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romaneeCharles Olkin calls attention to a very serious (first-world) epistemic problem. The best wines are so expensive that most wine lovers cannot afford to drink them. That is an epistemic problem because if you can’t appreciate the best you can never really know what wine is about.

I taste thousands of wines a year. Most of them are decent, clean, acceptable offerings. And a few really set my taste buds alight. But how good are those wines? The only way I or anyone else can know is to taste lots of great wines. I have history with Cabernet Sauvignon and top-rated Bordeaux and Burgundy going back to graduate school when even fancy wines were affordable. If I no longer drink First Growths, Domaine Romanee-Conti, California cult Cabernets, and I am in the business, what do the newcomers do?
My guess is that they simply don’t have nearly the access to those kinds of wines that folks like I and my age-group peers once had.

This is exactly right. What would art students really know about art if they could not view an original Picasso or Monet? Could you really claim to know music if your listening was limited to the latest pop music drivel? The answer is clearly “no”, yet that is the situation contemporary wine lovers face. It is a shame and not really good for the wine industry. The appeal of wine will be limited if it is perceived only as a playground for the wealthy.

I’m not sure what the solution is. Perhaps the best wineries and Chateaux can provide discounted bottles to wine education programs. I know, fat chance of that happening.

My personal solution is to join a tasting group pooling our resources so that each person gets a tasting pour of Screaming Eagle or Chateau Margaux.  It’s not ideal since it doesn’t permit tasting repeatedly but it does make the epistemic problem more manageable. I think I know what the best wines are capable of. That of course requires some resources but the cost is affordable for most wine lovers.

Of course there are good wines being made from less well-known regions and producers but that can’t replace the perspective one gains from tasting those wines that set the standard.

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