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Wednesday Warblings
A Piece of Wine News That’s Fit to Spit

By Charles Olken

Reading the “Wine News” is important. How else would we learn that heavier wine bottles appear more expensive to 150 people who were asked that question?

Most wine news these days comes preciously close to “press release” quality—a cork producer is trying to learn the role of oxygen in wine and feels the need to tell us; Spanish producers are adding grape skins to their cheap reds to make them look darker; or consider this headline “Grape Growers Urged To Embrace Data”.

Folks, these kinds of stories are about as relevant to my day as Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair is to a discussion of movie star sanity. But, there is, amidst all this wasted paper and overflowing electrons that crowd the in box of my computer, some real wine news. And I am here to interpret it for you.

Consider this title: “Fine Wine, Poor Returns”. Seems that some rich collector has discovered that wine is for drinking, not for making money through hoarding. That at least is the title of the article. It turns out, of course, that he made a great deal of money hoarding older Bordeaux. Those names, the ones that were affordable in my youth and are now hundreds and even thousands of dollars a bottle upon release today, made a rich man even richer.

But, he got a lot poorer when it came to lesser wines. Or to be blunt about it—to lesser wines in the world’s eye. Because as Mr. Rich Guy proved to the auctioneers, his older Napa Valley Classics were greatly undervalued. Sure, his 1974 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard in magnum sold for thousands of dollars (music to my ears, by the way as that wine will someday make my kids rich since I do not sell my wine), but his 1968 Beaulieu Georges de Latour Private Reserve was valued at just $100.

Turns out that the wine in question, at forty years old, when tasted alongside the heralded 1982 Lafite Rothschild, more than matched the French wine for sheer glory. That is also music to my ears. I am of the same vintage as Mr. Big Collector Guy and I have that wine and its mates from 1969, 1970 and 1971 in my cellar. And I too marvel at how beautiful those wines are at their advanced age.

Mr. Collector Guy commented that he is often loathe to drink his expensive wines. I have no such loathing, and while that is not news of any import to the world, here is the important takeaway from this story.

Wine is for drinking. It matters not what its current value is. I may have overcollected (hoarded, if you will), but when I recently went out to Michael Mina’s eponymously named restaurant in San Francisco where the Heitz Martha’s was on the wine list at $2500, it gave me great pleasure to pull a bottle of that wonderful elixir out of my cellar and bring it along. My bottle cost $25 and some electricity—and I was able to drink it. That is the point of the news. Drink your wine; don’t count it.

Now this story should end here. But, it has a tail, and one that also added to the pleasure of that visit to Michael Mina. The sommelier was offered a taste of the wine—something I do whenever I bring an older bottle to a restaurant—and he responded by bringing me a taste of 1982 Chateau Margaux that was somehow available. It is at this point that Mr. Collector Guy and I merge our stories. The older California wine was every bit as good as the younger Bordeaux. Both were glorious, and in this case, at least, both were fully valued in some auction market somewhere.

I may be unable to open some of my last bottles of fabulous wines I have collected, but never stopped short of drinking all the other bottles in the case. To me, they are just a few bucks and some electricity, not rarities to stare at until I sell them for a profit—or not as the case turns out to be for some older California wines.


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