Why do people drink expensive wine? What can a great wine teach you? How does the momentary ephemeral pleasure justify the price of fine wines? Im often approached by people asking variations on these questions. Without a doubt, they are people who haven’t experienced the moment of clarity and realisation that can be found at the bottom of a bottle.
I thought I was able to answer these questions with ease, but I’ll tell you a story that has rebutted my answers and re-inspired my passion for the unknown. Last Wednesday I went on a tour of 6 local wineries. All grow their own vines, and harvest the fruit of their labour. All through careful, and tender wine making methods produce single vineyard terroir driven Pinot Noir’s. All charge what they perceive their wines to be worth, depending heavily on the opinions of the (inter)national wine press.
However, not all are created equal. Unfortunately, this is the result of a typical mass-market perception of value. For all those who don’t understand, I offer a musical simile: how can Justin Beiber charge $100+ a ticket, whilst hard working, talented, and skilled unsigned musicians struggle to fill a room at $10 a head? It’s the mass market perception of worth. Sure, its fine to fill an auditorium with hysterical 13 year old girls the same way its fine to fill a tasting group with one-dimensional suburban women in floral dresses demanding Moscato, and oft quoting “Anything But Chardonnay”. But this is no sign of quality, only a water mark of current trends. The tide will no doubt ebb and flow away, leaving in its wake a new momentary pseudo-deity, to quickly rise to fame like a shooting star before predictably and necessarily fading away again into the night sky.
We move to Morning Sun Winery, an estate of no great acclaim outside of local recommendation. I naively didn’t even know of their existence until they was pointed out on a map. A hand written sign down a back road on the Mornington Peninsula Hinterland is all that gives it away—its far too easy to miss. The humble and simple cellar door harks back to the days before this region was known as a playground for doctors, lawyers, and loaded holiday makers. Its honest and simple, there is no bling or glamour. Gratefully, the same goes for their wines. The East-facing vineyards literally capture the ‘Morning Sun’ that this winery was named after, and it lends to their wines a glowing, fruity exuberance. You don’t need a vivid imagination to envisage the quiet vines joyfully lapping up the early golden rays before letting them free in your glass.
I tried the 2008 Pinot Noir somewhat tentatively, falsely predicting the mediocrity usually expected of an unheard of vineyard. ‘This is fucking lovely!’ ran through my mind quickly, before I repeated it quite audibly to the surprise of the young cellar door worker. Before I even knew the price I committed myself to the buy. To my shock and astonishment it cost a mere $38 a bottle. I have spent four times this amount on wines that have never inspired such endearment.
So, why do people drink expensive wines? Well after trying this comparative ‘mere folly’, I honestly cannot answer that question. The upfront, full frontal strawberries and red berries on the tongue, followed immediately by darker berries, cranberry, some gaminess, and herbal undergrowth on the mid palate, tight, finely grained tannins and matching acidity—it leaves me but one answer to the question ‘How does the momentary ephemeral pleasure justify the price of fine wines?’ Well, sometimes it doesn’t. You could pay hundreds of dollars for a wine that wouldn’t, no matter what the reputation and expectation, deliver as vividly the tastes and sensations that this wine so easily achieves.
This leaves me with the one final question, ‘What can a great wine teach you?’. Well in this case it taught me to keep searching, to pay attention to underachievers, the unheard of—they could be the next big thing. It taught me, and hopefully you, that you don’t need to pay through the nose for something special, some quiet moment of enlightenment, some spark that ignites the fire of passion for some unheard of region, producer, vineyard, or wine maker. This great wine taught me that sometimes, in the world of monopolised and ubiquitous tastes, that some producers stand strong, they remain independent of the constraints of mass-marketed trends and ideas, and remain true to an ideal. To produce the best wine they can, no matter the price, no matter the perception of what they ‘should do’, they defy your expectations and if you’re lucky, open your mind to the great unknown. The underground winemakers, instead of focussing on a commercially viable product, strive to be the best they can despite the limitations.