what a friend we have in cheeses

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Trying times these are, for grape growers, wineries, and anyone trying to get a small winery up and running. But there’s good news with the bad, especially for consumers. The days when pricing your wine as high as possible as a mark of quality? egomania? sheer bravado? seem to have drawn to a close.

Though not as common an occurrence in Washington as in Oregon and California, this state has had its share of wannabe’s who felt that a high price tag on their first or second vintage was going to impress people. As far as I can tell, they are all gone, and deservedly so, or at the very least, humbled into pricing their wines more competitively.

First growth Bordeaux and rare Burgundies may still command absurd prices, but those prices have nothing to do with what’s in the bottle. It’s what’s ON the bottle – a prestigious label – that has pushed demand sky high (and prices along with it) in countries where honor and prestige depend on the perceived value of a gift. Whether the drink justifies the cost is irrelevant. Mix that Mouton with soda, or pour it over ice– why not? Kampai!

I don’t mean to celebrate anyone’s misfortune or economic struggles. Working as a freelance writer is no picnic these days either. But I do believe that a longterm trend is in place that is returning wine prices to historical norms. And if that means that the mania for dropping excessive amounts of fruit, for picking at a minimum of 28 brix, for hand-sorting every berry, for packaging in massive bottles that weigh more than a bowling ball, and for charging three-digit prices based on your costs is over and done with... well, it’s OK by me.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the globe, a high price still gets the press dogs’ tails wagging. Just ask Martin Blunos, a British chef whose entry into the Frome Cheese Show claims to be the world’s most expensive cheese sandwich. For a glimse of this amazing creation, visit the BBC website here.

How can a cheese sandwich possibly cost £110.59 – roughly $150 – you might wonder. Chef Blunos crafted his homage to fromage with cheddar blended with mayonnaise made from quail’s egg yolks, white truffles, tomatoes (organic of course) and topped with gold leaf. “We Brits are known to love our cheese sandwiches and here's one that is fit for the banqueting table,” the chef proudly explains.

His wine recommendation? A bottle of Krug (OK, that’ll up the cost of lunch to around $400 – plus tip). I wish him well in his quest for a Guinness World record for the most expensive sandwich. I just hope that Blunos doesn’t have any plans to start a winery.


Bob Neel said...

PG -- Hallelujah!! FINALLY the Emperor(s) is(are) being told they have NO CLOTHES. (Maybe a weak analogy.) THANKS for piercing -- or attempting to pierce -- the bubble of stupid-priced wines and testosterone bottles. We just went to an "Eco" series bottle that is 2 lbs. per case *lighter* than our previous, pretty light weight bottle. Eveyone on the bottling line thanked us. It's cheaper to buy, handle, ship, and (presumably) recycle or disponse of.

Brother Plymale said...

"All our zins and gris to bear"?

Anonymous said...

"What a privilege to sherry"?

Erika Szymanski said...

This topic raises an interesting question: what is the value of a taste? What is the value of tasting Chateau d'Yquem, or Chateau de Beaucastel, or Screaming Eagle for the first time? The best brief answer -- without writing a book -- that I've been able to construct is that it depends on how much is in your pocket. Anyone else have any more astute thoughts?

PaulG said...

Erika, I agree, there is a lot more that could be said around this topic. For example, can the pleasure factor of a specific taste be quantified? I have often confided to Mrs. G that a really well-made pizza gives me as much flavor pleasure as the most rarefied and expensive restaurant meal. At maybe 1/20th the cost. So the price difference has to depend on something else – the service, the ambiance, the rarity of the experience (must make reservation 6 months in advance, etc. etc.).

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