Wine list of the day, Davos edition

By Felix Salmon
January 28, 2011
the Wine Forum.

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The prize for most obnoxious party at Davos was won on the first night, with the Davos Tasting put on by the Wine Forum.

Wine tasting was historically one of the more interesting and enjoyable events that was put on at Davos, but it got nixed in 2009 when conspicuous consumption of first-growth clarets was considered inappropriate in the face of the global financial crisis. The consequence was much the same as attempts to cap CEO salaries: just as the executives end up making much more money through stock options, the wine tasters, freed from whatever decorum was imposed upon them by the official constraints of the World Economic Forum, showed just how out-of-control wine events can really be.

The plutocrats at Davos, of course, both western and eastern, are exactly the kind of people who spend thousands of dollars a bottle on fine wines. But they’re also driven and single-minded executives who naturally gravitate to the obvious and middlebrow in other areas: if they’re buying art, they’ll plump for something shiny by Damien Murakoons (both Hirst and Koons are in Davos this week), while the big-name creative types here are the likes of Jose Carreras, Peter Gabriel, and Paulo Coelho.

Wine here, then, is judged with executives’ eyes rather than their noses. They look at the label first and then at two crucial numbers: the number of points it gets from Robert Parker or Wine Spectator and the cost in dollars. Take that to its logical conclusion and you wind up with exactly what we saw on Wednesday night:

This evening’s wine selection consists of wines that have achieved 100 points or equivalent from one of three well known raters.

The raters, of course, are Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson and the Wine Spectator — the consensus arbiters of mainstream wine taste.

You want the list? OK:

1969 Vega Sicilia, 1980 Vega Sicilia, 1982 Krug, 1982 Pichon Lalande Comptesse du Lalande, 1990 Gaja Barbaresco Sorì Tildìn, 1994 Harlan Estate, 1994 Quinta do Noval Port, 1998 Le Pin, 2000 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto, 2000 Léoville Las Cases, 2000 Cheval Blanc, 2000 Pavie, 2001 Domaine de la Mordoree Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee de la Reine des Bois, 2002 Greenock Creek Shiraz Roennfeldt Road, 2004 Le Macchiole Toscana Messorio, 2005 L’Eglise Clinet, 2005 Pavie, 2006 Colgin, 2007 Dana Estate, 2009 Léoville Poyferré.

And that’s not including a few more Champagnes, a 1995 Figeac or the Louis XIII cognac.

The event was held at the semi-legendary Piano Bar of the Hotel Europe, which was fully booked out by the Wine Forum for two and a half extremely expensive hours. The Piano Bar is the late-night haunt of Davos Man and it comes with the permanent tang of stale cigarette smoke and a general culture of heavy drinking.

The result was basically a drunken mess. Revelers would cluster around stations loaded up with fine wine, getting large pours of increasingly-indistinguishable heavy cabernets, competing to find the Cheval Blanc and Le Pin (which were naturally considered the most desirable wines, just because they were the most expensive), all the while fighting off jetlag and concentrating mainly on greeting their old Davos buddies and catching up on gossip. (Update: I forgot to mention that all the wine was served “pop-and-pour” style, where a wine would run out, a waiter would run to get another bottle, would open it, and then immediately start pouring it into various partiers’ glasses. No decanting, no time to breathe, nothing. Maybe the reason I liked the Barolo so much was that it had been sitting open for a while by the time I got to it.)

Most of the wine, including the Cheval Blanc, was far too young to drink — but of course it’s hard to find such names in quantity if you want them older. My favorite, by far, was the Barolo (about $550 a bottle if you want to buy it in Hong Kong), but the event really wasn’t remotely conducive to tasting and appreciating the wines, so much as it was a way of celebrating and appreciating Anthony Scaramucci and Skybridge Capital, who underwrote the event. Scaramucci, a member of the Wine Forum, is the first to admit that he’s not much of a wine connoisseur, but he knew what he wanted: he told me that the bill for the event just kept on rising from its initial stratospheric level, as he insisted that if he was going to throw a party, the wine must never run out and must be available in quantity.

I’m glad that I got the opportunity to taste a bunch of these wines, even though I didn’t really appreciate most of them. Maybe to do that you need to have much more respect for point ratings or dollar prices than I do, or at least believe on a very deep level that they have a strong correlation with quality. I’m pretty certain, at this point, that my taste in wine isn’t Robert Parker’s taste, at least as it is revealed in his ratings. But ultimately events like this aren’t much about taste at all: they’re about putting down markers of various kinds and confirming in the plutocrats’ minds just how exclusive they, and Davos, really are.

Update: Scaramucci calls to say that I’m a “dork” for writing this, says that I’m an embarrassment to my profession, and argues that it was malicious and unfair of me to accept an invitation to his party, only to turn around in public and call it (and, by implication, him) obnoxious. He’s upset, which is understandable, and I very much doubt I’ll be invited to any more of his events. I’ll say here what I told him on the phone, which is that this post was not written maliciously, and that I bear no animus to him personally — I didn’t talk to him for long at the event, but he was very cordial to me and I liked him. I felt his party was so emblematic of Davos in so many ways that I had to blog it. But I’m sorry that he ended up being singled out; my point was very much about the culture of Davos more generally.

Update 2: I watched Wall Street 2 on the flight back to New York (don’t bother, really), and noted a huge Skybridge logo in a charity-ball scene. Oliver Stone has said that the product placement helped him enormously in financing the movie.

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