Most of the wine I buy is not the dirt cheap young cosechero, the wine from grapes from last year’s harvest which is usually about 1.50€/bottle. Nor do I buy reserva from the best regions and vineyards, made from better grapes and kept in oak barrels for at least a year which sells for at least 10€/bottle. I normally buy crianza, the middle quality, from good regions (mostly Rioja) and good vineyards, wine which has spent at least six months in oak barrels and usually retails between 4€ and 5€. For the better Rioja vineyards, the grapes are so good that the cosechero, which has spent little to no time in barrels is almost as good as a crianza, at just under the price.
However, I’m always on the lookout for a good cheap cosechero, which is pretty rare. A couple weeks ago, some bottles of Crin Roja at my local grocer caught my eye. Surely the 1.90€ price was placed there by accident, I thought. Already I was being manipulated by the genius packaging.
I picked up a bottle and continued shopping. At the checkout, I asked the cashier if she knew anything about this wine, and she responded that it was a great wine for the price, a good “weekday” wine, and it was the wine that her father drank with his lunch everyday.
The wine was quite good, definitely one of the highest quality/price ratios I’ve ever consumed. I won’t bore you with those bizarre adjectives wine connoisseurs use, as I’m not one. But I am a bit of a psychology connoisseur, so I would like to discuss things this winemaker did very, very right in packaging their wine.
First of all, the name is genius. It literally means “red [horse] mane”, hence the horse logo, but out of the corner of your eye, or with the movement of someone pouring you a glass, any Spaniard or wine drinker knowledgeable about Spanish wines is going to see the words Crianza and Rioja, both of which are marks of quality and their usage is highly regulated. You have to get official certification to put either word on your wine bottle. Crin Roja is neither crianza nor Rioja; it’s from a vineyard called Vinícola in Castilla La Mancha.
Secondly, you almost never see gold netting on bottles of wine in my price range. Only the very finest wines, usually reserva or gran reserva are netted. The internet tells me that this tradition originates from an intent, by rich Europeans of yore, to prevent the house staff from opening the expensive bottles in the cellar for themselves before refilling and recorking them with an inferior wine.
Why is all this important? Not only do these clever tricks make the wine sell better, but they actually make it taste better!
The industry of expensives wines is mostly all bullshit. Blind taste test after blind taste test have shown that those of us that are not wine experts (and the experts, too, to some extent) base our estimations of wine quality on subliminal and priming stimuli, with price being the primary factor. As neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer explains in his book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist,
What these wine experiments illuminate is the omnipresence of subjectivity…Our human brain has been designed to believe itself, wired so that prejudices feel like facts, opinions are indistinguishable from the actual sensation. If we think the wine is cheap, it will taste cheap. And if we think we are tasting a Grand Cru, then we will taste a Grand Cru.
Our sensations from drinking wine are interpreted by a subjective brain that is also factoring in biases and beliefs and expectations. Just like the placebo effect still works even when the patient knows they are getting a placebo, cheap wine in a fancy gold netted bottle with words that look like crianza and rioja will taste better, even if you know it’s all just clever packaging.