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Tastings at Tea Time

Getting Sloshed with Redeeming Social Consequence
by burton malkiel

The Review mostly publishes articles on economic policy. Why, then, this chronicle of the doings of a bunch of aging ivory tower types who get sloshed together once a month in New Jersey? First, these aren’t just any academics. The author, Burt Malkiel, emeritus professor of economics at Princeton and former dean of the Yale School of Management, wrote the best book ever about personal finance. And two of his fellow quaffers, Orley Ashenfelter and Richard Quandt, are among America’s most distinguished economists, specializing in labor and econometrics, respectively. Second, while they were enjoying tea time with Bacchus, they were also challenging long unquestioned assumptions about who, how and where great wine is made — in the process, changing the wine industry forever. I, for one, am jealous.  —Peter Passell

Published February 14, 2024


It is said that drinking good wine with good food and good friends is one of life’s most civilized pleasures. This perfectly describes the beginning of one of the longest-running wine tasting groups in the country. Three friends with different backgrounds and professions decided during the 1980s to spend at least one late afternoon each month socializing over glasses of wine and a variety of meats and cheeses.

Today the group has expanded to eight, the majority in their 80s and 90s, who agree that wine improves with age: the older they get, the better they like it. This group of dedicated individuals has spent well over 30 years drinking some of the world’s great wines, debunking myths with an intellectual and hedonistic curiosity. This is their story.

Two of the original members were Princeton University professors. Orley Ashenfelter, a noted labor economist, was an early champion of experimental research in economics, both in the lab and in large-scale social experiments. And Orley — I’ll refer to my fellow wine tasters by their familiar names throughout — extended his reach to, of all things, wine, using statistical methods to show how rainfall and summer heat influence the quality and price of wine. In general, high-quality vintages correspond to the years in which the harvest seasons are dry, the summers are warm and subsurface moisture is abundant from wet conditions during the previous winter and spring.

Startlingly straightforward? Yes, but hardly popular with the professional wine establishment. Robert Parker, one of the most influential wine critics, called Orley’s method “Neanderthal,” “ludicrous and absurd.” Today, Orley’s work is widely accepted. In 2023 he was given an honorary doctorate from the Université de Bordeaux. The university cited his empirical work on the wine market and noted that he has “made wine economics … emerge as a complete discipline at the international level.”

Orley is also an owner of vineyards in California and New Jersey. He has treated the group to delicious tastings of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc from his New Jersey vineyards. It is easy to see why the establishment of a wine tasting group would have considerable appeal to him. It is also clear why the Princeton wine tasting group was so unique. How many tasting groups include a real-life grower and vineyard owner? And while there are wine tasting groups all over the world, there are no others to our knowledge that have existed for almost 40 years with reasonably stable membership and who publish their results on a website named

Richard Quandt, the second founding member of the group, is a noted econometrician. Many elements of the economist’s standard statistical analytic toolkit have their origins in his work. Dick, the senior member of the group, now in his early 90s, strikes a dramatic presence with his impressive head of wavy white hair, his Hungarian accent and his very large Labrador retriever, Stormy.

Dick developed the methods by which the wine tasting group could judge the quality of the wine tasted as well as the software to do the analysis of the statistical results. Perhaps the most significant was his analysis of the wine group’s retesting of a famous 1976 Paris wine tasting, the Judgment of Paris. In the original iconic tasting, wines that were produced in France (including first-growth Bordeaux such as Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion) were compared with arguably similar red wines from California. The judges were French oenophiles. The unthinkable happened: wines from the Napa Valley bested those from France, and thereafter California was catapulted to the top of the fine wine conversation.

The Judgment of Paris was the brainchild of Steven Spurrier, the English owner of a wine shop in Paris who set up the tasting with his American associate Patricia Gallagher. Not only did unheralded wines from California’s David best the Goliath of Bordeaux, but the French judges were unable to identify the provenance of the wines. One wine expert declared that one of the storied French wines was “definitely California. It has no nose.” Judge Odette Kahn, editor for La Revue du Vin de France, was so incensed about the results (and her ranking of the American wines as best in their categories) that she unsuccessfully demanded that she could have her rating sheet returned so she could alter her preferences. As Jim Barnett, the owner of the vineyard that produced one of the winning California wines, put it, “Not bad for a kid from the sticks.” 

Quandt performed the statistical analysis. Interestingly, the French judges preferred the New Jersey offerings and were incredulous that they could not identify the provenance of the wines.

Organizer Spurrier became a bête noire in Paris and was ejected from cellars where he had previously been welcome. This classic tasting inspired a movie entitled Bottle Shock. But according to George Tabor, the reporter who wrote the book about the tasting, the movie took great liberties with the story and did not give credit to the actual winning winemaker, Mike Grgich.

Dick and Orley organized a repeat of the Paris tasting in 2012 in the Judgment at Princeton. Some of the most prestigious French wines were compared with wines produced in New Jersey, selling for a tiny fraction of the French wines’ prices. Nine tasters were involved: three French, one Belgian and five Americans. Quandt performed the statistical analysis. The results indicated that the rank-order of the wines was indistinguishable. Interestingly, the French judges preferred the New Jersey offerings and were incredulous that they could not identify the provenance of the wines. Now we Princetonians can dismiss the stigma of the Sopranos and the Jersey Turnpike, confident in the realization that the best from the Garden State can compete with the first growths of Bordeaux.

The third member of the original group was a good friend of Dick and Orley, the late Frank Vannerson, who had been a graduate student in economics at Princeton. His PhD thesis comprised a statistical analysis of grain markets in which he developed a remarkably successful model for the prediction of wheat prices.

Frank was cofounder of Commodities Corporation, a company that was a principal trader of commodities and a pioneer in developing institutional interest in these markets. He later cofounded Mount Lucas Management Corporation and served as the company’s chair until his untimely death in 2008. His curiosity and enthusiasm extended to the wine market, where predicting prices was not nearly as interesting as participating in wine tastings.

When the U.S. led a coalition of the willing into the Iraq War, many Western nations, especially France, vigorously opposed the conflict. What followed was a rise in anti-French sentiment (by some) in the United States, with vocal backlashes against French products and French nomenclature. French fries were renamed “freedom fries” and French toast became “liberty toast.” A restaurateur in Palm Beach, Florida, was shown on national television pouring French wine into the gutter in front of his establishment.

Frank wondered whether, with all of the negative publicity, there would be a drop in the sales of French products in the United States. What he found was that there was, in fact, no effective French wine boycott. U.S. consumers continued buying French wine in a manner consistent with pre-war patterns. Frank’s paper, “Wine, Francophobia and Boycotts,” was delivered at a conference in Dijon in 2004 and published by the Vineyard Data Quantification Society.

Membership Has Its Privileges

While tastings with three friends were certainly enjoyable, the original group decided that with more members, a much larger variety of wines could be investigated and enjoyed. So they invited a number of new participants to join. The next member of the group was Robert Easton, the chair and CEO of Commodities Corporation. Bob was a logical addition to the group. He was a good friend and associate of Frank Vannerson, and he possessed a magnificent wine collection. Bob was one of the most visionary leaders of the commodities futures trading industry. He held numerous leadership positions on futures exchanges as well as in government and industry regulatory organizations. He was also a visionary in how he collected wines. 

Bob accumulated many cases of the best Burgundies, such as those from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, when they were selling at prices as low as $10 and $20 a bottle. He treated the group to delightful tastings of these wines. When prices of these wines rose to exceed $10,000 a bottle, Bob sent part of his collection for sale at a Hong Kong wine auction. But while his highly profitable trade appears to demonstrate the truism that economists and financial executives know the price of everything but the value of nothing, just the opposite was true of the wine tasting group. The greatest delight came from the enjoyment of great wine with friends.

The next member of the group was John Lowrance, a noted astrophysicist who was active in the tastings until his death in 2011. He founded Princeton Scientific Instruments Company to develop and build microcomputer-controlled television camera systems for scientific applications. He was a collector of oriental rugs and wine. After purchasing a large, diverse wine collection, he treated the group to several memorable tastings. 

When John died, the wine group realized that John’s widow was not a wine drinker and not likely to make use of the wine collection. So they categorized his extensive cellar and sent the inventory listing to Sotheby’s for an estimate of its market value. The group then purchased the cellar from John’s widow and divided it up equitably among the members.

By 2023, there were eight members of the group. I joined soon after the original founders had established the tasting society. I am a financial economist, best known for my view that investment professionals are usually unable to select a portfolio of individual stocks that can outperform the broad market averages. Hence the best investment strategy is to rely on low-cost index funds that simply buy and hold all the stocks in broad stock-market indices.

My own love affair with wine was slow in developing. While growing up my only experience with wine was during Passover, where Manischewitz wine was served during the Seder ceremony. I thought at the time how curious it was that many people liked to drink such a sickeningly sweet beverage.

Another early member of the group was Edward Bergman. Ed has been a practicing attorney and mediator in Princeton for almost 50 years. In addition, he has taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and the Perelman School of Medicine. His teaching follows from his professional experience with highly successful courses in negotiation and dispute resolution, as well as mediation of healthcare disputes. 

The next two members trace their wine tasting origins to the UK. Zaki Hosny, of Egyptian descent, was raised in India. He cultivated his interest in wine as an undergraduate at Cambridge University, and it has been maturing ever since. In his career with the global pharmaceutical firm Merck, he has had the good fortune to have lived in major wine-producing countries. He has a particular affinity for Provence (and its sturdy, long-lived reds), having owned a vacation home there with his wife for 20 years. Still active in retirement as a senior advisor to the Albright Stonebridge Group, he has been a member of the wine group since 2011.

Mike Head’s first introduction to wine was at lunch at a UK college friend’s home, where the friend’s father shared bottles from a well-stocked cellar. Drinking his first old Bordeaux as well as a German Trokenbeerenauslee, a very sweet white wine from late-picked grapes, he was both astounded and hooked. The idea of sharing old vintages with one’s children and friends was such a great joy that Mike has repeated the experience throughout his life.

Like Zaki, Mike’s business experience was in the pharmaceutical industry, his with Johnson & Johnson, where he traveled the world collecting wine and sharing special bottles with family and friends. Retired from J&J, he now serves as a strategic consultant at the Fearless Group. Mike’s healthcare industry experience played a central role for the group during the Covid-19 pandemic. More on that later.

Since Orley and Dick found faculty meetings tedious and boring, having an “unbreakable prior commitment” provided a handy excuse for their absence. Thus, we’ve called the event “Tastings at Tea Time.”

Frank Lorenzo, the eighth member of the wine tasting group, joined in early 2012. Born to Spanish immigrants, Lorenzo grew up in Queens, New York. He first was exposed to wine by his father, who made his own wine in the basement of their house and grew some of his grapes in a backyard arbor, although he also bought higher quality grapes in Manhattan. 

Frank grew interested in airlines by watching the planes that flew over his backyard en route to landing at LaGuardia Airport. In time, he became an airline executive in the 1970s and ’80s, running Eastern and Continental Airlines. He earned a reputation for challenging the existing cost structure of the airline industry after it had been deregulated and, in the process, became the embodiment of the newly deregulated aviation era. He was also known for building Continental and its new Houston and Newark hubs, which have formed a key part of the since-merged United Airlines. Since leaving Continental in 1990, Frank has been chair of Savoy Capital, an asset management and venture capital firm. The firm has analyzed several wine businesses for potential investment and has concluded that wine production is far better suited for enjoyment than for profitable investment. 

The “Tea” Ceremony

The three original group members (Orley, Dick and Frank Vannerson) decided that the tastings would take place from 4:30 in the afternoon to 7:30 in the evening on the first Monday of each month from October through May. No tastings were held in the summer. While late afternoons were not natural times for savoring different vintages as well as cheeses and meats, there was a special reason for the specific timing. Attendance at Princeton University faculty meetings was “strongly recommended” for Princeton professors, and these were held at 4:30 p.m. on the first Monday of each month. Since Orley and Dick found such meetings tedious and boring, having an “unbreakable prior commitment” provided a handy excuse for their absence. Thus, we’ve called the event “Tastings at Tea Time.”

Each of the eight members of the wine group organizes and hosts one tasting a year. We order a limo to pick the rest of us up and later return us to our respective homes. Driving after these events is inadvisable; after the tasting, we resemble happy, brain-impaired two-year-olds. Babies can drink a bottle and fall right to sleep. So can we at the conclusion of our tastings.

The host picks the theme (type of wine and provenance) for the tasting and procures the wine and food. All of our tastings are “blind”: the bottles are wrapped with foil or placed in paper bags so that their identities are obscured. The tastings almost always involve red wines. The wines are poured into glasses at the places of each of the eight tasters. The dining room table, set with 64 glasses of red wine, is truly an awesome sight to behold. Bread, cheeses and charcuterie are placed on separate tables, and we help ourselves. Usually, a glass of white wine is offered prior to the official tasting. By the end of the tasting, most, if not all, of the wine is consumed. For our group, “drinking responsibly” means “try not to spill your wine on the table.”

We each have a specialty in selecting the meat and cheese served at the tasting events. Dick always includes paté de foie gras. Bob serves filet mignon. Ed’s signature offerings are warm and cold antipasti. Zaki’s wife, Liz, delights us with her succulent sausage rolls. I always obtain some of Paul Prudhomme’s andouille sausage from New Orleans.

We smell, sip and taste (together with conversation that rises in exuberance) for about an hour until we are ready to rank the wines. One signal that it is time to do the ranking is when Dick says, “The wines are changing on me.” We then force rank each of the eight wines — no ties are allowed. We rate the wines based on how they are tasting at that moment, and report our assessment: wine A is ranked fifth, wine B second, wine C eighth and so on.

This is all recorded in real time using a wine tasting app based up Dick’s original software. We tally the votes in a table of “votes against.” If all eight of us ranked a particular wine first, it would have a “votes against” tally of eight (the sum of the eight ranks). If we all ranked a wine eighth, it would have a “votes against” total of 64. The wine ranked best has the lowest total votes against. Of course, if there is little agreement among the tasters, many of wines will have votes against totals in the mid-30s, with little difference in the sum of the ranks. Whoever has the least correlation with the group is also celebrated and given a special mention for his individuality.

The identity of the wines is then revealed and we share quick statistical analyses. Did we tend to agree on our rankings? Was the agreement statistically significant? Did pairs of tasters tend to agree? Was there agreement with the numerical ratings of professional tasters such as Robert Parker? Did we like the more expensive wines more than wines that cost a good deal less? Did the wines in the tasting come from different countries, as in the Judgment of Paris? If so, did we enjoy cabernets from the Napa Valley as much as those from Bordeaux? (In such comparison tastings, we each try to identify the provenance of the wine before its identity is revealed.) We delight in debunking myths and finding wines that beat their more expensive peers.

Next we vigorously discuss our judgment of the quality and taste of the wines. By convention, we refrain from discussing the wines being tasted until this moment. How did the results comport with our prior expectations? What if anything have we learned from the experiment?

We record notes from the discussions, as well as the statistical analysis and a summary. We measure the extent of our agreement with one another, as well as with professional wine analysts, by correlating the different rankings. At the end of the tasting, the host usually serves some sweets as well as an additional wine, such as a Sauterne, and espresso for those who are sure they would have no trouble sleeping even after drinking coffee so late in the day. We leave with the knowledge that while too much of anything is bad, too much wine is just right.

Crisis Is No Obstacle

Perhaps the best illustration of the durability and persistence of the Princeton Wine Group is its adaptability to adversity. When Covid-19 was especially virulent, group meetings of older participants were inadvisable even for such important gatherings as Tastings at Tea Time. But the group persevered and found a brilliant way to overcome the obstacle.

The architect of the solution was Mike Head, who used his healthcare industry background to create an innovative solution. Mike ordered 60 100-millileter glass flask bottles from a company that provides vials to the pharma industry. There were enough flask bottles (and caps) for each host to share up to eight wines with the remaining seven members of the group. The flask bottles were marked A, B, C, etc. The host could then fill the flask bottles with the different wines and deliver them in sturdy boxes outside the door of each our homes. We could then taste and evaluate the wines over Zoom. Not even a pandemic could interrupt the group from its important mission.

Nor could a weather emergency keep us from attending our scheduled event. On one winter Monday, central New Jersey was hit by a massive blizzard. The only driver willing to attempt the task of picking us up and delivering us to the host’s house had a Prius, which is less-than-robust in those weather conditions. To fit everybody in, we had one person in the trunk and, inevitably, the vehicle was unable to make the climb up an incline to one of the homes. The picture of a group of determined octogenarians pushing the limousine through some hilly Princeton streets as well as up a steep driveway to the host’s house is no less remarkable in its own context than Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Mount Everest.

We Don’t Know a Lot About Wine but We Know What We Like

Ed Bergman hosted a special tasting on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the posting of our tasting reports. The tasting was held outdoors on a beautiful day in May in Ed’s garden, the table surrounded by glorious blooming flowers. The event featured a vertical tasting of Chateau Léoville-Poyferré wines from various years between 2001 and 2012 (a horizontal tasting would feature different wines from the same vintage year). An extraordinary selection of patés, jambon and saucisson were provided from an artisanal French charcuterie in addition to a variety of cheeses. Ed prepared a delicious warm French potato salad. The pièce de résistance was a decadent chocolate cake served after the tasting. The Princeton Wine Group certainly knows how to celebrate.

As usual, we filled out our tasting preferences from first to eighth before the identity of the wines was revealed. In this tasting, the votes against totals were almost identical in the mid-30s for each wine. There was no statistically significant difference among any of the wines. And there was also no agreement among the tasters. The correlation of the preferences of the judges was 0.039. There was also essentially zero correlation with the numerical ratings of the professional tasters as well as with the prices of the wines. The results of this tasting were quite similar to those of other tastings, raising the question of what we learned other than spending a highly enjoyable late afternoon and early evening in each other’s company.

Quandt reminds us, “People do not necessarily value the same attributes in wines. Two wines could be objectively quite wonderful, yet tasters could form very differing opinions about them.”

What can be concluded about the lessons learned by a group of friends who have spent almost 40 years drinking wine together? It would be presumptuous to conclude that we all learned the same lessons. In total over the years, based on tastings going back to 1993, there have been 1,708 different wines in 244 tastings. Indeed, the divergences revealed in our ratings of the different vintages of Léoville Poyferré show how personal and idiosyncratic the judging of wine can be.

As Dick Quandt reminds us, there are good reasons for disagreements: “People do not necessarily value the same attributes in wines. Some people dislike tannin in the wine while others don’t; some dislike acid while still others are relatively more sensitive to sugar; still others care particularly about aroma and fruit in the taste. Two wines could be objectively quite wonderful, yet tasters could form very differing opinions about them.”

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned is modesty. I realize how ephemeral my judgments, as well as those of other members of the group, have been. It is striking to me how little agreement there so often is during our tastings. And even when there is some conformity of views, usually the “best” in terms of the lowest votes against does not pass the test of statistical significance.

In all of our tastings there was only one time I remember when the group was unanimous in its ranking. It was a champagne tasting, and a $2 bottle of a Russian sparkling wine bought at a Moscow airport was included. We all believed it was undrinkable. As someone who has often believed in the randomness of life, my experience with blind wine tastings confirms my view that my own ranking, the rankings of my wine group colleagues and above all the ratings of experts need to be evaluated with multiple grains of salt.

One question we might ask is whether our stable group of wine tasters has gotten better at judging wines over time. The best measure of agreement within the group is the correlations among our rankings. If our agreement became more solid over time, one might say that we had “learned” and generally become better at judging wines. But, in fact, the opposite was true.

The correlations among us actually fell over time. Not only did we not get better at forging agreement among ourselves, but over time we became less secure in our agreement. While none of this diminished the pleasure of tasting large numbers of excellent wines with good friends, this clearly shows that wine judging is a highly uncertain process.

I am also impressed how my preferences and those of the group are at times inconsistent. When I was faced with the same forced rankings of the same wines during different periods, my preferences were not the same over time. The same was true for the group as a whole. We once had tastings of exactly the same wines, separated by several years. The group came up with an entirely different set of preferences the second time around. 

I have enormous difficulty at our tastings coming up with a satisfactory ranking. While I can smell and taste differences, I am unable to say with any confidence that the quality of one wine is better than another. The same has usually been true for all of us in our decades of tasting. The quality of most wines was indistinguishable from others. And correlations of our group rankings with the price of the wines and with the ratings of experts were generally low or nonexistent.

We have also found in blind tastings that it is difficult if not impossible to identify a wine by its taste. We often ask in our tastings to identify some of the wines before their identity is revealed. As often as not, mistakes are made. The same is true for “professional” tasters. In the Judgment of Paris, the French tasters were unable accurately to distinguish the “new world” cabernets from those grown in Bordeaux. When Harry Waugh, the legendary British connoisseur, was asked the last time he had mistaken a French Bordeaux for a Burgundy in a blind tasting, he responded, “What time was lunch?”

Wines are often described by professional critics in terms of scents and fragrances. Consider the following:

The wine has a nose of blackberry, cassis, tobacco, cedar and gravel. There are also hints of licorice, forest floor, pencil lead, cinnamon and truffles. The wine gives galactic vibes.

It appears that the taster liked the wine, but I for one do not find the description helpful. And our group was unable to match the descriptions used by the experts to our tasting experience.

A delightful set of academic studies supports the skepticism about how difficult it is to make firm judgments about the quality of a wine. The studies were performed by the late Roman Weil. a professor of economics and accounting at the University of Chicago. He also was an oenophile with an incredible cellar.

Weil was a perpetual teacher who always relied on a rational approach to understanding the world. He would give his three young daughters math problems to solve as bedtime stories. The children would fall asleep struggling over prime factorization. The cost-accounting methods of LIFO (last in, first out) and FIFO (first in, first out) were repurposed for deciding which child was to go first and last out of the bathroom.

In one study, Weil offered a blind tasting of three unmarked glasses of wine to large numbers of both amateur and experienced tasters. The same wine was poured into two of the glasses and a different wine in the third glass. It turned out that neither novice nor highly sophisticated wine tasters could reliably identify the unique singleton from the two identical wines.

In another highly cited study, Weil addressed the propensity of professional critics to describe wine in terms of their characteristic aromas. He published the results in a 2007 article entitled “Debunking Critics’ Wine Words: Can Amateurs Distinguish the Smell of Asphalt from the Taste of Cherries?” in The Journal of Wine Economics. Weil found that consumers were unable to match the critics’ descriptions of the wine with the wines themselves. He concluded that the words used by wine critics contain zero information.

Global Terroir

It would be a mistake to conclude that all one reads about wine is useless. But it is fair to say that many expert opinions about wine are specious, and many tend to be arrogant and pretentious. Very often our wine group has had enormous difficulty at our tastings coming up with a satisfactory ranking. While we can smell and taste differences, we are usually unable to say with any confidence that the quality of one wine is better than another. As Dick Quandt has remarked, “The wine trade is intrinsically bullshit-prone and therefore attracts bullshit artists.” Never mistake the numerical ratings of wine experts for dependable guides to evaluation. And never assume that you can always judge the quality of a wine by its price.

The late moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt has opined that one of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. The essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony. It is impossible for people to lie unless they know the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.

I am sure that Paul Giamatti in the movie Sideways would not have said “If anybody orders merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f … g merlot” had he been offered a glass of Château Pétrus.

We would not conclude, however, that we learned nothing from our decades of monthly tasting. There is one conclusion on which there is unanimous agreement. The tastings have greatly expanded our knowledge and appreciation of wines on a global basis. As Zaki Hosny put it, “Having grown up in England, the clarets [i.e., Bordeaux wines] were my old friends. But they were my only friends. What the wine group gave me was the opportunity to savor new discoveries from all over the world that have now attained ‘best new friend status.’” Bob Easton opined, “The main lesson I learned is that there are many areas around the world where excellent wines are produced and often overlooked.” Ed Bergman admits to abandoning his prior “Francophilic approach and learning to appreciate wider expressions of excellence and wines made from unfamiliar varietals in various climates and soil types.” He also notes that a broadening of the wine spectrum is similar to what has happened in the art and music worlds, where we have seen a similar shift to inclusiveness from the provincialism of past curatorial approaches.

Frank Lorenzo has delighted us with tastings comparing the great wines of Spain with those of Argentina, Chile and the Napa Valley. Ed has produced memorable tastings of wines throughout Italy and Sicily. We have enjoyed many tastings of wines from California as well as from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Germany. The delicious pinot noirs from the Willamette Valley of Oregon and the Santa Cruz mountains of California were a revelation to many of us. Bob has recently introduced us to Oculus, a fantastic Bordeaux-style wine from British Columbia. And we all would agree that the broadening of our wine horizons has been a major benefit of our membership in the tea-time tasting group.

The opportunities to taste different wines from distinct regions of the world have made us appreciate the astonishing variety of great wines that are available. I am sure that Paul Giamatti in the movie Sideways would not have said “If anybody orders merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f … g merlot” had he been offered a glass of Château Pétrus. DH Lawrence would not have suggested that Spanish wine “is the sulphureous urination of some aged horse” had he sipped a glass of Vega Sicilia tempranillo. In our tastings we have sampled delicious wines of every type from every wine-growing region of the world. Without our wine group and a tasting of Chateau Musar, we would never have considered that excellent wines are produced in Lebanon. Nor would we have imagined that delicious cabernet sauvignons and cabernet francs could be produced in New Jersey.

We have also learned that wines do not have to be expensive to be delightful. To be sure, a tasting of Romanée Conti La Tache, Richebourg and Echézeaux alongside the top Domaine Leroy Grand Cru, was one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. We have enjoyed a similar experience drinking first-growth Bordeaux wines. But we have also had magnificent drinking experiences with far more modestly priced wines. And we have sometimes been fooled in blind tastings in not being able to distinguish the “second” wines of a producer from the primary vintage.

Second wines or second labels come from individual plots from a vineyard not chosen for the house’s top wine. For example, the second wine might be made from grapes harvested from the youngest vines. The practice of bottling second wine became very popular in the 1980s when wine consumers learned that they could enjoy wines from an estate at affordable prices without paying a premium for the top wine with the estate’s prestigious label. Many of these “second wines” from a producer can be just as enjoyable as the more expensive “grand vin.” For example, I have preferred the far less expensive “de Brane” Margaux wine to a Château Brane-Cantenac of the same vintage. And in one of our favorite tastings, several of the tasters, including me, preferred the second wine, Overture (available at one-third the price), to California’s Opus One. A simple Montepulciano can taste as good as a far more expensive Super Tuscan. One does not have to be wealthy to enjoy great wine.

And it is even possible to have a delightful wine tasting experience with wines priced between $10 and $20 a bottle. Never underestimate the joy that can be achieved from a simple Chianti. I would not complain if I could not afford any more expensive wine than a $15 Spanish Rioja or a $20 Italian Chianti. And nothing can bring a smile to my face more readily than the pleasure of a glass of Beaujolais and a cantal sandwich on a French baguette.

Our wine group has also learned that false beliefs about wine tend to get enshrined as unquestionable truths. It is wise to be skeptical. It is commonly believed that when it comes to wine grown in Bordeaux, older vintages are better. The results of our tastings, especially over time, suggest that very often we have more recently liked the younger wines best. Another shibboleth often perpetuated by wine experts is that Burgundies do not age well. Our group could not confirm this maxim. One widely believed trope that we are convinced is false is that the average rating scale given to a wine by experts is a reliable guide to its quality. Nor would our group agree that price is a reliable indicator of quality. As Zaki Hosny has opined, “I have learned that when it comes to wine wisdom, as Porgy sings to the dockworkers on Catfish Row, ‘It ain’t necessarily so.’”

Tastings at Tea Time has been more than a seminar for the enjoyment and discussion of wines from all over the world. Our meetings have often become a forum for the consideration of worldly matters both great and small. And the camaraderie of the group in convivial settings has almost always encouraged perfect attendance. We have grown old together around a shared passion that has kindled enduring friendships well beyond the bonhomie of tasting superb wines and food. And who knows? Perhaps the myth that drinking wine is good for your health and longevity might actually be true.

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