Inferior Good: Diminishing Marginal Stupidity in Action

Friday, September 29, 2006

Expectations matter

If you serve me a white wine dyed to look like a red wine, I probably won’t know it. Everything else equal, I’ll probably enjoy a bottle labeled "Grand Reserve" more than a bottle lacking a classification. I'll probably like a wine with a classy looking label more than one sporting a cute critter. And I’ll probably like a wine more if I think it's made by a mustachioed, beret wearing old Frenchman rather than a white coat wearing beverage technician from the U.S.

At least, that’s the gist of this fascinating article by wine science guru Jamie Goode and featured in The World of Fine Wine. Mr. Goode reports that one’s perception of wine is more than just taste, smell and touch (mouth feel), for scientific research suggests that expectations are also extremely important.

Our expectations are formed by things like the wine’s appearance, other’s perception of the wine (professional reviews, friend’s comments), label information (varietal, appellation, classification), label and bottle appearance (critter label = plonk?), how recently and frequently we’ve experienced similar wine and our knowledge of wine.

Additionally, Mr. Goode notes that individuals experience the same wine differently. For example, a wine’s color may be more central to my experience than yours. Furthermore, a given individual may experience the same wine differently over time. What seems great today may seem merely good next week.

Does this mean tasting notes are useless? No, but you might consider using them more cautiously. And keep in mind that your own tasting notes are influenced by the context in which you consume a given wine, so maybe your wine opinions should be a little more tentatively held.

[Ed. Is this really breaking news?] No, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard about these types of studies and it’s true that some of the conclusions are a bit self-evident. For example, I take it for granted that my expectations influence my experience. What sets Mr. Goode’s article apart is his attempt to explain the biological process through which we experience wine, rather than simply report the findings of a few studies. I’m thinking I should pick up a copy of Wine Science and/or The Science of Wine.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Lushes make more money

Go ahead and lay down the cash for that nice bottle of wine, for you’ll make it back in higher pay. Andrew Gelman reports that tipplers earn substantially higher pay than teetotalers do (hat tip to Marginal Revolution). Here’s an excerpt from a Bloomberg article:

Men who visit a bar at least once a month to drink socially bring home 7 percent more pay than abstainers, and women drinkers earn 14 percent more than non-drinkers, according to the study by economists Bethany Peters and Edward Stringham.

So drink up ladies and gents.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Nominal versus material inequality

Check out Will Wilkinson’s excellent post on inequality. He points out that, while nominal inequality is increasing, material inequality is decreasing. That is, the difference between the material living conditions of the poor and the rich is shrinking.

Intellectual property rights and fashion

Here’s an interesting WSJ article on intellectual property rights and fashion. Apparently, some prominent fashion designers are lobbying for three years of copyright-like protection on original works of fashion (similar protections exist in Europe).

The key question is innovation; would copyright-like protection encourage innovation or stymie innovation? Who would benefit from such a law? What would the unintended consequences be?

I suspect counterfeiters would benefit from passage, since they probably compete to some extent with the knockoffs that would be handicapped by the legislation (illegal counterfeit fashion features a fraudulent designer label, whereas a legal knockoff is similar in design to a designer item but does not carry a fraudulent label.)

You can read a previous post of mine on intellectual property rights and food here.

Not good

Seventy to 90 percent of the Iraq detentions in 2003 were ''mistakes,'' U.S. officers once told the international Red Cross.

That’s from this chilling article on the U.S.’s global network of overseas prisons. My buddy Clark Kent pointed out that .300’s pretty good in baseball, so maybe I’m evaluating this thing incorrectly. Seriously though, those 30 to 10% of correctly detained folks better be pretty valuable to justify all the innocents.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What do you have that will change my life?

A few days ago, fellow imbiber E.F. Glutton walked into a local wine shop and asked "What do you have that will change my life?" Our favorite sales person fetched, from his personal stash, a bottle of the 2001 Damijan Bianco, Collio (about $30). Lucky for me, Mr. Glutton invited me over to his house to enjoy the Damijan and others, paired with his fine cooking. I had a wonderful time and greatly expanded my vineanshauung. Mr. Glutton’s life was changed. Definitely a good night.

First off was the 2005 Hanna Estate Russian Rivery Sauvignon Blanc, Slusser Road. This wine gives you plenty of fat citrus fruit and grassiness while still being dry and crisp. A nice wine for around $15.

After enjoying my contribution to WBW #25 with some bree, we drank the 2001 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Valley, Rochioli – Allen Ranch (about $30) with an excellent cod filet. This is the richest wine I’ve ever had and actually liked. It is a very rich, fat, modern, fruit-forward wine that gives you some oak and bright fruit. This isn’t really my style of wine, but it taught me that very rich Chardonnay need not be flabby, for this wine wasn’t.

Next was the much anticipated feature wine of the night, paired with delicious pork tenderloin. Damijan is made by biodynamic grower and winemaker Damijan Podversic, a former student of Josko Gravener. This Ribolla Gialla from Friuli looks a bit like apple cider in the glass. The wine is tannic for a white, quite dry and offers a variety of muted flavors I have trouble describing. It tastes like no wine I’ve had before… it completely stumped me. We served the wine cold, though I see now it’s actually meant to be served at room temperature. I suspect we unwittingly muted the wine's potential by doing this. Craig Camp notes intense orange spiced flavors and feels the Damijan could be confused for a red in a blind tasting.

The wine didn’t change my life, but it expanded my conception of wine. The wine apparently did change E.F. Glutton’s life. He said it was an "incredible expression of what wine can be when you don’t adhere to the mass production model". I think he liked it!

Next we enjoyed a bottle of the 2004 Mary Edwards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley (about $37) with a deftly grilled lamb chop. Said E.F. Glutton, "These folks are world class Pinot makers. They blow my mind every time. Rich, complex, great mouth feel, unmistakable New World Pinot." The wine is lush and fruit forward in the modern style, though I remember thinking it had more sweetness than I would have liked. Frankly, this was our fifth bottle of wine that night, so my recollection is pretty hazy.

Lastly, we had a few glasses of the 2003 Chateau d’Aussieres Corbieres, but I have absolutely no idea what that tasted like. You can find Kim Marcus' impression of the wine here.

This was a really great night. E.F. Glutton’s food was excellent. Further, I learned a lot about wine. I learned that rich Chardonnay need not be flabby, that sparkling wine can be much more than a simple palate cleansing accompaniment to food, and that artisan winemakers can produce wines that taste like nothing I’ve ever imagined.

[Ed. Also, Whit was reminded that gulping down 2.5 bottles of wine will put a hurtin’ on oneself. The next morning wasn’t very pleasant for him.]

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

WBW #25 1998 Champagne Brut Millesime Pierre Peters

Becks & Posh is hosting Wine Blogging Wednesday #25. This month's theme is Champagne.

I drink sparkling wine fairly often. I mostly buy inexpensive Cava and Prosecco, though I’ll occasionally do American sparklers or splurge on Cremant d'Alsace. I never buy Champagne.

That may change however, for the 1998 Champagne Brut Millesime 'Pierre Peters' really opened my mind. This is a very bubbly, deep and delineated Champagne made from 100% Chardonnay. My immediate thought after taking my first sip was, er… beer. The wine has a very pronounced yeasty character. Second, I got some hints of Sherry or perhaps White Port. Lastly, I got some minerality. Drinking companion E.F. Glutton described the muted citrus fruit as "juice from lemon slices that have been in the fridge for a couple of days". He also detected nut flavors. I’m quite sure my inexperienced palate isn’t doing justice to this wine, so do read the impressions of Pierre Rovani, Stephen Tanzer and Wine Spectator.

According to their website, the Peters family, originally from Luxembourg, established their holdings in Champagne sometime around 1840. Pierre Peters, the namesake of this wine, took over the operation in 1940. The current manager of the business, Francois Peters, produces over 13,000 cases annually from the family's 43 acres of chalk soil vineyards. Check out Terry Thiese’s 2006 Champagne Catalog for more on the Pierre Peters estate and its wines.

I found the 1998 Brut Millesime 'Pierre Peters' arresting. I’m still deciding whether I like it or not, but I’m definitely very glad I tried it. It really expanded my conception of sparkling wine and made me excited to try more Champagne. I simply had no idea sparkling wine could taste like this.

E.F. Glutton and I enjoyed several other palate expanding wines the same night we drank the Pierre Peters. If you’re interested, you can read about them here.

Thanks to Sam Breach for the great theme.

$49.99 at Esquin Wine Merchants, imported by Michael Skurnik Wines (a Terry Thiese selection).

UPDATE: The roundup is here.

Monday, September 04, 2006


Wild animals can kill you.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Label Loathing

I try not to take myself too seriously. I employ self-deprecating humor often. Hell, I showed up to work today (casual Friday) wearing a brown and yellow polyester shirt and sporting a Mohawk (more of a fauxhawk I suppose).

Though I sometimes enjoy wearing gaudy clothes, I prefer clean and simple wine labels. Classic even. Cute critter labels repel me. The Cayuse Bionic Frog label is probably the ugliest I've seen.

According to a recent article in Seattle Magazine, such grotesque er, whimsical labels communicate that the wine inside is carefree, fun and unpretentious. The labels are supposed to be inviting.

Well, they really turn me off. Maybe I just have a stick up my ass when it comes to wine labels.

[Ed. Well, there is that picture of you in SC with a bottle up your ass]. Yes, but the label on that bottle of 1996 Chateau Corbin Michotte was perfectly tasteful.