Ep. 135: $30,000 Bottles and Beer Goggles

Restaurants see high demand for low-ABV cocktails. Washington and Colorado wage wine war against California. Scientists declare that beer goggles are not a thing. Just what is the world's most expensive wine? These are the stories we're following this week.

[00:00:00] Nick Toole: So, guys, take note, when I commit my future big wine crimes, I’m going to commit them in Italy.

[00:00:07] Ruby Welkovich: Um, what?

[00:00:09] Nick Toole: Yeah, uh, I was reading an article, and according to Drinks Business, prison inmates in Palermo, Sicily started a fire on New Year’s Eve because they weren’t served enough Prosecco. So, not only were they being served Prosecco, uh, there wasn’t enough. So that sounds pretty criminal to me.

[00:00:26] Katherine Cole: Oh my god.

[00:00:28] Ruby Welkovich: I know, right? Since when do prisoners get served alcohol?

[00:00:31] Katherine Cole: No, no, no, that’s not what I’m shocked about. Since when were southern Italians caught drinking northern Italian wine? That, my friends, is the true crime here. 

What is the world’s most expensive wine? Restaurants see high demand for low ABV cocktails. Washington and Colorado wage wine war against California. And scientists declare that beer goggles are not a thing. Well, this is the Four Top. I am your host, Katherine Cole, joined by the Four Top team, Nick Toole and Ruby Welkovich. We’re a Three Top, but you know, that’s okay. Three’s company.

[00:01:17] Nick Toole: All right. What is the world’s most expensive wine? Well, there’s a new documentary to tell you all about that.

[00:01:24] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, and I can’t say the title gets any points for creativity. The documentary about the most expensive wine in the world is entitled, wait for it: The Most Expensive Wine in the World. Anyway, it’s been live on winemasters.tv since the 1st of January, and hey, we’ve watched it, so you don’t have to.

[00:01:44] Katherine Cole: And uh, spoiler alert folks, the wine in question is not Screaming Eagle, it’s not DRC, it’s not Petrus, but it is a Bordeaux. It’s not a Poyac, a Pomerol, a Pessac Léognan, no, no, no, it’s just a Graves, just a plain old ordinary Graves.

[00:02:01] Nick Toole: Even after working on this podcast for three years, these names are still one big blur, but I’m guessing these are wine regions in Bordeaux. But anyway, thank you. This wine is called, this wine is called Liber Pater, and it’s advertised in various places as selling for $30,000. Or 30,000 euros a bottle.

Dollars, euros, exchange rates. Anyway, the point is, it’s stupid expensive.

[00:02:28] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, guys, I’m looking Liber Pater up on Wine-Searcher right now, and I’m seeing it listed at $4,000-$6,000 per bottle on older vintages and up to 50, 000 per bottle for recent vintages like 2018 and 2019. So I have two questions. One, is the wine worth the price? And two, is this documentary worth watching?

[00:02:49] Nick Toole: Well, as to whether it’s worth the price, the Vigneron Loïc Pasquet apparently works only with ungrafted roots, which is very unusual, and these are roots that are dating back to the 19th century. He only uses massale selections of rare indigenous Bordeaux grape varieties. And quickly because we want non winos to learn a thing or two from this podcast, massale selection is when, instead of sourcing new vines from commercial nurseries, you instead take cuttings from your vineyard’s best performing vines and plant those. Pasquet creates some confusion by referring to Cabernet Sauvignon, which we’ve all heard of, by its heirloom name Petite Vidure, I guess to make it sound fancier, and admittedly it does. Plus he’s big in heirloom varieties like Castets, Tarney and Saint-Macaire.

[00:03:36] Ruby Welkovich: Wow. Heirloom roots and ungrafted vines. This all sounds very Brooklyn farmers’ market to me.

[00:03:42] Nick Toole: Yeah, and he apparently releases only a couple hundred bottles each vintage, and he only makes the wine in the very best vintages.

The labels are designed by the French artist Gerard Povis, and I would call them kind of an acquired taste.

[00:03:57] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, they’re kind of hideous.

[00:04:00] Katherine Cole: Yeah, and these vines, I mean, just get back to his, his viticulture, the vines are not trellised on wires, but they’re like solo stakes. They aren’t even head-trained. They’re just kind of like standalone vines. This is a very, very old fashioned way of growing grapes and they’re, they’re planted super densely at a density of about 20,000 vines per hectare, which is double the density of other top Bordeaux producers.

To just add on top of that, of course, Liber Parterre is vinified in amphorae.

Ruby Welkovich: Okay. So the question remains. Is this wine worth the price?

[00:04:32] Katherine Cole: Well, uh, I want to quote from the film, toward the end of the film, the Vigneron, Loïc Pasquet, and forgive my terrible French accent, but he says: “The price is not the question. The question is, what price would you be willing to pay to have dinner with Napoleon.” The point being, the point being he’s supposedly like recreating the great Bordeaux of 1855.

So yeah, I mean, I’m going to say as far as I can tell, I don’t think this wine is worth the price. I think it’s about a lot of hype. And you know, I. I hear this story and my brain goes to winemakers all over the world who’ve been doing very similar things for years now. I’m thinking like Frank Carnelissen on Mount Etna or Valentini in Abruzzo or Nate Ready who’s been on the podcast. He’s here in Oregon on the Columbia River Gorge. You know, pretty much any winemaker in the Republic of Georgia. I could go on and on and on. So I don’t think that Loïc Pasquet is doing anything that’s really pushing the envelope and making me convinced that someone should pay $30,000 for his wine. I do want to applaud him for doing this in Bordeaux, however, where he is changing the conversation from a very kind of modern style with a lot of new oak to a very old school, old world style.

I’m totally on board with that. Yeah, maybe I sound like a snob, but I personally only really like Bordeaux that’s like pre-1985 So I do like what he’s going for with this project.

[00:06:00] Ruby Welkovich: And how about the documentary? Should we watch it?

[00:06:04] Katherine Cole: Um Yeah You might want to hate watch it. There’s a little bit of like…I got this feeling of like Marie Antoinette in the Trianon Gardens. It just is so out of touch with what’s going on in the rest of the world and it makes such a big deal out of what clearly would be uninteresting to anyone who isn’t a huge wine geek.

 But yeah, you might want to watch it. Hate watch it.

[00:06:25] Nick Toole: Yeah, there was all this dramatic scoring like violins and Gregorian chants set against not all that interesting content. There is also the suggestion that Pasquet may be thrown in jail, but it turns out he never actually was, so that’s a little melodramatic.

[00:06:42] Katherine Cole: Yeah, and there’s some confusing aspects to this documentary. Um, like the French wine critic, Jacky Rigaux, he keeps showing up and pontificating, but as far as I can tell, they never identify him by name, and he’s also speaking French with no subtitles, while everyone else in the film is speaking English, so that’s like totally weird. But I personally enjoyed watching this film because Jane Anson, the Bordeaux expert, she’s a total baller.

She’s awesome. I totally fangirl watched it and just turned the volume up every time Jane Anson had something to say because I just wanted to hear her.

[00:07:15] Ruby Welkovich: Okay, so it looks like the most expensive wine in the world is not yet rated on Rotten Tomatoes, and I was debating between watching this or Saltburn tonight, and based on these reviews, I think I might have to go with Saltburn.

[00:07:26] Katherine Cole: Proceed at your own risk.

[00:07:28] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah.

[00:07:32] Nick Toole: Ruby, Catherine, have either of you ordered a low-ABV cocktail recently? And, wait, before you answer, I don’t mean like a classic beverage that has always been low in alcohol like Campari Soda, which I love, but one that is new and exciting and marketed as low-ABV.

[00:07:50] Ruby Welkovich: That’s so funny that you bring this up this week because this past Friday I was at a restaurant with a friend and we were looking at the cocktail menu and there was an entire page dedicated to low-ABV cocktails. And we were both saying that we’ve never seen this before and how interesting it is, and yes, as we’ve discussed in episode 133, Millennials, Zillennials, and Gen Zers are all looking for lower alcohol alternatives.

[00:08:11] Katherine Cole: Yeah, this is so interesting. This is the first I’ve heard of it, but I kind of like this idea, particularly this month, as an alternative to dry January. I feel like the people who do Dry January often tend to be the same people who totally overindulge the other 11 months of the year. So I, I like this low alcohol idea. This is kind of an everything in moderation approach.

Nick Toole: I don’t personally love calling this alternative to Dry January “Damp January,” as some people apparently do, but I like the idea. Cesar Hernandez recently wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle about Bay Area restaurants that are adopting hashtag low-ABV cocktails and giving them the same love and attention that they would give quote unquote normal cocktails.

[00:08:55] Ruby Welkovich: Yes, we’re talking coconut washes, pickled okra, and fermented mulberries. One bar director quoted in the article calls these low-ABV cocktails the new drink frontier for restaurants.

[00:09:05] Nick Toole: Yeah, I mean, food blogger Julie Tremaine has dubbed the Hugo, a naturally low-ABV cocktail, as 2024’s trendiest cocktail. It’s got elderflower liqueur, prosecco, seltzer, sprig of mint, so not too dissimilar from an Aperol Spritz.

[00:09:21] Katherine Cole: yeah, I mean, spritzes have been a big deal for a long time now. There’s still a big deal going into 2024. And you know, another thing I’ve, I’ve seen just this past few months is a trend toward mid strength spirits. I’m seeing more of those out there. These are like gins and vodkas at 55 proof or about 30 percent alcohol by volume. There’s some upstart brands out there like Sommarøy and Luxlo and established companies like Pernod Ricard are also getting into the space. Now, having tasted some no alcohol spirits before, I’m…I need to be persuaded that the flavor and the aromatics are really going to be there, but I’m intrigued.

[00:09:57] Nick Toole: Yeah, I am too. I haven’t had one of these no or low-ABV spirits yet. But, like Ruby, I was at a restaurant recently, and I did notice that they had a whole section for low-ABV cocktails. And they even listed the actual alcohol percentage of the cocktail, which I had never seen before. I thought that was interesting.

[00:10:15] Katherine Cole: Okay, wine industry, I think we need to get on this train now because guess what? Wine is the original low alcohol cocktail. I mean, this is, this is our lane, guys. Think about it. A martini is about like 30 percent alcohol by volume, whereas, say, a glass of muscadet could be 11 percent alcohol by volume. So, I think this is a no brainer. We’ve got this. Let’s push for putting alcohol percentages next to all adult beverages on restaurant menus and show the world that wine is the low alcohol cocktail everyone has been looking for. I think, wine industry, let’s own January. Own damp January. That’s ours.

[00:10:52] Ruby Welkovich: So it’s not dry January, it’s like a briny dry white wine from the Loire January.

[00:10:58] Nick Toole: Yes, yes, yes, yes. A million times.

[00:11:00] Katherine Cole: Yes.


[00:11:05] Ruby Welkovich: Buckle up listeners, because our third news story is about every winery’s favorite topic. Distribution.

[00:11:11] Katherine Cole: Oh yes. Alcohol distribution in the U.S. is a big ol’ mess and this week we bring you a story from Collin Dreizen of Wine Spectator about a legal battle brewing between the relatively less powerful wine regions of Washington state and Colorado and the undisputed wine queen of the U. S., California.

[00:11:30] Nick Toole: Yeah. Like Catherine said, distribution is confusing, costly, kind of all over the map, but two tiny wineries outside of California are trying to simplify things by contesting California’s law that allows California wineries, and only California wineries, to self-distribute to retailers. That is, like, sell directly to the retailer without using a distributor. For small producers, working with a distributor can be difficult. And small producers, they don’t often get treated as well as larger producers. So you can see why they would want to be able to self-distribute.

[00:12:01] Ruby Welkovich: This is exciting stuff. Interstate commerce. Let’s go. Um, okay. So as Dreizen points out, this lawsuit is similar to legal battles in other states where wine producers and retailers are balking against what they say are out of date laws tied to the 21st amendment, which repealed the prohibition, but in doing so gave the states power to legislate the trade of alcohol across state lines. Quoting from the article here, the Supreme Court has repeatedly said laws restricting alcohol sales must be for either maintaining orderly markets or promoting temperance, not for benefiting local businesses.

[00:12:35] Nick Toole: Yeah, the National Association of Wine Retailers, aka NAWR…The trade organization, NAWR supports the lawsuit with the NAWR executive director, Tom Wark, telling Wine Spectator, “this lawsuit will help the state’s retailers, it will open new distribution avenues for out of state wineries, and it will give California consumers more choices.”

And I think, yeah, if it’s successful, it may inspire other states to drop some of their similar restrictions.

[00:13:03] Katherine Cole: And Ruby, why are we, why are you laughing so hard right now?

[00:13:06] Ruby Welkovich: I’m laughing because there’s this whole trend on TikTok of people saying no in Australian accents. Exactly the way Nick just pronounced this,

[00:13:14] Nick Toole: Oh, wow.

[00:13:15] Ruby Welkovich: Nawr.

[00:13:17] Nick Toole: I’m, I’m, I’m right in with the, uh, I guess.

[00:13:21] Ruby Welkovich: trendy.

[00:13:22] Katherine Cole: I am going to use that in my next cocktail party conversation. I’m going to bring it up somehow. Um, but anyway, folks, this may sound like another really boring story about interstate commerce and the three tier system. But I’m, my ears are perking up here. I’m actually kind of invested in this myself. I am an Oregon wine person who spends a lot of time in California and I find it super frustrating to not be able to find good Oregon wines at California wine shops.

And I wonder if this would help Oregon wineries out, allow them to kind of strike some deals directly with retailers. I specifically have in mind the larger kind of big box retailers like BevMo, Total Wine & More. I’m. consistently frustrated by their Oregon wine selection. Then again, I don’t know that this will make that big of a difference.

Californians tend to drink California wine and you know, who can blame them? They want to support their own local, uh, winemakers. But where this may make a difference if this lawsuit is successful is in sort of specialty wine shops, specialty bottle shops, little wine stores that specialize in things like natural wines.

I think this might be interesting in opening up opportunities for small producers. I noticed that one of the plaintiffs is Dwinell Country Wines, which is a natural wine, beer, and cider producer on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. So they’re making, like, real niche specialty products. I like to call it hipster juice.

So, yeah, I’m going to keep an eye on this. This is interesting and I hope that I can see some more interesting wines from other states in California when I’m down there. Of course, I love California wine as well. I just want to make that clear.

[00:14:57] Nick Toole: We were starting to wonder, Katherine.


[00:15:05] Katherine Cole: So guys, for our last story of the day, I need to apologize because I did misspeak in our last episode.

[00:15:14] Ruby Welkovich: Oh, why?

[00:15:15] Katherine Cole: So Martín Reyes, Master of Wine, we were talking about, actually were talking about alcohol being good for our health, but we were also talking about the dangers posed by alcohol. And I said something about like, if you drink too much, that you’re in danger of making out with someone you don’t even find attractive.

And guess what? It turns out that science may have proven me wrong on that front.

[00:15:34] Nick Toole: That is right. The Drinks Business recently flagged a study published last month in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, which is another fun science word. And apparently these researchers got a bunch of people drunk, which is always a great way to start things off, and then showed them photos of other people. And alcohol seemed not to influence whether or not they found the people in the photos attractive. But they did find that alcohol impairs the drinker’s ability to detect facial asymmetry.

[00:16:03] Ruby Welkovich: Wait, hold on. So the participants didn’t find others more attractive, asymmetry in faces. Isn’t facial symmetry a big part of attractiveness?

[00:16:13] Katherine Cole: I mean, I guess so, but the researchers claim they didn’t find a connection between detecting asymmetry while drunk and determining hotness while drunk. And yes, hotness is a technical term. And my personal question is, how did they find funding for this study and in what way is this study pushing science forward? Because who cares?

[00:16:33] Nick Toole: This is important stuff. But, uh, another similar study found that intoxication did make participants more likely to feel confident approaching someone they already found attractive. So there’s evidence of that so-called liquid courage, which is the same thing that makes me say, “I’m pretty sure I could jump this fence when I’m intoxicated.”

[00:16:52] Katherine Cole: Hmm.

[00:16:52] Ruby Welkovich: Oh boy.

[00:16:54] Katherine Cole: As long as it’s not an electric fence, you’re good.

[00:16:58] Nick Toole: I’ll never tell. 

[00:17:02] Katherine Cole: Well, now it’s time for our dessert course and it’s my turn. I just finished this morning, this novel, it’s called The Land of Milk and Honey by C. Pam Zhang. It’s about a post-apocalyptic world after a climate catastrophe. And in this world, the rich and powerful all end up on an Italian mountaintop and they’re kind of like hoarding the last of the great food and wine. So they’re just fabulous descriptions of cooking and eating and drinking and it sort of opens up a lot of discussions about stratification between classes, the haves and the have nots. And it really made me kind of rethink the whole gourmand culture. So I highly recommend everyone check out this book. It sounds really depressing, but the author has a great sense of humor as well. So check it out.

[00:17:50] Ruby Welkovich: That sounds great.

[00:17:51] Katherine Cole: Yeah, I, got a kick out of it, I must say. 

And before we sign off, I just want to send a salute to the wine journalist, Andy Blue, more formally known as Anthony Dias Blue, who sadly died on Christmas day. Andy was the longtime Wine and Spirits editor for Bon Appetit magazine. He was the founding editor of Tasting Panel magazine. And for many years, he ran the San Francisco International Wine Competition, which I believe is how I got to know him. He accomplished so much for wine, but what I really remember him for was his enthusiasm. You know, sometimes we forget that wine is fun and Andy made sure that wine was fun every minute of every day. So, a fond farewell to Andy Blue. This has been The Four Top podcast. I am our executive producer, Katherine Cole.

[00:18:35] Nick Toole: I’m our producer, Nick Toole.

[00:18:37] Ruby Welkovich: And I’m media and design manager, Ruby Welkovich.

[00:18:40] Katherine Cole: Kielen King is our sound supervisor and the composer and performer of our fantastic theme music. Please visit our website, thefourtop.org, to learn more about us and listen to back episodes.

[00:18:51] Ruby Welkovich: And if you have not already subscribed to The Four Top on iTunes or Spotify, please do so and please leave us a rating.

[00:18:58] Nick Toole: Hey y’all, this part’s important. Every rating feeds the algorithm and helps new listeners find The Four Top.

[00:19:04] Katherine Cole: From the rainy land of milk and honey, this is Katherine Cole, signing out.

[00:19:08] Nick Toole: From the finally snowy seaside city of Portland, Maine, this is Nick Toole signing out.

[00:19:14] Ruby Welkovich: And from the somewhat snowy, although very cold, Brooklyn, New York, this is Ruby signing out. Stay safe out there and thanks for listening.



Sources & Citations

Citations reference first appearance, without repeating for subsequent usage:

[00:00:12] The Drinks Business: Italian prisoners protest paltry Prosecco ration

[00:01:33] Wine-Searcher: Preview the Most Expensive Wine in the World

[00:01:38] WineMasters: The Most Expensive Wine in the World

[00:08:41] SF Chronicle: Low-ABV Cocktails are taking over Bay Area Restaurants

[00:09:06] The Takeout: 2024’s Trendiest Cocktail Is a Low-ABV Libation

[00:11:18] Wine Spectator: A New Wine Legal Battle Erupts in California

[00:15:36] The Drinks Business: Scientists challenge the idea of beer goggles

[00:17:58] The New York Times: Anthony Dias Blue, Whose Writing Elevated California Wines, Dies at 82