Wine is situational. Wine doesn’t exist outside of a drinking experience, and that experience is part of our perception of wine.
Often, in the wine world, people talk about the significant extra cost of drinking a wine in a restaurant. ‘It’s an outrage,’ they say. ‘I’m paying three times retail – or more – in order to drink that wine. I can enjoy it at home for much less.’ For example, a restaurant has Jamet Côte Rôtie 2008 on the list. You have a case of Jamet 2008 at home. But the reason you pay extra for the wine in the restaurant is that you don’t drink the same wine at home.
Think about airlines. People pay a significant premium to sit in a business class seat. I just searched for flights from London to San Francisco with BA for some random dates in May 2019 and the results I got were £1400 for economy class and £7000 for business class. That’s a lot of extra money. What does it buy you? A more spacious seat that turns into a bed, and better food and drink. But you aren’t just paying to sit in that seat. It’s not really about that seat at all. If you were to take the airline business class seat and put it in your home, it would be an entirely unremarkable seat. Your couch is probably more comfortable. And think how you get to stretch out in your bed! Yes, in the plane you are paying in part for the extra room and comfort level, but also – and perhaps most significantly – because you get to feel more special. You have, by virtue of spending a lot more money, superior status to the people who turn right and file into the economy cabin. Airlines are very good at using our status-seeking behaviour, deeply wired into us through evolution, in order to make money from us.
No one who buys a business class ticket says, ‘It’s an outrage, I can sit in a much more comfortable seat at home.’ It’s a clearly silly thing to say. You pay the premium or you don’t, and you know what you are getting, and you understand that it’s the whole experience you are paying for, including the status.
There’s a parallel here with drinking wine in restaurants. You don’t drink the same wine at home. You see, wine isn’t just about the liquid in the glass. It is much more than that. When you go to a restaurant, you are not paying for the food and drink. Well, technically you are. But in addition to that what you are paying for is the ability to consume this food and drink at a certain time in a certain place. You are paying for an experience. If you open a bottle of Jamet 2008 at home you are having an experience, but it is different to the experience you would have drinking Jamet 2008 in a restaurant. Done well, a good meal is one of the most pleasurable things I can think of. The combination of the place, the company, the food, the drink, the atmosphere all work together to create an experience, and to try to dissect out elements of this experience is somewhat futile. Yes, I enjoy drinking wine at home. But I pay a lot more, and gladly, to drink great wine in restaurants. And, yes, some home meals beat any restaurant experience when you have good people in good humour, tasty food and delicious wines. But my point still stands: you don’t drink the same wine at home.