Beers, Wines, Spirits, Tea and Coffee, Perfumes

Beers, Wines, Spirits, Tea and Coffee are sold with massive marketing attached to them. The taste of all these products is mostly in your mind or imagination, the real taste difference between them (within the beers, within the wines, that is) is not that large. A related subject of dentists and consumer goods companies is covered in this post.

Consider wines. On the reds, you have wines defined by Grapes or regions-Cabernet, Malbec, Chianti, French wines, etc. If you have ever been to a winery-you can see the elaborate machinery and barrels used to make the wine. Do you honestly think that there's any trace left of the original grape in the wine after it having undergone such a massive processing? Maybe 1 in 1000 people can distinguish between a Cabernet and a Merlot, but most of the time, the deviation within the category, e.g Cabernet, will have a sufficient overlap with the deviation within the other category, say Merlot, to make any such distinction very doubtful. Whenever two distributions have large standard distributions, it is difficult to say with much confidence that the means are different, even if they are.

It is even worse with national or geographical origin of wines. There is no such thing as French wine or Chilean wine. Grapes don't have nationalities, and with the wide variety of grape growing and the further processing which these grapes undergo in the wine-making process, you can be sure that there's not one single characteristic which can identify a wine as French or Chilean.

The Wine Spectator's commentary on being able to feel the soil, or other frutal characteristics in the wine (e.g. taste of blueberry, strawberry, pear) are also absurd. Same hold's for aged wines-a 1960 bottle Cabernet being different from today's Cabernet is largely because you see the bottles labeled that way.
Wine connoisseur is largely an imaginary profession or ability (there may be some exceptions).

On beers, let's consider a typical golden (blonde) beer. Heinekin, Brahma, Budweiser, Polar, Pilsner Urquell, Tiger, etc. are examples. Taken overall, with the thousands of beer makers in the world-you can see that these are random variations in the recipes. Most people will not be able to distinguish between the different golden beers if the can and bottle are changed, even if they believe that they are beer lovers and connoisseurs.

Spirits like Vodka and Whiskey are more interesting. The sheer variety of these things around the world, and that one of them is quite popular in one country but is a complete dud in another, is proof enough that there's nothing real there. One of the top selling Scotch Whiskeys  in Uruguay is almost unknown in bordering Argentina and Brazil! If you agree with me when I say that the Argentines and Uruguayans are very similar people genetically, this is probably a first mover-brand type advantage only.

Smirnoff vodka is acceptable in USA and Russia, but in Chile it is called cheap vodka. The high end vodkas are Absolut and Sky.

These are for pure spirits. Maybe there are some people who can distinguish between an Absolut and Smirnoff if they drink it without anything else, but once these spirits are mixed with fruit juices, or other mixers, you can be sure that all origin of these vodkas is completely lost in the taste or the orange juice or the Kahlua they have mixed it with! So next time you order a bloody mary or a gin-tonic, just ask them to put the cheapest vodka or gin in your drink, and you will be fine.

The vodka and spirit makes will tell you all about *quality* of making their product. There are some who believe that good quality vodka won't give you a hangover-but bad quality vodka will. Unless you know about the processes and the detailed chemistry of how vodka interacts with your brain to give you that headache the next morning, there is  no truth to that. Cheap and expensive vodka have both equal probabilities (unknown probabilities) of giving you a hangover the next day. So might as well buy the cheaper one-you will save some money.

Teas and Coffees are the same stuff-most of the taste you enjoy is imaginary. There is no such thing as brazilian coffee beans or Ethiopian Coffee beans or Kenyan Coffee beans. The very wide variations in growing conditions in these countries, and the wide variation in processing these beans, will eliminate any real difference by the time you have it in your favorite latte in Starbucks. Note that you may still be able to distinguish between your brazilian latte and your ethiopian latte for some time in a particular starbucks, but they have not much to do with ethiopia or brazil. In the long run though, you will probably not be able to tell any difference between these two favorite coffees of yours.

If you buy the cheapest beer, the cheapest wine, and the cheapest spirits and teas and coffees, you will be ok.

I don't mean to say that packaging or presentation of the products is not important. But realize that when you buy leaf tea and like it more than powdered tea in a tea bag, it is not because of the taste-it may be because of marketing of tea leaves, of you liking the way the tea leaves open up in your kettle, etc. You are confusing the way it is served, the packaging, the vista, the smell, etc. with the actual taste.

Same with wine. If you open a 1960 wine and seem to enjoy it more than the 2010 wine, that's okay; but realize that you are just enjoying the pain and expense of storing the bottle for 50 years more than the actual wine. If I switch the bottles and the wines, you won't be able to tell the difference.  Note that you will need to do a switch of many wines and years to do this test statistically, otherwise from chance alone (50%) you will be able to distinguish them correctly.

Perfumes also belong in this category of largely imaginary pleasures. Perfumes and essences are mixes of good smelling floral/frutal extracts or their artificial counterparts, and when you buy Brand names there like Gucci, DKNY etc. you are paying for all the slick publicity and models these guys hire. You will pay US $50 for a perfume if it has a good label on it, but the same perfume in a noname brand will cost you $4. There are arguments like ph for perfumes, their quality, etc. which are mostly bogus. There is also no real distinction between male and female perfumes (yours truly uses female perfumes, they are cheaper and a there is a lot more variety!). Good quality brand name perfumes are sold as not bad for skin (the others apparently are) which is a phoney argument. But most of these things are quite the same as a $4 perfume-so you can go ahead and load up on cheap perfumes from grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. and don't spend so much money on brand name perfumes.

From a business standpoint, it is completely fine to sell these products with all the marketing etc (I have a tea business myself, see ) but all I am saying is that some pleasures are real, and some are imaginary (marketing, etc) and it is good to distinguish between the two, so you can save your money and buy real pleasures. Examples of real pleasures are flying in an airplane, a roller coaster ride, dinner in a good restaurant with excellent decor and service. These things take money and hard labor to produce, and the price of these is normally quite reasonable, for the amount of effort it takes to produce these experiences (an airplane, etc. or putting up a roller coaster ride, or establishing a nice restaurant are hard things to produce, unlike the products mentioned in the title of this post).

When you realize that a wine bottle and a tea or coffee are a whole lot of nothing which you are buying, the ceremonies of wine tasting and tea tasting look even more bizarre. You see some person who is swirling the wine in the glass a few minutes before tasting it..and telling the waiter it is an acceptable bottle for the occasion. Another lets the bottle aerate for 1 hour before drinking it. Still another wants to aerate it in a jar (aeration in wine bottle not good enough) for 3 hours before drinking it. The list of ridiculous ceremonies goes on and on when it comes to wine tasting, and it is then you realize how easy it is for us humans to fall for false logic, planted theories, religions, etc.


1 comment:

  1. I agree with much of what you are saying, but I believe you are taking it to an extreme. I do tend to go with the cheaper store brands at the grocery store. I am rarely disappointed compared to the expensive name brands.
    I am not sure I could differentiate between the expensive and the cheaper bottles of wine. Friends of mine have done randomized tests and they believe there is a difference, but there is a diminishing return as price goes up. A $5 to $10 bottle of wine is quite sufficient for me.

    You're leaving out the possibility of different utilities. People probably do put too much emphasis on brands, but your pleasures are not so great for everyone. Some hate flying . I get sick on roller coasters. I'm sure they'd be fun to ride if I didn't get sick on them. Othere prefer eating at home with friends getting together rather than sit in a retstaurant.