How important is a wine’s label, its price tag, its rating, or how people think about it? For some people (the snobs) those are all important! Why? Well, when the modern world began to develop economically, a sociologist, Thorstein Veblen, wrote a book: “The Theory of the Leisure Class.” In it, he uses the now famous phrase: “Conspicuous Consumption.”
What Is Conspicuous Consumption?
What was he saying? In a world of rapid wealth accumulation and upward mobility, but with the decline of the aristocracy, how were individuals going to let everyone else know that they had “made it?” How could they show off their wealth in the most ostentatious way possible?
Maybe in today’s world it’s ordering that bottle of Armand Rousseau Chambertin, an “off vintage” of which is still over $2,000 a bottle and probably at least $4,500 in a restaurant. Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Ridge Monte Bello, or Beringer Private Reserve Cabs? Well, how are they gonna know I’m rich unless I serve the Screaming Eagle? Is it better?
Our Spending Habits
Now let’s face it, many of us probably spend more money on food, clothing, our homes or vacations than we should. Is that because the more we spend the better the quality, or because the more we spend the better we feel about ourselves? If we have worked hard to succeed in life and want to reward ourselves with its perks, so what? In fact, in many cases it does pay to spend more – a lot more – for certain consumer goods, because they will be better and/or last longer. But suppose it isn’t always true?
In the last few years, the “Conspicuous Consumption” theory of wine buying and drinking has gone completely nuts – in my honest opinion. But how can we be sure? Well, one way of not falling into the trap of thinking that our enjoyment is based on other people’s opinions is to remember that there is really only one issue when it comes to drinking (rather than collecting) wine – how does it taste?
How about it? Honestly. Have you been to a supposedly great restaurant that gets great reviews, is beautiful, has “white glove service” but only ordinary food? Has that ever happened? Of course!
Somehow, when it comes to wine tasting, most people get a little intimidated. If a wine gets a high score, especially from one of those key critics, it must be good. There must be something wrong with me if I don’t like it!
Let’s face it: we’re all human and that means that psychological factors play a huge role in how we view things. We probably can’t help it, but we can at least be aware of it!
Snob Vs. Connoisseur
Here are a couple of simple ideas that can show you are a connoisseur – not a snob! And not a “Reverse Wine Snob” either. First, and foremost, get together with some friends regularly and have a thematic tasting with the same wine from different vintages. With and without food. Or same vintage but different wines. The first is a “vertical” the second a “horizontal.” Either way, make sure it’s at least single blind. Then double blind. See if the same scores hold. You’re going to need someone who isn’t part of the tasting to help you, because the fun part is to see whether each participant is impartial – including you.
Let me explain: a single blind means that everyone knows which wines are being tasted, but not what wine is in each glass. The double blind is when no one knows what the wines are at all. Sometimes they even cover the glass so that the color isn’t showing! You can even try a third tasting with the same wines poured from the bottles so the tasters can see the labels. Are the scores the same?
Make sure that there are some significant price point differences, and that the group knows it on that third pour. Label envy anyone?
How wines are being served could be all important. So next week we’ll talk about temperatures, decanting and especially glasses, and how you might fool everyone by making a $25 Cab taste like a $75 one. Guaranteed that serving a wine too warm (red) or too cold (white) or not giving the wine a chance to “breathe” could be much more of a factor than most people believe. So is the glassware but, again, don’t be a “snob!”