Paying For Amy – Value and Wine #MWWC10

25 Jun

There’s a self-abusive, yet strangely entertaining, monthly event in wine writing circles called the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. Last month the challenge was won by The Sybarite. And, as is the custom, he got to choose the theme for this month’s challenge – Value.

MWWCWe hear all the time about ‘value wines’. Wine Spectator and the other trade publications have an annual “Value Wines” edition. Frankly it’s a tall order for anyone to land on what wines might provide value for others. I used to studiously pour over the lists and compare to my local availability. Sure, it’s how I twigged to some of the wines that I’ve come to love in most vintages. So, it is a start to finding wines that taste good and within their definition don’t cost as much as they deliver. But I believe that’s a narrow definition of ‘value’. How does anyone, expert or not, determine what wine is of ‘value’ to me? And, does it have anything to do with price? I’m sure other bloggers will talk about this very thing in their value discussions. It’s not possible to set a value on a wine for me or anyone else – in monetary terms or otherwise. Each of us gets to decide a wine’s ‘value.’ And, how would we do that?

It’s kind of like paying for Amy. Wait, that came out wrong – it’s kind of like ‘paying’ Amy –that’s better.

galway pubLet me explain. We were recently in Galway, Ireland. One of the coolest cities I’ve visited in the last while – vibrant, youthful, pubs and music everywhere, great food, and loads of opportunities to experience what the city had to offer – few barriers to enjoyment. One of the things that we did was take a walking tour of the city. Amy, our guide, introduced us to a new concept – Free Tours! The way this works is that you take the tour and at the end, pay what you think the tour was worth to you. Sounds pretty simple – but think about it. How many times in your life have you been afforded the opportunity to set the tariff for a service or product that you receive? It isn’t easy to determine what to pay. Do you pay what you imagine Amy believes she should net for her efforts? I mean Amy has had to master the skills of storytelling, learn all the things that might be needed on the history of Galway and spent 2 hours of her time wandering you around. Or, do you pay based on what you learned against a previously determined schedule of objectives developed in concert with your annual personal growth plan? Sorry, couldn’t help myself, I used to be a bureaucrat. How about based on how many times you turned to your significant other and said, “Man, this is good?” What is the value of the tour to you – just you – because you have to attempt to translate that value into a dollar, or in this case, Euro figure. And you’re the one to reach in your pocket or man-purse.

Back to wine. We can’t drink a bottle of wine, say, take the figurative tour of a California Pinot Noir, and then, like in Galway finally determine what we think we should pay for it. I get that. Let’s just admit that the relationship between quality and cost QPR (Quality Price Ratio) is just one way to measure ‘value’. Maybe cost is the least of your considerations when asking yourself, “Do I highly value that wine?” So if it’s not cost that determines a wine’s value, what is it?

Good question, le Professeur Grand Fromage. Maybe the best way to explain my muddied thinking is by discussing some of the wines that hold my highest value ratings ever and trying to figure out why that is so.

In no particular order:

Morellino di Scansano (vintage and producer forgotten)

We enter a small ristorante in Rome – basement kind of place, staff in cool suits and none under the age of 50, passing a pile of the made-that-day mozzarella as we drift by the kitchen to our table. Once seated, I order a plate of ravioli with butter and sage. The wine? A Morellino di Scansano – maybe the third least expensive red on the wine list. Let’s just say, “I loved this wine.” The ravioli was superb – the best pasta I’ve ever had. I mean the situation was top drawer. Did the wine hold great value to me? You bet. But, why? Along with the meal (I’m not sure this wine was a match in any accepted matching paradigm) and the ambience, it held very high value for me. So, great food and ambience for me can contribute to the subjective value of a wine.

1999 Ch. Leoville-Barton, 2002 Ch. Montelena Napa Estate

We have a place in what we call God’s Country. It’s 300 feet of lakeshore on a Muskoka lake – surrounded by trees. You’re immersed in nature and family memories. So, one of our great pleasures is having friends visit us and share our favourite space. And, should one of those friends love wine too, there’s a bit of a pressure placed on them and me to deliver a good to great wine experience while on the lake. Last year we had a great day with friends. I can’t even remember the meal. The wine, however – 1999 Ch. Leoville Barton and 2002 Ch. Montelena Napa Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, I remember. Now, both these wines carry a bit of a price tag in my circle. I mean that they are more expensive than we usually drink. But, really. I mean, REALLY. There are moments that tell you seeking, finding, splurging on, and drinking wine is a very good thing. Very good. This was one of them. These wines held disproportionate value too. But why? Well, they were exquisite, beautiful, and that beauty was enhanced with friends. So, we have meal (accompaniment), ambience, the subjective experience of the wine itself, and friends all creating value in wine.

Last one: Assyrtiko

While in Santorini, we visited a winery whose name I can’t remember that perched high on the edge of the cauldera. If you’ve been to Santorini you’ll know what magic that place carries. As we sat by the edge (and, I’m not big on edges), sipping a glass of Assyrtiko, it all made sense. In my view, there are few, if any, wines that tell you where they come from more than Assyrtiko. It couldn’t come from, say California, south of France – maybe Sicily – nope not Sicily either. Assyrtiko is pure Santorini in a glass. Wine geeks call it terroir. Not sure what I’d call it. But, this wine provided such a connection between what we were experiencing at the edge of the cauldera and the swish, sip, and swallow. After all, winemaking is agriculture and when a glass of wine connects you to the land from which it comes it is an experience brimming with value for me.

So, there you have it IMHO. Food, ambience, objective experience of the wine, friends, and connection to its source, for me, all contribute to the value of a wine. And, even better in combination. And, unless, I’m not paying attention, none of those include a sterile evaluation of the wine against cost in the midst of a tasting room full of a hundred or so other wines. How much would I pay for those valu’able’ wines? If I took the “tour” in advance, it might have been expensive. But, alas, we can’t experience the wine first then determine, like with Amy, how much we will pay. So, instead, I pay attention to the when, with whom, with what, where from, and where of a wine that I’m thinking of buying or pulling from the basement. And, hopefully, the value takes care of itself.

BTW, Amy was great. Fun, informed and personable. Highly recommend both Galway and Amy. What did we pay? That’s a secret.

 

12 Responses to “Paying For Amy – Value and Wine #MWWC10”

  1. Confessions of a Wine Geek June 25, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

    Great post! And 1999 Leoville-Barton is an amazing wine!!

    • Duff's Wines June 25, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

      Thanks. Bordeaux can be a crapshoot sometimes as far as when to open it. The L-B was seemingly at its peak.

  2. the drunken cyclist June 26, 2014 at 10:31 am #

    Great! Another entry!

  3. Kavalkade Krew June 29, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    Can’t Amy pay her own way?

    • Duff's Wines June 29, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

      I think she simply might have been a homeless Galwegian.

      • Kavalkade Krew June 29, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

        Oh. Well that’s generous of you then.

  4. foxress June 29, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    Wonderful post! I especially loved your Assyrtiko description. That made me thirsty.

  5. dracaenawines July 1, 2014 at 7:13 pm #

    We were introduced to Free Tours in New Orleans this February. What a concept! Apparently, there is a website and everything. You made a great correlation to value of wine. And BTW- we have been to Galway and absolutely loved it too!

    • Duff's Wines July 1, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

      Thanks for the tip. We will check out the Free Tours site. We travel a bit and find that an early orientation to our surroundings and history by a ‘local’ beats Lonely Planet et al.
      Now, New Orleans is in our bucket list. So will do the free tour for sure. Thanks.

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