
954
785
I am well aware of the phenomenon described in Cork Dork, so I try to buy based on quality alone. I've found that there is often a certain price point you have to get to in order to find quality, and to an extent you do get what you pay for.
For example, I wear oxford cloth button down shirts to my office every day. I've owned shirts from Brooks Brothers which retail for over $100, Ralph Lauren Polo ($90.00), Target ($25.00) as well as others. The sweet spot is Lands End oxford shirts that retail for around $50.00 and can often be had for less at Lands End's frequent sales. They are very good quality, much better than the cheaper and even equally priced brands, but without the "branding premium" that I feel comes with Polo, Brooks Brothers, etc. That said, there are some other articles of office clothing from brands like Brooks Brothers which I think are some of the best deals you can get.
Likewise with bourbon, I am firmly of the belief that you can find as good a bottle as you would ever want for under $30.00. Larceny, Buffalo Trace, and Elijah Craig are hard to beat at any price point in the different styles of sweet, balanced, and spicy bourbons, respectively. Decent scotch, on the other hand, starts north of $40.00 unless you want just a basic speyside. However, once you start jumping up to bottles that cost over $100, in my experience you are not getting any more quality than you can expect at $60.
Just my rambling 2 cents on the topic.

 

cosmicfolklore

Preferred Member
Aug 9, 2013
19,955
5,542
Outer Space
It's like those $30 cigars. I don't care how damned good they are, they'd have to massage all of the "toxic masculinity" out of me, fire off an orgasm, and then gently rock me to sleep for me to pay $30 for a smoke.

 

haparnold

Preferred Member
Aug 9, 2018
1,279
1,040
Lexington, KY
The sweet spot is Lands End oxford shirts
Lawdawg, I'm team LL Bean, but I think we have roughly the same price point for OCBDs.
As to something being better than another... as I will say to my dying day, it's all subjective.
I agree 100% Cosmic. But I think sometimes people with lower-end tastes either assume they're not capable of appreciating something on the high-end, or they get a reverse snobbery and assume people with high-end tastes are just being pretentious. I think the simple fact is for some people Chateau d'Yquem/Russian Caviar/Balkan Sobranie/whatever just feels better, and for other people it doesn't.

 

irishearl

Preferred Member
Aug 2, 2016
1,205
665
lawdog, think you're right about there being a "sweet spot" as regards price and quality for many things. You mention Ralph Lauren. I find many of their designs attractive, but they are tremendously over-priced in many of their lines such as RRL. I mean really, several hundreds for a pair of jeans. Sheesh. I work a job where I go in jacket and tie to work and like traditional, classic clothes but honestly have obtained most of my clothes second-hand including such things as a Brooks Brothers suit, cashmere topcoat, camel hair jackets, etc.

 

lawdawg

Preferred Member
Aug 25, 2016
954
785
Lawdawg, I'm team LL Bean, but I think we have roughly the same price point for OCBDs.
If the weather is cool and it's the weekend, there is about a 75% chance that I'm wearing an LL Bean flannel. They are an excellent company and the epitome of good customer service.
lawdog, think you're right about there being a "sweet spot" as regards price and quality for many things. You mention Ralph Lauren. I find many of their designs attractive, but they are tremendously over-priced in many of their lines such as RRL. I mean really, several hundreds for a pair of jeans. Sheesh. I work a job where I go in jacket and tie to work and like traditional, classic clothes but honestly have obtained most of my clothes second-hand including such things as a Brooks Brothers suit, cashmere topcoat, camel hair jackets, etc.
Agreed about Ralph Lauren. Dunhill: The Ralph Lauren Polo of Pipes!
I think you were spot on in your earlier post above when you said that this psychology applies even more so to "gustatory" products. It's easier to fool someone into thinking that something tastes good since that's more or less a subjective judgment. It's harder to pull the wool over someone's eyes with more tangible products such as clothing, though Payless shoes apparently was able to just that with their recent "Palessi" boutique shoe store experiment.

 

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