Thursday, June 19, 2008

Price and Wine Enjoyment

I heard a story on NPR the other day about how people get better results from taking expensive pills — even when the "expensive pill" is a placebo with no active medical ingredients. It’s amazing what our minds will do when we anticipate that something is better.

The same results were discovered from research done on the correlation between enjoyment of wine and the price of the wine. The majority of the time, when people drank what they thought was a more expensive wine; they enjoyed it better than the less expensive wine. A wine that retailed for $90 was sampled by different groups of people. When they were told the true price, they loved it. When other people were told that the wine was just a $10 wine, they didn’t rate it as highly.

What’s even scarier to me is what was going on inside the test subjects’ brains. While the subjects tasted and evaluated the wines, their brains were scanned using an MRI, focusing on the activity of a brain region that is involved in our experience of pleasure. The researchers concluded that, "prices, by themselves, affect activity in an area of the brain that is thought to encode the experienced pleasantness of an experience”!

So much for trying to be objective about wine.

I’ve been facing a choice lately as my budget gets stretched with rising gas and food prices. Do I buy cheaper wine or quality wine less often? This study makes me think that perhaps I just need to learn more about what wines I like and find the great bargains out there. If I can learn to ignore the price tag and concentrate just on the wine itself, I may be able to drink wine with every dinner meal after all.

I wonder if that’s possible given the following statement from one of the researchers:

"If you think about it, the brain should only be influenced by the core components of the wine — its chemical composition. It should not be influenced by something like price," Shiv said. "But in the study we found a functional change in activity in different areas of the brain despite the same chemicals being experienced."

Maybe I need to have my wife buy all the wine and label each bottle with a price tag that says $100!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

There's a Cheetah in my Bottle

Certain parts of the world are known for a particular grape. Pinotage is that grape for South Africa. I’d bet that not many people consider Pinotage their favorite grape, but I found my first sample of a wine made from this grape interesting.

Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut created in 1925. The hope was to create a grape with the great flavor of Pinot Noir and the hearty growing strengths of Cinsaut. In South Africa, Cinsaut was called “Hermitage” which explains how the grape is called Pinotage and not Pinotaut.

From what I’ve read about wines made from the grape, they can range from “light and fruity and best consumed young to heavy and tannic examples that needed years to reach maturity.” Flavors of pepper, black fruits, spiciness and acetone are used to describe these wines. It appears that these wines can have an unattractive earthiness. One site said that Pinotage has “has enjoyed great success in a short amount of time but may have had its 15 minutes of fame.”

The wine I tried was a Sebeka Syrah-Pinotage blend. The wine is 60% Shiraz, 40% Pinotage. It reminded me of a cross between a Syrah and a Zinfandel with nice fruit (but not sweet) a little jammy and some pepper flavor. At times the wine seemed to turn a little harsh (maybe the earthiness of the pinotage) on the back of my tongue as I swallowed it. It was almost the same experience as drinking an earthy French wine, but not quite as pleasant.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy this wine, but for the $5 I was able to buy it for, it was a nice wine. I found it interesting that the same wine was $10 at another store in town. It probably would not have picked it up for that price. The chettah on the label normally would put me off as a little too much marketing effort to sell a wine that can’t stand up on its own merits. Jerry Hall who used to have a wine blog called Wine Waves reviewed a wine from Sebeka and posted a great picture of the over for the Sebeka brand (though the yellow cheetah spotted cork is cool!) Gallo Wineries owns the Sebeka label, but the grapes are grown in South Africa and made into wine there. There is even a cheetah endangered species fund associated with the wine, but I don't know how much of this is marketing and much it really helps the animals.

I bought a bottle of 100% pinotage to get a better taste of what the varietal is like. But I think I can call Pinotage my grape # 57 in my Century quest.

Tasting Notes:

Sebeka Syrah Pinotage "Cape Blend" (13.5% alcohol)

Color: Dark cranberry

Aroma: Cherry, zinfandel and syrah like

Flavor: Cherry, like a jammy syrah with a hint of black pepper

Finish: Mild tannins but an earthy bite, unpleasant at times

This wine went really well with garlic, pepper spiced Tri-Tip.

Friday, June 13, 2008

You Only Live Twice

"Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone
in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning.
But there's another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives
everything a second time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it.
Looks at the texture and detail."
Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones, page 48

I have not been posting about wine for almost three months now. There are several "reasons" but the biggest one has been lack of funds. I was buying wine and blogging about them at a rate beyond what my budget was able to handle. I decided to stop blogging to decrease the temptation to buy so much wine.

Then I came across Natalie Goldberg's quote, the one at the top of this page. If I really want to cut back on my spending but still enjoy wine, what better way than to drink each bottle twice!?! I still drink wine, I still want to learn more, I still want to share in this cool blogging world.

I may have ruined my credibility as a blogger by abandoning my blog without a warning, but I'm back and I will keep posting. I can't wait to read everyone else's blogs like I had been doing so regularly. What better way to experience wine than by sharing it with others.

Sorry for the absence...hope to read from you soon!

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