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Friday Fishwrap
I Can No Longer Afford La Tache—Part Deux

By Charles Olken

I call this essay “Part Deux” because it is about my love of France and my unwillingness to pay through the nose for my daily tipple.

Something happened in my childhood that gave me a warped sense of values. Despite being treated to a classical east coast education at a “Latin” high school, where everyone was expected to study that dead language, I insisted that I was going to honor that part of my brain that had, for no apparent reason, fallen in love with France and would study its language instead.

Four years later and with a year of college French also under my belt, I headed off for my first visit to La Belle France. It was the first of many, including two glorious weeks just a month ago. People say that the French are a hard people to like. I find them delightful. People say that it takes years of study to understand French cheeses, French wines and French regions. I took to them like they were old friends of the family.

I will admit that my love of wine did not start with France. It started in high school with cheap California red and progressed from there to Hearty Burgundy. But, after that first visit to France, I was hooked on Beaujolais. It was not expensive and it was bright, fruity and went down easily with everything we college kids cooked in our fireplace on date night cook-ins.

Had I not decided to spend a couple of years in California for grad school, I might never had given the wines which now fill my wine cellars (yes, more than one) a chance. Fate is like that. But, my love of French wines never faded and neither did their places in my cellars. Even today, when I go to fancy restaurants and bring my own well-aged red to dinner, it is as likely to be a hoary Bordeaux as anything else.

But, like Steve Eliot commented in yesterday’s blog, I no longer get to buy the First Growths or even the so-called “Super Seconds” because the new wines, the ones that should really be allowed to age a couple of decades, cost more than the equivalent and older bottling of the same wine—and I have plenty of those.

And so it will be when Mrs. Olken and I head out in a couple of weeks to celebrate a big-number anniversary at Chez Panisse, I will be deciding whether to bring a Bordeaux from the sixties or the seventies or the eighties. They were affordable then; less so today.

This topic, what to drink when one wants to taste great wine and is willing to spend a bit for it, is going to be a constant theme with us. Steve Eliot started it and it was the topic of a lively conversation at today’s tasting. There are wines that are worth the splurge, and there are still the occasional priceworthy wines that should be bought up by the handful and laid away because of the glory they will provide going forward. It may be harder to find them and harder still to afford the obvious great wines, but wine collecting is not a dying art, and future columns here will address themselves to that very subject.

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Cellar Worthy?
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:6/7/2012 9:27:41 AM

I will be following along Charlie as this is a topic I confess to having little experience with. Sure I have a few "fine" bottles tucked away but I am more of a daily wine drinker than a collector, although I have been lucky enough to taste and drink some amazing wines (French ones mostly) through the generosity of friends and winemakers....mostly Burgundy.


I do hope lots of people chime in with their thoughts as well. I had a conversation with a gentleman by the name of Jason Wise just a couple weeks ago. He is the one who made the film Somm that I believe is going to be released soon. His father in law shops at The Wine Country and brought him in over the holidays. Well he and I hit it off, geeked out a bit and now when he is visiting with his in laws he comes by to see what I've got and chat a bit. I was pouring him a wierdly sexy Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River and told me a story that baffled the hell out of me.


He was meeting with a big Hollywood hotshot, screening the film in the guy's home and the host could not wait to show and share his wine cellar with the young film maker. The guy had every rare and culty wine from everywhere stacked to rafters and began pulling bottles and popping corks. Just released first growths, Burgundies and Napa Cabs were popped and poured directly into glasses, the guy didn't even own a decanter! For that collector it wasn't about the beauty, grace or pleasure, least not the way you and I see it was about the attainment. That I simply don't understand but I know that there are a lot of those out there. I'm not saying the guy is wrong, hell the wines are his and he can do with them as he wishes. Not to mention the fact that he might not even like the wines as much once they have dropped some primary fruit, heard lots of that from customers as well. I just hope people follow this conversation and add their two cents...

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