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Steve De Long
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Charles, With all due respect (because you make excellent wines), your examples are not so good. As much as I would like to think otherwise, most people would know the difference between Armani and Old Navy jeans without looking at the label. A 21st floor condo is qualitatively different from a 10th floor condo - it has a better view. Bottled water comes from a variety of different sources and they taste different. The error is in thinking that all of the above are commodities that are simply marketed differently. Wine is no different. It's not a commodity. I don't think you as a winemaker believe this either. It's not like frozen orange juice or wheat or pork bellies. You and Ryan should really reread the Jon Bonne article that Evan refers to. As for telling the difference between wines, it is very difficult for beginners when the wines are tasted separately. Evan, I'm assuming that your friend tasted them separately (or that the expensive one was way overpriced plonk). If you had your friend blind compare a Ridge Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (approx. $50) with a Gallo Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon (approx 10), and asked him which was the more expensive wine, I doubt that he would get it wrong. If you down graded the Gallo Sonoma to Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon, and he got it wrong I would climb the Eiffel Tower naked.
Ryan makes an interesting point about oak in wines and fashion. The reality is that new oak is currently regarded by the vinoscenti as out of style. You don't hear many winemakers advocating 100% new oak. This has radically changed in 10 years. I remember a few winemakers in the late '90s bragging about their 200%(!) new oak wines. Times have really changed. Even though great wines like Petrus are made with 100% new oak, oaking wines has become too easy. Oak chips coupled with micro-oxygenation can very easily mimic oak barrel aging and will fool even the most talented tasters. When things get too easy, comodified and over-played they tend to go out of style. Heavily oaked wines are now more associated with cheap commercial plonk than with Petrus. A similar thing happened to sweet wines in the 1970's when sweetness in wine because associated with cheap German wines like Blue Nun. Many people like sweetness in table wines but won't admit it. I wonder how long it will take for oak to become fashionable again?
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Nov 13, 2011