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Wednesday Warblings
Can’t Afford La Tache? Neither Can I

By Stephen Eliot

The great wines are no longer real. They are nothing more than figments of the imagination floating on the pages of this wine rag or that. They do not exist because I can no longer afford them.

My fascination with the ways that the culture of wine has come during my professional lifetime is ceaseless. I look wistfully back on a time when the great names of Bordeaux and Burgundy could be found in my cellar. I simply cannot now afford to drink those bottles that I once drank with abandon.

The very best wines that once were merely expensive and thus an infrequent, though not impossible, treat are now so stratospherically priced that, but for the occasional professional tasting, I doubt that I shall ever drink them again. They have become symbols of high status rather than real-life culinary communion.

The world is both a larger and a smaller place now, and each new economic center of plenty gives rise to a new population of well-to-do tyros looking to join in the fun. It is simple supply and demand at work, and there is only so much first-growth claret and grand cru burgundy and cult Cabernet to go around. Still, when the world of instant internet journalism is rife with reports on profligate spending such as was seen in the just-concluded annual Napa Valley wine auction, I stop and shake my head at how things have changed.

Oh, I am not bitter nor am I more than just a little bit jealous. Fine wine for me has never been about “trophies”. It is for drinking and sharing, and I still hold to that truth.

It is often said that there are now too many wines made in the world, and that the consumer is hopelessly confused when it comes to making a choice. It is, however, that very profusion of well-made wines that keeps me enthralled.

From the beginning, it has been the adventure of discovery that made wine so exciting, and there are, I would argue, far more genuinely fine wines to be had that ever before. Many of those without storied pedigrees are incredibly rewarding, and every new vintage comes with greatness just waiting to be noticed. Many of my old icons are beyond reach, but I have no trouble at all finding wines that are involving, genuinely compelling and with stories to tell. Wines that I still can afford. And, the thrill of the search is as real today as ever.

I think, in the end, that is what drives those of us who have been hopelessly smitten with wine. However much we may know about wine, the treasure hunt is renewed every vintage, and there are literally thousands of new wines to be tried. Old friends may pass, and I may remember them fondly, but there are new ones waiting to be discovered and loved every day.


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