Thursday, April 30, 2015

Prime Time Wine

Wine counterfeiting has hit a tipping point. Fox's series Backstrom hatched an entire plot around it. Rarely does wine, real or not, get this much air time and it's worth a closer look. The episode, called "Corkscrewed" can be found here.
They refer to "collector-grade wine," which made me grin because it sounds like a reference to illegal drugs, somehow making the crime more heinous. Rainn Wilson suspects, early on, something isn't exactly kosher, "How many old ladies with precious unopened bottles of wine can you possibly track down in a month? One?" He says the bottles are stolen, and then utters these words in the most menacing way they have even been uttered: "So where are you getting your wine?"
Only a minute or so later, he says "Take me to your vineyard guys," which is what I think aliens would really ask for if they knew anything about the earth before landing. No one should want to meet with leaders right away, much better to have a drink first.
The wine dealers, "keep the whole place regulated to the cellar standard of 59 degrees, it's good for the wine." There was a place in Portland, OR (the city where Backstrom takes place), that kept their shop at cellar temperature but they had a huge selection, unlike the dealers in the episode. The temperature was also their undoing in Backstrom due to condensation on the wrong side of a glass door. That room had, among other things, "Red dust, used as sediment. You won't find that in a week-old box of wine." Labels hanging were too washed out by a flashlight to read, except for one, Romanée-Conti. Their high-profile, luxury status makes them a consistent target for counterfeiters. Even their website landing page has a disclaimer, discussion of fraud!
The "brilliant sommelier" at Portland Governors Club (the recipient of the counterfeit wine) refers to a bottle as, "Romaneé-Conti Pinot 2005." He should know better with, "degrees from Yale, the Culinary Institute of America and a sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers." The wine should be vineyard-designated, the winery doesn't make a generic "Pinot Noir." But then again, he later states, "They love what I tell them to." Clearly not a role model for the position. They get some credit for getting the grape right. 
As to why on one knows it's fake wine? "For one, the wine is too valuable to open. And when it is, without anything to compare it to, very few people can tell the difference between a decent one and the most exclusive wines on the planet." This is certainly true, to some degree, but using "cheap red wine" in the bottles would give the hoax away very quickly. Apparently, in this show, "They mix different wines together and add a non-fermentable sugar to improve the taste. It's very effective."
Don't worry wine and food fans, cheese was not overlooked. The stomach contents of the murder victim held crackers and "Havarti cheese." Backstrom then finds, "a fancy cheese shop paper" in his trash. Who would go to a "fancy cheese shop" to buy Havarti? For that matter, what "fancy cheese shop" even carries Havarti? Couldn't they have just mentioned Brie instead? These are the moments where I feel my services could be used as a consultant for Hollywood when it comes to wine and food. It amazes me someone on the set doesn't know enough to point out the awkward choices.
Later, when Backstrom is drinking on the job (as usual) another detective observes, "That's a $150,000 bottle of fake wine, sir." They then all taste it. "Oh wow, that's good." "That's impressive." And, finally, after spitting it out in disgust, "Anyone fooled by this should just kill themselves." 
The highlight featured a return to Portland Governors Club, and Backstrom treating some of the membership on hand to a tasting. He asks for a side by side tasting of "the best you've got" and is told that "such a tasting would run in excess of $250,000." The dollar amounts are completely ridiculous by the way. A wine purported to come from Thomas Jefferson's cellar (a 1787 Lafite) sold for just over $150,000, these are not that old. The wines arrive, "a 2005 Romanée-Conti Pinot Noir...and a 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild and a '47 Chateau de Fleur [sic]." Rainn over enunciates the last one, amusingly so, and it later turns out it is Lafleur, according to a normal pronunciation by one taster. The sommelier responds after Rainn orders them, "You are truly an aficionado." They did pick some impressive wines. 
Disappointingly, the wine glasses are pretty cheap looking but the tasting has some highlights. One taster spits it out, "I had a bottle of the same wine in Italy last week, and it tasted a lot better than that." The sommelier stammers, "It could be that the cork has been compromised." Someone observes, "I distinctly taste some brandy." (Hmmm, that wasn't in the formula discussed earlier). The bottles are conveniently located in a glass case, standing up, behind the bar rather than in a cellar. They are not decanted. I'm sure this is expedient from a story-telling standpoint but it is amusing in light of the earlier, exacting cellar-temperature comment. 
It was a fun episode, I enjoy the show even when it doesn't focus on wine. Rainn Wilson's character is flawed and brilliant and a very interesting antihero, which probably means the show won't last. I hope it does. 
Oh, while the sommelier makes a run for it, breaking glasses (maybe that's why they were cheap?) and knocking bottles over, Backstrom pours himself another glass. Think I'll go do the same.

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