Thursday 23 July 2009

Tight Fist Tip #17: Fancy Wine Is Still Just Fermented Grapes

Prickly, with a Subtle Aftertaste of Unicorn

There are tons of examples where companies use clever branding to convince customers that their crappy product is some type of luxury good; this is helpful so that rich idiots can find something to waste all their money on. Some examples are when Toyota puts some leather seats in its Camry and calls it a Lexus, or when Tesco labels fruit 'Finest' just because it is ripe. In general, however, producers don't invent an entire new vocabulary and train an army of 'experts' in order to brainwash the populace spending ridiculous amounts of money.

But the fermented grape industry is special. Normally, if you were trying to distinguish between the taste of two different things, you would use normal descriptions like sweet, bitter, salty, etc. But for connoisseurs of fermented grapes, this isn't good enough, because if you were to use normal, reasonable, understandable descriptive characteristics you would come to a horrifying conclusion: fermented grapes all taste pretty similar. Noooooo!!!!!!! But then how can they convince rich idiots to spend hundreds of dollars on 50-year old fermented grapes? Well, that's easy enough. You just have to invent a whole new ridiculous vocabulary to describe your fermented grapes, brainwash a few people into thinking that they taste all these crazy things, and then dismiss all the doubters as unsophisticated.

For some examples of this crazy vocabulary take a look at fermented grape guru Robert Parker's wine glossary. Pretty soon you'll be saying things like, "I love my fermented grapes flabby, silky, and chewy. Or actually, today I would prefer one that is round, plummy, and somehow smells like tobacco." Is this guy serious? (Note that sadly, that was a rhetorical question.) I used to think that when someone said fermented grapes had hints of rasberry (or some other non-grape fruit) that they had actually put some other fruit in the fermented grapes. But no, that would make too much sense. Instead this is just drunk fermented-grape tasters imagining that grapes had somehow mutated into other fruits when no one was looking.

For more along the lines of this discussion, I ecourage you to consult the excellent article On Wine Bullshit from the Journal of Wine Economics. Of particular interest is the part where they write a computer program to generate fermented grape reviews using common terms, and compare them to real reviews. (As expected, they are pretty much indistinguishable.)

I'm not saying there aren't subtle differences between different types of fermented grapes from different locations, year, etc, I'm just saying that these subtle differences DO NOT MAKE A LICK OF DIFFERENCE IN YOUR ENJOYMENT OF THE FERMENTED GRAPES. Sure, there are some cheap fermented grapes that make you grimace or give terrible headaches, and feel free to avoid them. But other then that, it's pretty much impossible to make an objective judgment of quality. Of course the fermented grape industry would love to convince you that their expensive fermentations have special qualities that are somehow better than other ones.

Perfection in a Bottle

But if you're set on getting brainwashed into thinking certain types of fermented grapes are better than others, please do it the right way. Just do your best to convince yourself that the common qualities of cheap ones are distinctive, unique, and special. For instance, I have convinced myself that the perfect blend of fermented grapes is none other than the delicious Two Buck Chuck. I mean, it just doesn't get much better than that in my book.

But in case Two Buck Chuck doesn't exist in your area, let me try to introduce my own simplified system for judging fermented grapes.

1. Alcohol Content. Do the fermented grapes contain alcohol? If not, you are drinking grape juice. Go back to the store look in the booze aisle.

2. Taste. Does taking a sip of the fermented grapes make you grimace? Does it sorta make you want to wretch? If not, it tastes fine.

3. Price. Did you pay more then five bucks for the bottle? If so, you lose.

See, isn't that a lot easier?

And just in case you need more inspiration, check out this hilarious New York Times article which talks about how a panel of 'experts' was assembled to figure out whether or not South African fermented grapes tasted like 'burnt rubber' just because some 'expert' said it did.


  1. Make life simple...stick to Mogen David.

  2. I may or may not be closely related to someone who works for the journalist you criticized in this particular issue. The Tight Fist has many zealous followers and I only hope that his efforts do not lead to some revolution that leaves my family out of a job.

  3. Will, just because you post as Anonymous doesn't mean I don't know who you are.

  4. Request: I want a post on diamonds. It has to be so good that one day I will be able to get down on one knee and propose to a girl, and rather than a diamond ring, I will hand her the most well written denunciation of expensive contract-jewelry ever composed. We will get married she'll have like 50 of my kids because the article was so good, and the printout of your article will be handed down as a heirloom to the 7th generation.

  5. If you want to be tight fisted just drink water and don't spend your time writing about alcohol!

  6. "Prickly, with a subtle aftertaste of Unicorn."