Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - February 12, 2010

Nose to glass

Don't let price fool you

By Don Colman

The more wine that I drink, the more I believe I can taste the difference between cheap and expensive wine. What I often forget is that price does not always determine the quality of the wine. Case in point: this past weekend, my wife and I got together with our usual wine loving friends and had a couple of bottles to share. What transpired was a little disturbing for all of us.

When it came time to open the second bottle for the night, I sarcastically pulled out a bottle of wine which was given to me as a "gag." I never had any intention of drinking it. The wine, the 2005 Martha Stewart Cabernet Sauvignon (it turns out it cost $1.97). We all laughed at the thought of trying such a horrid bottle -- when it hit me. We had four experienced wine drinkers in the room; let's see if we could identify which wine was cheap and which was expensive. I decided to tilt the odds in my favor and compare it to an ultimate "snob" wine from a vintage that ranks as one of the best of all time. The competitor: a 2005 French Bordeaux (I am purposely leaving the name out -- however it cost $32).

We did a complete blind taste test, not even I knew which was in my glass. All four of us looked, sniffed, swirled, slurped and puckered our way through the wine trying to determine which one we liked better and more importantly, which was the Martha Stewart wine. And now for the disturbing part of the story, all four of us ended up selecting Martha Stewart's wine as the best and all thought it was more expensive. We all agreed it was smoother, more flavorful and, most importantly, easier to drink.

To quote the late Paul Harvey: "and now for the rest of the story". Martha Steward's Cabernet Sauvignon was a good wine. I would not classify it as great -- however, it certainly was better than the other wine we compared it to. Just to reassert our ability to distinguish great wine, and rebuild some of our egos, we pulled out a 2003 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon to drink next -- perhaps it was the price, but more likely it was the wine, there was a huge difference between these two bottles of wine (phew!).

In retrospect, it simply might have been the case that we were comparing two wines which should never have been tasted side by side; in fact you could say it would be like comparing two sons: you should never do it. Or perhaps it was that we liked the fruit forward nature of California wines to the earthy flavor of old world wines. Whatever the reason, it served as a lesson to all of us -- don't be fooled by the price.

The disclaimer: It is possible, that the 2005 French Bordeaux had turned or was corked -- we will have to try another bottle to see if that was true, although I must confess -- I simply don't think that was the case. More likely, all to often, we allow our wallet to determine what a great wine is. To that end, I will continue my quest to find the best possible wine and the cheapest price.

At least we will have fun trying. Until next time, cheers!

Don Colman lives in the East Bay and writes a wine blog at


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