This year at FENAVIN the revolutionary American blogger will be talking about the wager he is making on simpler, cheaper wines, as opposed to the pricey labels that receive the best ratings in the world's most famous wine guides, which is one of the themes he writes about in his blog 'The Wine Trials'
This year at FENAVIN the American blogger Robin Golstein is aiming at dismantling the myth of the wine guides and wine classifications promoted by the great gurus of the international world of wine, publications that quite often lay down the law in that pertaining to the tastes and prices of many of the world's wines, as he duly explained in the interview that he gave to the trade fair's organization.
It is in his website, The Wine Trials, where he champions the double-blind tasting session as a guaranty of honest reviews made of a wine, as in his opinion, "when we taste a wine, we are also tasting all the things we know about the wine."
Goldstein, who studied Neurology at Harvard and is a Law Graduate by the University of Yale, will be offering the keys to enjoying wines, independently of labels or prices, this during the chat he will be giving at FENAVIN, which will take place on May 11th at 11.00 a.m.
Question. What are the main conclusions obtained from the work you have been carrying out in the last few years in The Wine Trials?
Answer. I have really learned a lot during this time that goes from the first publication through to the current edition of "The Wine Trials 2011" and this has been because of the constant process of updating that I have carried out. One thing that has really changed in this time are the consumers, as in these difficult economic times, they are increasingly aware of how absurd high prices in the wine market can actually be. Year after year, the consumer is exacting more value, and by way of blind tasting sessions and with experiments such as ours, those who drink wine have learned that quite often they find the same pleasure when they drink cheaper wines as they do with the more expensive ones. The result of these two factors has been that the demand for wines that cost more than 25 or 30 dollars a bottle has dropped drastically.
Nowadays the only thing that is keeping sales of high priced wines going is the ever-increasing demand for luxury brands in emerging markets such as China. It is in countries such as these, where there is a short history of wine consumption, where the nouveau riche tend to follow the recommendations of the "experts", experts that still perpetuate the myth that a really good wine has to cost hundreds of dollars a bottle. Thankfully, this myth is disappearing in other places. Even American consumers, who have not really been drinking wine for as long as the Europeans, are now ever more skeptical about this type of snobbery.
The quality of quite a few wines that cost less than 15 dollars a bottle and that have been included in "The Wine Trials 2011" classification actually reflect the interesting fact that wine producers are now responding to the market changes. Thus they are offering better wines in this segment and, in some cases, all they have done is lower the prices in order to compete in a cheaper market. This trend is truly in benefit of lovers of wine worldwide.
Q. Is there some sort of confrontation between Robert Parker and The Wine Trials team? Do you think that Parker's new book, which includes recommendations of wines that cost less than 15 dollars, has been inspired by your work of the last few years?
A. Well, I'm not actually sure if Parker and his publishers have launched this new guide on wines for less than 15 dollars in response to the success enjoyed by "The Wine Trials", or if the new book is actually in response to the exploding demand there is on the market for cheaper wine. At any rate, I do believe that there are tremendous differences between his approach and mine. The most important philosophical difference between us is that Parker's classifications acknowledge wines that are "heavier" or more full-bodied, with a higher concentration of alcohol.
In turn, he practically ignores the main wine categories that follow-up on the 15-dollar category, such as a Provençal rosé or a Spanish cava. These are the segments in the cheap wine market that are undergoing more growth, however, Parker and his colleagues, such as the incredibly pretentious David Schildknecht, don't even consider these wines worthy of mention in their guide book. When I recently reviewed Parker's book for The Journal of Wine Economics, I wrote the following:
"Schildknecht simply dismisses a Provençal rosé as an "ocean of cheap rosé wine", "existence" of which is largely blamed on the "uncritical behavior" of "tourists who flock there" (although the "natives" share some blame as well). As a result, only the "small upper echelon" of rosés is "interesting." "How ignorant are those tourists on the seaside who gaze out at the waves and simply enjoy the refreshing local wine with their grilled seafood instead of complaining about how uninteresting they are!"
My colleagues and I take the opposite approach in The Wine Trials. We do everything possible to highlight the fact that the price is not necessarily an indication of bad quality, but rather the point where prices should naturally tend to fall.
Q. What influence do the great gurus of wine have on the consumers' choice of wines?
A. Despite the important influence that the wine gurus still have in that pertaining to expensive wines, I do believe that their influence on consumers of simpler wines is quickly diminishing. This is not only because they are skeptical about the outrageous prices, as I mentioned before, but also because of the growth of the Internet as a new platform to evaluate wine and exchange opinions.
Of course not all wine bloggers know what they are talking about and, undoubtedly, there are a bunch of crazy consumer motivators out there whose only goal is to obtain free wine, acting as they do as the puppet of any public relations agency. However, there are now many great, independent wine writers who are also acquiring power, be this through their own blogs, videos or comments on other wine sites, acting in opposition to the gurus that are overrating expensive wine and who want to maintain their status quo.
This diversity of opinions is insuring that consumers become aware of the fact that famous wine critics do not necessarily have a monopoly over flavor.
Q. How is Spanish wine perceived in the United States?
A. I am a great fan of traditional wines, of terroir wines, such as the wines of La Rioja and other regions that have not succumbed to Parker's view of what a great wine should be. I am in search of wine made by producers such as López de Heredia, Cune or Marqués de Murrieta, in which the soil, flowers and evocative style can be seen and savored in their wines. In my opinion, their prices are very reasonable in comparison with other traditional regions of the old world, as is the case with Burgundy.
Moreover, perhaps, what I admire the most about La Rioja is that these wines tend to be liberated after spending several years maturing in the bottle. I love the fact that Spain resists and does not liberate wine when it is still too young to be drunk. We cannot really expect all consumers or all restaurants to have a huge cellar, or the patience to wait for years until they can drink a certain wine.
Q. Do you believe that Spanish wine would be more successful on the US market if it was sold with a unique "Wines from Spain" label, or do you think that it is better to be present on the market with different designations of origin?
A. I think that distribution of all of Spain's wines under a sole denomination is a terrible idea. Not only would this confuse the consumers in the US (as would also be the case anywhere else), but it would also be an insult to the diversity and heritage of Spain's noble wine tradition.
Q. What are your upcoming projects?
A. I am currently involved in a very interesting project that is bringing together my academic facet with my most popular work, and it will have a more specific impact on the world of food products and wine. I have just laid out the foundations of the Sensory Perception Center at the Culinary Institute of America in California's Napa Valley. This new project is in collaboration with the Stanford Business School, the French INSEAD and a few outstanding researchers from the field of neuroscience, sensory science and behavioral economics. The goal behind the project is to carry out experiments that will help us reach a better understanding of external influences and of the slant that is contrary to intuition in our own sensory experience.
For example, we are trying to understand why we have more pleasant flavor experiences when we think a wine is expensive than when we are told that we are drinking a cheap wine, or why some foods taste better when we know that a famous chef has prepared them. It is not simply a matter of mere snobbery. It is a profoundly human phenomenon that affects all of us. Traditionally these types of phenomena have been spurned under the general title of "placebo effect". The most thrilling project for me is to be able to come to terms with these effects as part of what makes us human, and admit our suggestion when dealing with tastes. We also want to find the way to liberate the power we all have within our own brain in order to have incredible experiences with our sense of taste, without any need for external signals that trigger these sensations.
Q. What is your opinion of FENAVIN?
A. In one word, it is overwhelming. The last time I was here was in 2009, when I had the honor to meet Santi Santamaria, one of the last great controversial voices in the culinary world. I was lucky enough to meet him before his premature death, which was indeed a very sad moment for the gastronomic community. I do believe that the will of this trade fair is not only to gather together the experts from the world of wine, but also intellectuals from all over the world and from different fields, which is what really marks the difference in comparison with other events of this type.
I was so extremely bewildered by the variety of wines that I tasted the last time I was at Fenavin, in 2009, that I basically decided to focus the tasting sessions on wines from regions that I was familiar with, such as the Canary Islands or Castilla-La Mancha wines. Even so, I felt that I had just barely scratched the surface. I hope this year to really broaden my horizons and experiment with other regions of Spain that I am not familiar with, all this while trying to stay sober in the process. I sincerely consider it a privilege to have been invited once again.