“I don’t get it,” said a friend, holding two green-colored bottles of wine in either hand. We are in a wine store on a sunny day in New York City, and the store is buzzing with customers, but not a clerk to be found. “Both these wines are Sauvignon Blanc from Brancott. The producer — Brancott — is the same. The country — New Zealand — is the same. The year is the same, but the price is different. What’s up?” I look at the bottles and see that one is “Reserve” (which often means different things, in different countries) and that the other one has an enormous, very fancy looking “B” in gold lettering directly etched into the bottle. Clearly they are different wines, but why?
The label of the reserve ($17) reads like a travel brochure, to visit New Zealand’s Marlborough region with its description of bright sunshine, more than anything else. (Okay, the label did mention the alluvial soils, presumably to satisfy the curiosity of people who look for such information). The label on the Brancott Letter “B” series is more helpful, explaining that the wine is handcrafted (key word) from grapes grown on key Montana estates (another very key word) in Marlborough. Basically, this translates to a different quality of grapes (the Montana grapes are perhaps grown in areas where they have more access to the sun or better soil), and the wine is hand crafted with more personal attention. So, an extra six dollars ($23) buys you all the extra care.
Is the six-dollar difference worth it? Could anyone tell? To find out, I bought both (we needed two bottles for our dinner party) and rushed home to try them. Now before I continue, I’m sure you read about the study in which people rated a wine they were told was more expensive higher than they rated a more inexpensive bottle. Common sense might tell you that researchers have any number of psychological tricks (er, I meant “techniques”) up their sleeve for them to get the data they want, depending on who might be financing the study. For that reason, I asked my friend to serve me the wines blind (meaning I could not see which one was poured) so I could make independent tasting notes.
Both Brancott wines had the crisp acidity characteristic of the Marlborough Region, with lots of grapefruit on the nose and palate. Yet I did prefer the Letter “B” series when it was revealed, even though someone very new to wine would find it hard to tell them apart. The difference — for me — is easily described as the difference between a picture taken of an attractive person using dated photographic technology, and a very crisp picture of the same person taken with the newest technology. The latter picture snaps out at you with its sharp-edges, while the other seems softer, rounder, and possibly less defined.
Guests at the dinner party struggled to find the difference, however, so you should decide if paying for the Letter “B” series is worth it. The “B” in particular lends itself well to aperitifs with its crisp flavors, and when served with a meal, is a great pairing with scallops and all manner of shellfish.