Those of us who have had thrust upon them some degree of advanced age (OK, delete “age” and insert “experience”) well recall a regularly-appearing, nationally distributed feature in most newspapers (remember those?) entitled “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”

It was full of tidbits of information that were strange, sometimes wonderful, but mostly just plain weird. For a while, the Jax Brewery Festival Marketplace in the Quarter even housed a Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. It’s gone and, with it, the taxidermy-stuffed body of the two-headed calf, a photograph/daguerreotype of General U.S. Grant doing his personal business on a battlefield and a copy of a signed love letter from “Silent Cal” Coolidge.

Here’s my more up-to-the-minute version of strange events centered on the world of wine and spirits.

Sounds like a Good Name to Me

Via Wines in Chile’s Maule Valley recently released for the Chinese and Hong Kong market a wine named Chilensis. The pinot noir was originally priced at HK$49, but then immediately went up to HK$59.

Seems the name in Cantonese means “f*cking nuts.” Some staid Hong Kong denizens felt the name was not suitable for commercial purposes. Others could not buy enough of the juice. I wonder if anyone actually tasted the wine, or just bought a bunch to share with friends, never to be opened.

The episode was reminiscent of the first release in China of Bordeaux first-growth wine, Chateau Latour, which translated “to fall down.” That now has been taken as a predictor for the direction of the price of many Bordeaux wines in the Chinese market.

Or the case of PepsiCola’s advertising tag line, “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life,” which was translated to “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave,” no doubt an advertising promise which the soft drink could not keep.

Then there was the Coca-Cola effort to sell itself as “happiness in the mouth,” but actually ended up communicating that the drink was a female horse stuffed with wax.

Uh, Ya Think?

I will state up front that I have no, or limited, experience with New Jersey wines. But they must be very good.

In a attempt to emulate the groundbreaking outcome of the now-legendary 1976 Judgment at Paris, where American wines from California bested French wines from Bordeaux, some wine economists meeting at Princeton University pitted New Jersey wines against French wines. (Okay, children, stop your snickering. I can hear you.)

Such bellwether labels as Silver Decoy Cabernet Franc, Tomasello Cabernet Sauvignon, Bellview and Unionville went up against Joseph Drouhin, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Montrose, and Domaine Leflaive.

You are, no doubt, way ahead of me here.

New Jersey wine was scored higher in three of the top four spots in the white category, and was ranked third highest in the reds.

Orley C. Ashenfelter, president of the American Association of Wine Economists and a professor at Princeton University, noted that “the results hardly tell the whole story. The judging was so close that if it were repeated, even the very next day, the conclusions could easily be different.”

Ashenfelter goes on to say that the cost of New Jersey wine is significantly lower than the French wines. A blatantly obvious statement that, no doubt, needed only to be made by an economist.

What Mr. Ashenfelter does not note is that the possible early approachability of New Jersey wine works in their favor when compared with wines that are structured to age for up to 30 or more years. But, one must admit, this entire episode will make great discussion for many years to come whenever wine economists gather. Where were you when the Judgment at Princeton results were announced?

You Can Fool a Bunch of Wine Drinkers a Lot of Times

Literally thousands of Burgundy wine connoisseurs in Britain have been fawning over Labouré-Roi Nuits St. Georges, vintages 2005-2009, describing its overwhelming petulance and insouciant delicacy. Yes, those are my words, but they do sound like something a Brit would pronounce, don’t you think?

Now it comes to light that Labouré-Roi was actually topping the bottles with wines of cheap supermarket quality. It appears that the scam reaped several hundred million pounds of profit for all concerned, except poor unknowing consumers.

Police were quick to note that Nuits St. Georges was not part of the scam, but my questions for the governing body of the appellation are: where was the quality control after the bottlings; and did no one get suspicious when so much of the wine suddenly appeared in the market in quantities far beyond what the vintages would have allowed?

The cheaper wine added to the blend was from the south of France and had higher alcohol content than the true wines. Arrested were two brothers, executives of Labouré-Roi, Armand and Louis Cottin, ages 82 and 83, respectively.

Good work, gendarmes, arresting two old dudes who no doubt did not directly operate the filling equipment or the labeling mechanisms. They made the scam happen, but there had to be others involved.

Lesson: if it does not truly quack like a duck, maybe it’s just a chicken.

Can’t Compete on Quality, so Let’s Change the Rules

Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, is considering increasing tariffs, and therefore consumer costs, on wines imported into that country because Brazilian winemakers cannot compete in the marketplace on the quality of wines from just about anywhere else in the world.

It seems because of the South American country’s byzantine tax laws, many Brazilian wines are cheaper in Miami than they are in Sao Paulo. Imports are also expensive, a California Zinfandel costing $8 in San Francisco may cost $35 in Rio de Janeiro, but given the differences in quality between the native wines and the imports, the foreign wines are often preferred.

To their credit, Brazilian winemakers are not wholly sold on raising import taxes even higher; they just want the in-country taxes and fees lowered on themselves. Don’t raise the bridge, lower the water.

“We are trying to establish a fledgling industry here against some difficult environmental conditions, and the added burden of high taxes on native production can eradicate any gains made to this point,” according to winemaker Luis Henrique Zanini.

Winemakers also fear that raising taxes on imports, while they are trying to raise the quality of their own wines, can kill the desire of consumers to drink wine, which would serve no one very well, including a government that is in an economic slump.

Maximize quality of local products. Lower duties and taxes. Increase consumption. Take in more money in total. Let there be dancing in the streets. Is anyone in Washington monitoring this situation?

 

 

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