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Tuesday Twaddle

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FREEZING MY ASSETS OFF

If you live in California and along the West Coast and you think it’s been cold lately, you’re right. Here in Northern California we had a gorgeous Autumn all the way until Dec. 11, when the high temperature in Oakland was 61. The next morning, a Friday, my local T.V. station, KGO, forecast “dramatic changes arrive this weekend as we instantly jump from fall to winter.” Man, did they get that right. Since then, we’ve struggled to get out of the high 40s and low 50s, and of the last 24 days, 19 have been below normal in average temperature. I brought this to the attention of my friend Steve Paulson, the meteorologist on KTVU-TV, channel 2 here in Oakland. He sent me some temperature readings for last night: 19 in Pope Valley, 21 in the Oak Knoll District, 22 at Napa Airport, 24 in Santa Rosa. That’s cold! But, as Steve reminded me, “the next 10 to 15 days, especially by the weekend, look way above normal on temps.  Possible record highs along the coast and around the Bay.  That’s how we get Average.” Anyway, the vines are dormant this time of year, so they don’t care about the cold — but if it gets too warm for too long, they could wake up prematurely. I don’t want that to happen — but I’m tired of the cold!

ARE EXPERTS MORE EASILY FOOLED?

Han van Meegeren was a mediocre painter and forger who once sold a fake Vermeer, through an intermediary, to Hermann Göring, for today’s equivalent of $7 million. The story was told in last summer’s book, The Forger’s Spell, whose author, Edward Dolnick, was quoted on the South African Wine page as saying, “Experts make the best victims of fraud because they jump to unwarranted conclusions … We prefer wine with a pedigree even if it’s a phoney one … Expectations are everything.”

fakevermeer
the fake Vermeer

van Meegeren apparently wasn’t a very good artist, but it didn’t really matter. The dupes who paid big bucks (reichsmarks?) wanted to believe his paintings were real.

Reading that made me think of last summer’s Wine Spectator fake restaurant award. It also brought back memories of allegedly fraudulent bottles of major-league wines (19th century Bordeaux) that were being sold, about 20 years ago, to an international community of rich wine collectors who were, shall we say, less than diligent. Then my mind recalled the suggestion, which has been floating around the blogosphere for a couple months, that somebody should try and “pull a Spectator” on some unsuspecting wine critic (no doubt an older, more famous, paper-based one) by sending her/him a fake bottle of wine. It might be Two Buck Chuck disguised as Harlan, or Harlan disguised as Two Buck Chuck. Either way, if the critic took the bait, what a sensation that could be for the prankster! Days, maybe even weeks worth of publicity! The national press would gobble it up, same way they did with the Spectator hoax. Certain bloggers’ visit stats would soar, while the poor critic’s face would be dripping with egg. And you know what? It could happen, easily — to me, to Parker, to anyone. If you think you’re immune, I hope you’re the one who gets the faux bottle.

BUT WE NEED EXPERTS, DON’T WE?

Yes, if Cassie Mogilner is right. The Dec. 20 issue of The Economist explains the Stanford professor’s theory that “consumers like unfamiliar products to be categorised — even if the categories are meaningless.” (The story was on how consumers’ brains make shopping choices.) Mogilner looked specifically at how we buy coffee, but her findings could just as easily be applied to wine. Shelf-talkers may be nothing more than the idle scribbling of marketing agents; rating systems may break down under close scrutiny; but they work, which is why stores continue to depend on them to sell wine.

And happy new year to you!

  1. JD in Napa says:

    Steve, in the above scenario, if you (or another well-established print critic) tasted the faux great wine blind, then unbagged the bottle to see the “great wine” label, wouldn’t you have a “this doesn’t make sense” moment? Surely, carefully-crafted great wines can have hiccups, but, even given a hiccup, wouldn’t an industrial wine like Chuck stand out? Seems that this is what blind tasting, with a trained palate, is all about.

    And a Happy New Year to you. Keep the fine blogs coming!

  2. JD, stranger things have happened than confusing an inexpensive wine with a “great” wine. If all it took was a “trained palate,” then all “well-established print critics” (not to mention MWs and MSs) would agree on all wines. But that’s never the case. You’re always going to have someone who prefers the inexpensive wine over the expensive one. Bottom line: There’s no shame in that, but if it happened, it would give the Gotcha! brigade an easy target.

  3. Define “expert”.

  4. “Experts” are gatekeepers.

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