Get Over It

Wine has its realities. Why is that so hard to accept?
Jun 18, 2013

Maybe it’s a matter of experience. Or maybe it’s contrariness. But what is it about some wine lovers that makes them so unwilling to accept certain realities? For example:

The Prices for Napa Valley Wines Are Insane. Every year, simply by calling attention to itself, Auction Napa Valley triggers a spasm of wildfire wine-populist outrage over the “insanely high” prices of Napa Valley wines, especially the Cabernets.

This reaction is not, mind you, because of the truly nutty, if philanthropic, prices commanded at the auction. Rather, it’s because the auction highlights Napa’s remarkable pricing privilege. This year is no different. Suffice it to say that if you, or someone you know, is squawking about this, well, give it a rest.

There’s nothing nuts about Napa Valley’s high Cabernet prices. Quite the opposite. They’re perfectly rational. Downright calculated, really. You want insane? Look at the prices of women’s cosmetics. Now, those are really loony—except that they aren’t because, hey, someone’s paying.

The same is true for Napa Valley wines. Every time I hear yet another red-blooded Everyman tell me how ridiculous Napa’s prices are, what I really what to say is, “Look pal, the only thing wrong here is that you and I can’t easily afford them. Plenty of others can.”

This is the “life is unfair” school of Get Over It. The fact is—and, brother and sister, it sure is a fact—that there are plenty of people who buy wine who have plenty of money. And they like spending that money.

Here’s the real secret to Napa’s pricing success: Buyers of Napa wine want to spend more money on a bottle, not less. Why? Because it makes them feel more secure about the quality of what they’re drinking. Hell, almost no one knows much about wine. But everybody’s an expert on money. So, if this here Cabernet costs $200, then surely it is good.

Ask any psychologist and you’ll fall asleep before he or she finishes reciting the number of studies that confirm the relationship between preconceived expectations, high prices and customer satisfaction.

The bottom line (in every sense) is this: After you’ve paid a lot, you convince yourself that you got something good. Feeling like a chump is much more expensive, so we don’t want to go there.

Now, in fairness to Napa’s Cabernet producers, their wines are good. So it’s not just consumer delusion.

You don’t like the prices? Let me tell you what it is that you really don’t like: You don’t like that you can’t afford them.

But others can. A lot of others, in fact. And if you’re in the Napa business, you’d be crazy not to seek a higher price if you can get it. It’s a business, remember?

When It Comes to Wine, Everyone’s Opinion Is Equally Valid. This is true, but only for you. It’s only true for your judgment about a wine for your palate. But beyond that, no, it’s not true.

This may be a heartbreaker for some, but let me give it to you straight: Some people know more than other people. This seems to be breaking news for those who believe that access to a soapbox—a blog, a Twitter account, a chat board—is tantamount to possessing authority.

Some people’s opinions about wine are—brace yourself—more valid than others’. As George Orwell famously put it in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Why is this so hard for some wine lovers to accept? “We don’t need no stinkin’ authorities,” they say. Oh, but baby, you do. Because too often, you don’t know anywhere near as much as you fancy you do.

Think about it for a second. You’ve got a regular job, right? So that’s 40, 50, even 60 hours a week tied up right there. You’ve got a spouse or significant other? Maybe some kids? So that’s yet more time consumed.

So tell me, how much time do you really have to learn the innumerable fine details of wine? Wine is not the proverbial rocket science. But there’s a lot to it, all the same.

Now, I grant you that there are a good number of obsessed (in the best sense) wine lovers who know an awful lot on the subject. I doff my hat and bow humbly. Really, I do. But your numbers are relatively small.

Now, the larger cohort of folks who do know a lot about wine are, not surprisingly, the folks who do it for a living. They are immersed in the subject. Each of them, by the way, has a different sort of wine knowledge, mostly based upon the nature of their immersion.

For example, wine retailers have a different expertise than those who work in wholesale distributing. Those folks, in turn, are quite different in their expertise and, especially, perspective, than sommeliers.

Winemakers are in a league of their own, for obvious reasons, although their wine knowledge can be deep and yet sometimes overly narrow. Professional wine writers (the smallest cohort by far) are different yet again.

Who knows wine best? That’s impossible to say. It’s a blind-men-feeling-the-elephant sort of thing. What I don’t know about importing and distributing wine—never mind making the stuff—could easily fill the books that my friends in that line of work could (and should) write. On the other hand, my perspective as a writer and critic allows me the kind of remove that their wine business nose-to-the-grindstone simply doesn’t encourage.

So is everyone’s opinion equally valid? Of course not. Some folks know more than others. Why is that so difficult to accept? Get over it.

You think you know about wine? Great. Probably you do. But if you want others to recognize that, ah, then you’ve got to show up with the goods.

And what are those goods? Some people think that a bunch of tasting notes suffices. I’m not one of them. When I look at someone’s chat board posting or blog or print piece, I ask myself, “What sort of insight does this person offer?”

Insight is the key. Insight is the essence. The formula is this: Experience + Thought + Synthesis = Insight.

Now, you can’t be insightful all the time. Sometimes, to borrow from Sigmund Freud, a tasting note is just a tasting note. But if you want your opinion to be something more than just that, show us the insight. It’s as simple—and as hard—as that.


You Might Also Like

40 Years of Roederer Estate

40 Years of Roederer Estate

The California sparkling wine producer remains one of the best and most consistent on the …

Sep 30, 2022
Virtual Content, Real Wine: Take Two

Virtual Content, Real Wine: Take Two

After more than two years of virtual wine tastings, it's time to raise the bar on these …

Sep 30, 2022
The Chilled Reds of Summer

The Chilled Reds of Summer

Forget “room temperature” and ice those reds

Aug 2, 2022
Keeping an Open Mind on 2020

Keeping an Open Mind on 2020

All was not lost in a Napa Cabernet vintage turned upside-down by wildfires and a pandemic:…

Jul 18, 2022
A Grand Award Remembered

A Grand Award Remembered

How a covert restaurant reinspection led to great memories—and lots of Champagne

Aug 31, 2022
Portuguese Exploration

Portuguese Exploration

The Douro Valley offers unparalleled vineyard views, rich history and lovely hospitality—an…

Jul 31, 2022