Could you tell the difference?

MSN has the story of Hawskmoor, a steakhouse in Manchester, England, where a diner was accidentally given – and not charged for – a bottle of 2001 Chateau le Pin Pomerol worth the equivalent of $5,772 (US). (He had ordered a bottle in the $300 range … but the restaurant was busy and the wines apparently are kept near each other.)

According to the story, “The restaurant eventually realized the mistake and took to social media on Thursday morning to congratulate the diner for his stroke of luck, while simultaneously reassuring the person responsible for the costly error.”

The tweet read:
“To the customer who accidentally got given a bottle of Chateau le Pin Pomerol 2001, which is £4,500 on our menu, last night – hope you enjoyed your evening!”

And:
“To the member of staff who accidentally gave it away, chin up! One-off mistakes happen and we love you anyway.”

Could you tell the difference?  So much of wine enjoyment is the expectation created by the image or reputation of the bottle you choose. Unfortunately, disappointment is the result of expectations unfulfilled when an unknown wine fails to meet these expectations. I hope that consumer enjoyed the expensive bottle more than the one ordered or perhaps couldn’t tell the difference. The mistake will not happen again.

A number of years ago a friend gave me a glass of wine and asked if I could tell what it was. After a couple on minutes analyzing the contents of the glass, and then swirling it in my mouth, I proclaimed “It’s a very good Merlot.” My friend was astonished that I could not tell it was 1982 Chateau Petrus. At the time it was $300 a  bottle and far more expensive today. My analysis was correct of course, and that’s what most wine people would say. Identifying it as one of the most expensive wines in the world is a skill I have rarely found. Good wine is good wine regardless of price. The key is enjoying the best wine you can afford.

Wine prices are determined more by rarity than quality. A $500 bottle of wine does not taste ten times better than a $50 bottle. Occasionally a wine producer will charge an exorbitant amount for a wine that lacks a pedigree. However that will not last long and I have seen many of these pretenders in the bargain bin within a couple of years. A $50 bottle of wine in retail probably costs between $10 and$20 to produce. A $1000 bottle does not cost that much more to produce. It’s simply the demand and reputation that justifies the price.

I have had the great opportunity to enjoy the most expensive wines in the world. In most cases they were business expenses or organized wine tastings such as those provided by the Wine Spectator magazine. Expensive wines are so much more enyoyable when you don’t have to justify the price. That being said, I have found an inordinate number of consumers who do not understand wine, but are willing to pay outrageous prices for wine because of its reputation.

Wine is a social beverage and its enjoyment is increased by participating in wine tastings, wine dinners and wine clubs. It won’t take you long to “tell the difference.”

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