Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cold Duck And Subjective Experience

There was an alcoholic beverage that for a brief period was very popular amongst High School and University students in New Zealand during the late 1960s, early 1970s. It was a sweet sparkling wine with the inexplicable name of “Cold Duck”. It was initially popular for one reason only – It was very cheap. It became very unpopular very quickly with many people when it was found that not only was Cold Duck cheap, but it was nasty as well. Some unkind people compared the taste to the dregs from a wine tasting spit bucket.

However this wine continued to make an appearance at parties and gatherings at the places I haunted during those years, its cheap and nasty persona vying no doubt with that notion that cheap and nasty can morph into affordable and mellow if you drink enough of it – As they say, “After the fourth glass who can tell what the forsooth it is and who forsoothing cares? ”

Today I purchased a March/April 2010 copy of the magazine Scientific American – Mind. On page 30 I read this:

“In 2008 Hilke Plassman, now associate professor of marketing at INSTEAD Business School near Paris, sneakily switched the price tags on bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. For some it was at $10, for others at $90.
 Would the difference in price be reflected in a difference in taste? It sure would.
 Volunteers rated the $90 bottle considerably more drinkable than the $10 bottle – even though both bottles, unbeknownst to them, contained exactly the same wine. And that wasn’t all. Subsequently, during a functional MRI scan Plassman found that this simple sleight of mind was actually reflected anatomically, in neural activity deep within the brain. Not only did the “cheaper” wine taste cheaper and the “dearer” one, well, dearer, the supposedly more expensive wine generated increased activation in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that responds to pleasurable experiences.
 Similar results have also been found with experts. In 2001 cognitive psychologist Frederic Brochet ………at the University of Bordeaux in France, took a midrange Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One was labeled as a splendid ‘Grand cru’ the other as a ‘Vin du table’
 Would the wine buffs smell a rat? Not a chance. Despite the fact that, just as in the Plassman study, they were actually being served the same vintage, the experts appraised the different bottles differently. The ‘Grand cru’ was described as “agreeable, woody, complex, balanced and rounded,” whereas the ‘Vin du table’ was evaluated less salubriously – as “weak, short, light, flat, and faulty”

“So what ?” I hear you ask as you quaff your own version of Cold Duck or Grand Cru as you read my splendid and riveting Blogpost.

Well, it raises questions relating to subjectivity and objectivity.
If  one can be persuaded (by the price, dining companions opinions, the wine waiter) that Cold Duck in a bottle with a $200 price tag is really worth that price and that if that worth is registered as delicious deep somewhere within ones brain, it begs the question as to what exactly is the relationship between subjective / objective reality / experience.

It also begs the question as to what might the wine connoisseurs opinion be of Cold Duck served up in a bottle with a serious sounding label such as Layfette Aldonis Vintage 1953.

Of course all of this sparks my entrepreneurial appetite, whets my international trading juices and my number 8 wire ‘Can Do’ Kiwi spirit. I have a plan. I will of course become a multimillionaire – Yes you guessed it – A few million bottles of Cold Duck – a few million empty bottles with expensive sounding labels and a bottling machine – don’t know why I didn’t forsoothing think of this sooner.
In no time at all I will have enough money to purchase the Heineken factory........ now there’s a drink the connoisseurs surely wouldn’t mistake amongst all the wine tasting.


Delwyn said...

Hi Alden

so what do you fancy these days...Heineken for refreshment and for wine....?

We do enjoy a NZ Sav Blanc...Oyster Bay being one of the most palatable to me and my experienced palate...being as I am a drinker of all of 5 years...

happy days

Alden Smith said...

Well, Delwyn I am not really a huge drinker of alcohol at all. My taste in wine is medium white - don't care what the grape is. The only red wine I like is a pretty cheap red called Velluto Rosso which can only be purchased in a plastic bag in a cardboard box. It is better than any other expensive NZ or imported red wine I have ever tasted.
Heineken and Carlsberg are two beers that I like a lot but they are quite expensive here in NZ. I like most New Zealand beers with Spieghts and Macs Gold a couple of favourites.
I like to drink wine with crackers and cheese or with a meal - I drink beer mainly in the summer when it is very hot - nothing quite like a very cold beer on a very hot NZ summers day.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Alden—

I've read similar reports about this, but not the part about the brain chemistry changing. It makes total sense to me. In big wine competitions they segregate entries into categories by price range so as to prevent a $3 bottle from winning over the expensive labels.

In this part of the world (California wine country) reports like this one don't get much play... too many people's income depends on the idea that some wines are really worth a lot of money. I am **highly** skeptical.

As for beer, the range of beer/ale prices is much smaller and the range in quality/taste much much much easier to discern. A good beer isn't much money and tastes pretty darn good, especially, as you say, on a HOT day, or better, after a good day out sailing.

Alden Smith said...

Dan thankyou for your comments and YES! a cold beer after a hard, hot days sailing provides a fitting conclusion.
I have always thought that there is a lot of pretension and silliness regarding the wine industry and I think that what I have read and blogged about bears this out to a certain degree.
The main thing about alcohol is to drink it in moderation (It is actually good for you in moderation e.g. red wine is known to lower cholestrol markedly) and drink what YOU like! - don't be influenced by anything other than you own taste buds.

I don't think I have ever tasted Californian wine, perhaps I will buy a bottle of it some time. :-)

Dan Gurney said...

You never tasted California wine?

Ah, Alden, you must! May I recommend (assuming it's available in NZ) something from Dry Creek Vineyards? They do make some good wines. DCV labels feature suggestive paintings of yachts sailing on San Francisco Bay, so you'll recognize them from that.

Maybe the sailboats on the label are some form of subliminal advertising for me.

renee said...

Hi Alden, sounds like a good idea. But I guess that a lot of people did it before. It is called marketing.
New Zealand wine makers do it very clever. The wine club of my favorite newspaper had a nice proposition for the Staete Landt winery from the Marlborough region. The Sauvignon Blanc is without doubt the best in taste.
I can appreciate your taste for Heineken and Carlsberg under summer conditions. But do not forget Grolsch. Your friends on the boat trip to Russell in January 2009 were drinking it. During my years at university I lived practically under the smoke of the Grolsch brewery, so you can call me an expert 
My suggestion is that you should broaden your knowledge of beers. Under less warmer conditions, for instance your winter, I would suggest that you try a Trappist beer. These beers are brewed by monks. The taste is so strong that normal beer tastes like water in comparison. There are 7 Trappist beers. My favorites are Westmalle and Chimay tripel.

Alden Smith said...

Dan, Dry Creek Vineyards rings a bell like a hard thirst on an empty flagon - reckon I might see if I can find some and slake my thirst - Highly suggestive yacht labels? Speech balloons with "Hey babe my hull wants to anchor and raft up with yours???"

Alden Smith said...

Ben, the way you talk about Trappist beer I feel amost tempted to retire to a religious order so I can drink beer thick enough to stand a spoon up in.

Yes! I had forgotten Grolsch beer. I have tasted it and I like it.

You said, "I lived practically under the smoke of the Grolsch brewery, so you can call me an expert" Now, are you sure it was smoke from the brewery? or was what you thought was smoke really just your blurry, bleary, fugged up, hazy sight after having consumed far, far too much Grolsch?? - come on Ben, you can tell me, your secrets safe with me.

renee said...

You could be right. Another possibility is Smell. The mind expanding, psychedelic effects of the smell of malt and hop.

Alden Smith said...

Ben - The "psychedelic effects of the smell of malt and hop" hmmmmmmmmm, now that would really be a beer worth tasting or smelling as the case may be!

Of course another possibly could have been that you were drinking the malt and smoking the hops?

日月神教-向左使 said...