The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

The Cost of Wine and the Perception of Taste

Posted on | January 28, 2013 | Written by Janice Cable | No Comments

A group of vintage wines from IWM, after they were enjoyed

Expensive wine: It’s a ticklish subject for a luxury wine retailer like IWM to broach, but I can’t forebear.

At a recent party, I drank a glass of Champagne. It was very tasty Champagne, at once delicate and steely. I’d been at the party for quite a while, and to be honest, I’d had a fair amount to drink, including some relatively hefty red wines that punctuated the belly of the evening. Given the whirl and the swirl of the conversation, the company and the alcohol, I don’t have a three-dimensional memory of this glass of wine.

Afterwards, after I’d gone home and sworn at my boots’ reluctance to come off my feet and suffered through the post-party hangover, after I’d discussed the party with my BFF and looked at the pictures I didn’t remember taking with my iPhone, I found out that the pleasant Champagne in question costs several hundred dollars a bottle.

“Well, damn,” I thought to myself. “I really wish I’d paid more attention.” And then, because an unexamined reaction isn’t worth experiencing, I started to wonder why. Why does a wine costing the moiety of my rent deserve more attention than one that I can buy with the change collected in the bowl on my dresser? What do I expect from a wine that costs a lot, as opposed to one that doesn’t? And why does it matter to me?

I admit that my palate is still jejune. It has grown beyond its infancy, but not by much. My palate still has baby fat, even if it can play catch with occasional accuracy. Part of my curiosity about this seriously expensive wine is to be able to file it away in my memory’s Rolodex, to put it in relation to other Champagnes I know, and to be able to hold a shred of sense memory in perpetuity. Part of my desire to recollect this Champagne was simply further education of my Kindergarten palate.

But part of it also wasn’t. Part of it was the need to lavish myself in expensive wine, wine that I can’t afford. If I’m going to be exposed to something I can’t enjoy often–if ever–I’d like to be able to really submerge myself in it. I’ve been fortunate enough to drink some serious wines, wines that are prohibited by my budget. Sometimes I was gifted these wines by producers; other times I was fortunate to in attendance at events where expensive wine flowed like bottled water. I have felt very lucky quite often.

And then there’s also the part of me that wants to re-experience this very expensive wine because I know of the 2007 California Technical Institute study that argues that people think expensive wine tastes better—even when it’s the exact same wine that was poured twice, one bottle labeled with a high price and the other with a low price. (You can read more about the study here at the CalTech website, here at Science Daily, or here in a thoughtful blog post. You can also read a possible explanation here at a neuromarketing blog, and here’s a New Yorker article suggesting that even wine experts have issues with accurate tasting.)

IWM sells wine at a range of price points, not only because it’s good business sense but also because Sergio Esposito, our Founder, is anything but elitist. We may promote a luxury lifestyle, but luxury isn’t necessarily about cost, especially in an Italian understanding of the term. Luxury is about sensual gratification, or it is at least as much as it is about being able to afford to gratify your senses. Sometimes serious gratification happens at the highly affordable level. And other times, well, suffice to say that I really enjoyed that 1970 Gaja I had a few weeks back.

There are very expensive bottles of wine that I really don’t like. I’ve had them and I was not impressed. There are some pretty inexpensive bottles that I have loved and loved passionately. And then there are bottles that I adore that are expensive, wines that cost a couple of hundred dollars, and I admit I love them wildly. I’m lucky with having been exposed to a wide range of wines, many more than once. Is my wild love influenced by the price? Possibly. But it might also be influenced by the fact that these wines reflect a lot of work, expertise and care on the part of the winemakers.

Still, I can’t help but wish now, in the cold light of sober day, my palate clean and neutral, my eyes clear and the room quiet, that I had a glass of that very expensive Champagne. Just to see what I missed, if anything.

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