While perusing Mangan’s blog recently, I followed his link to an article titled “Is Wine Bullshit?” In the article, Alex Mayyasi illustrates what many of us already know: That much of what we think we know about wine is smoke and mirrors. That even the so-called experts are often fooled by such tricks as coloring white wine red. He writes:
A Lafite Rothschild Bordeaux sells for a minimum of around $500 a bottle, while humble brands like Charles Shaw and Franzia sell for as little as $2. But as far as “wine economists” are concerned, the level of correlation between the price of a bottle of wine and its quality is low or nonexistent. In a number of damning studies, they suggest that wine is not just poorly priced, but that the different tastes we describe in wine may all be in our heads.
A 2008 paper in The Journal of Wine Economics, for example, found that when consumers are unaware of a wine’s price, they “on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less [than cheap ones].” Experts do not fare much better. The study could not conclude that experts preferred more expensive wine: “In sum, we ﬁnd a non-negative relationship between price and overall rating for experts. Due to the poor statistical signiﬁcance of the price coefﬁcient for experts, it remains an open question whether this coefﬁcient is in fact positive.”
In another experiment, critics tasted one red wine and one white wine. They described the red in language typical of reds and the white in language typical of whites. The problem? Both were identical white wines; the “red” had been tinted with food coloring.
I’ll admit it. I drink cheap wine. There are literally hundreds of different types of wine, available in various markets, for under $10 a bottle. My cheese is typically more expensive than my wine.
But Mayyasi points out an important fact at the end of his article:
But what these studies really tell us is that our idea of taste as a constant, even if appreciated in subjectively different ways, is a fiction. Due to the complicated way that we experience taste – as an amalgamation of information from all 5 senses, our expectations, and how we think about what we are tasting – taste is easily manipulated.
Our enjoyment of good food is just as susceptible to trickery. Food dye can trick us into tasting a flavor like lemon or cheddar that is not actually present. Fish markets, restaurants, and sushi joints present less expensive fish as their more prestigious (and supposedly better tasting) peers unnoticed every day. This past year, Europeans happily ate up meatballs containing horsemeat, only expressing outrage when regulators revealed its presence.
Since a $5 wine can so easily be mistaken for a $50 wine, we encourage you to unabashedly reach for wine on the bottom shelf. We’ve applied this principle, often a bit self-righteously. But it should also give you pause about everything you eat and drink. If you boycott expensive wine, should you also avoid sushi and seafood restaurants because you know that cheap fish can be just as enjoyable? Embrace fast food chains’ practice of diluting the quality of their meat? If wine is bullshit, then isn’t everything else we eat and drink bullshit too?
No doubt. But why stop at food and drink? The entire human experience might be considered bullshit at one level or another. Are our senses truly faithful to reality? The very existence of matter is now subject to doubt; at the quantum level, everything appears to be energy frequencies. What we consider solid is not solid at all if we examine it closely enough.
But all this doesn’t matter much when you’re falling from a tall building. All the quantum physics, philosophy and enlightenment in the world will not help you when you reach the end of your fall. You’ll still end up a mangled pancake when your not-so-solid body makes contact with the not-so-solid pavement. Our perception of reality is accurate enough to have allowed us to survive as a species and navigate our world successfully.
I’m a bit surprised that Mangan himself didn’t make the connection between the Mayyasi’s wine article and race. Even if we’re mistaken about race-realism*, and there really is no difference between the races other than the superficial ones, this is enough to make race a reality. As humans, we cannot escape our own perceptions. We are what we are, and if we happen to be made of bullshit, then so be it. The sooner we come to terms with this, the better off we’ll be.
* But the science behind the the biological reality of race is overwhelming, and getting stronger every day.