It’s often said that imitation is flattery in its most sincere form.
Imitation is also a way of making a quick buck, and in the case of wine has sometimes been used to dupe even the world’s most influential palates and wine writers.
Counterfeiting, in the U.S. alone, is about a $200 billion a year business, and it’s been estimated by Wine Spectator (yeah, yeah, I know…) that 5% of old/rare wine sold on the “secondary market” is fake. Faking a wine isn’t necessarily easy, but somewhat ironically the job gets a bit easier for those trying to fake rare, older wines – simply because most people haven’t had them, so there are few barometers to judge how they should or shouldn’t taste. In some cases, as detailed in Benjamin Wallace’s The Billionaire’s Vinegar, the rock stars of the wine tasting world may in fact have based their tasting notes of older, rarer wines on fakes. Examining a bottle to determine if it’s a fake can be a time-consuming and difficult process.
The reason I’m telling you all of this?
I think I recently just may have had my first faked wine…
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Back in March, I pondered if wine appreciation was becoming cool, drawing a parallel between wine’s place in the cultural lexicon of recreation beverages and the newfound popularity of the long-running Canadian power rock trio Rush – or as I like to refer to them, The Greatest Band in the History of All Mankind. The comparison seemed apt to me, as Rush’s front man Geddy Lee is a huge wine geek (and I’m a big Rush geek).
Word on the street (well, maybe on the street named “RUSH NERD BLVD”) is that Geddy’s favorite wines come from Burgundy, specifically the region’s ultra-premium Pinot Noir.
Lucky for him that he was invited to Barberian’s Steakhouse for a lavish shin-dig that was hosted there three weeks ago to celebrate the 150th birthday of Burgundy producer Maison Louis Jadot (apparently it was also the steakhouse’s 50th birthday). I use the term lavish loosely, as some of you might not consider a four-course dinner that includes “vintages easily costing hundreds, if not thousands, per bottle,” “wild asparagus Fed-Exed from France,” bottles of ’78 Gevrey-Chambertin and ’69 Clos Vougeot, and a parting gift of “a magnum of 2007 burgundy packed in its own wooden box” to be “lavish.”
By some strange oversight, I don’t seem to have been invited.
Anyway, sounds like it was quite a night. Though I’ve heard no reports if the ultra-premium Burgs being poured caused anyone in attendance beak into a spontaneous acapella rendition of Red Barchetta…
“Did we really tell lies
Letting in the sunshine
Did we really count to one hundred?”
- Jon Anderson, Long Distance Runaround
If you’ve been on the “global interwebs” for any appreciable amount of time, and you like wine, you’ll already be familiar with the Wine Century Club. If not, here’s a short primer: the WCC is an organization that seeks to promote wine appreciation by offering you bragging rights after you successfully taste 100 or more wine varieties. Download the application, fill it in, send it to the WCC, and then you’re a member.
Of course, there is the matter of tasting the required 100 or more wine varieties.
I’ve got a buddy who I’ve known for over 30 years (since I was five years old, actually) who is not a wine geek per se, but he does enjoy wine and he loves to learn, and he especially likes collecting categorical experiences. He recently asked me about the Wine Century Club after seeing that I was a member, generally inquiring about how to go about tasting the 100 different wine grape varieties required to gain membership.
My buddy is not the kind of guy to get daunted by a challenge like tasting 100 different wine grape varieties, but while being a fantastic idea and also clearly in the camp of spreading wine appreciation to the masses, the WCC doesn’t exactly do itself any favors in terms of encouraging membership when it publishes this sort of warning on its website:
“It’s a simple idea, but it’s not as easy to become a member as you may think. One Master Sommelier could only come up with 82. Of the thousands of applications downloaded, less than 3% are completed. If you feel up to the challenge, have a look at the application!”
With all due respect to the WCC founders, I’ve got to go ahead and disagree on that. I think my buddy is exactly the kind of person that should be shooting for WCC membership.
In fact, it’s my belief that anyone who wants to learn more about wine should become a Wine Century Club member.
It’s not difficult at all to do this (hell, even I did it). It just takes patience (I said it wasn’t difficult – I didn’t say it was quick).
If you’re someone who wants to learn about wine, you’d do far worse than seek out 100 different grape varieties to try – you’ve got nothing to lose except time (and a little bit of money), and you stand to gain an immeasurable amount of quality wine experience along the way. There is no faster way to learn about wine, after all, than to taste it.
So I thought I’d offer some advice on how you can get to the 100 and join the WCC yourself. The competitive among you (like me) won’t have any trouble motivating yourself (“I will get me 100 grape varieties, dammit!!!”), but if you need even more incentive, how about this: did you know that one of prog rock pioneers Yes’ greatest songs, Long Distance Runaround, from their landmark 1971 LP Fragile, was written about the Wine Century Club (even though the WCC wasn’t founded until decades after the album’s release)?* How friggin’ cool is that?!??
* – This statement has not been verified by any reputable source and is probably totally false. But Yes kicks ass, can we just agree on that?
Anyway, onto the advice…
3 Easy Ways to Get to 100 and Join the Wine Century Club
1) Take Stock
If you’ve been drinking wine for a while, likely you have tried more grape varieties than you realize (if you suffer from having a spouse / main squeeze that only drinks one style of wine… I feel for you but you need help if you’re gonna get crackin’ on the 100). For WCC membership, blends count, so take a few minutes to think back on how many varieties you can check off from those blended wines. If you’d had a Southern Rhone wine anytime in the recent past, look up that sucker on the web, because you may have tasted upwards of a dozen varieties in that one glass.
2) Take a Class
Wine classes are a great way to up your wine IQ (well… duh…), but they’re also the kind of setting where you often get to try wines that are off the beaten path. If you don’t know much about a particular wine region, it’s a great excuse to get yourself to a wine class and get educated. It’s also an opportunity to tick off a likely more than a few varieties on your way to the 100.
3) Take a Trip
When you travel, try wine – preferably local wine. Tasting wine in its home region, paired with its “home” food, is really experiencing wine in its natural element, and it will seriously expand your wine knowledge. Of course, traveling is also an opportunity to try funky local wines that might not otherwise be available to you. Here’s an example: Italy has hundreds of wine grape varieties, so a short time in Italy would get you ticking off wine varieties on your WCC application like… well… like a thing that speedily checks stuff off applications. Anyway, if you lived in Italy, you should be able to complete the WCC application before your twelfth birthday.
So there you have it – nothing difficult about it. Well, nothing difficult apart from having the patience to let your wine journey unfold naturally so that you experience the wonderful world that it has to offer you…
(images: amazon.com ,1WineDude, melaman2.com)