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Monday Manifestos
I Used To Drink Like A Millionaire

By Stephen Eliot

I am not bitter about the fact that I can no longer afford to drink the wines that I once did. I suppose in some ways that I bear some responsibility for the fact. Those of us who in the early 1970s became active players in the business of wine, from its making to its selling to the world of journalism around it, were successful in creating a new appreciation for fine wine and waking up millions to the joys of our favorite drink. Perhaps, we were a little too good.

Great wine has always been the domain of privilege and wealth. That much has not changed. But I do sometimes wonder, why is it is that in the leaner days some decades back, I could occasionally splurge on a bottle or two of first growth Bordeaux or a couple of Grand Cru Burgundies, even those from Domaine de la Romanee Conti, and now, in my comparatively comfortable middle age, those wines are woefully out of reach. I recall a conversation with the late Madeline Kamman many years back wherein she lamented the fact that she could no longer afford to drink the wines with which she grew up. It was a wistful comment more than a jealous broadside aimed that those who could, and I feel much the same way today. No more than supply and demand, I guess, and the world has become both a bigger and smaller place.

Lafite, Latour, Mouton and Petrus have become trophies for the very few, and, over the last several months, we have heard that great Burgundies are about to become the same. There are a handful of bottlings from California that are pursued by those with more money than brains as I was recently reminded by a noted sommelier. He told a tale of dealing with a wealthy Chinese businessman who, after a quick calculation of the cost, delighted that he could afford to buy the entire production of Screaming Eagle Cabernet for himself and tried without success to recruit said sommelier as his agent to do just that.

Much is written these days about the culture of wine and how wine itself is a reflection of culture. What seems clear is that there is no “one” wine culture and that the cultures that wine has come to reflect and influence are many. Wine is some quarters the measure of status and in others the engine of friendship and good will. It can speak to place and history both local and global, and it can afford relief from the daily trespasses of a too-busy world. It is art, and it is beverage. It is impossibly profound and mindlessly simple, and it can in special times leave an indelible mark on memory. It can change the way in which we perceive the world around us.

The good news, and that which mitigates any jealousy in my musings, is that there is so very much more good wine to be had than at any time in the past. There is plenty of wonderful stuff to go around. There are new discoveries to be made every day, and the search for and finding something truly special is as keenly exciting as ever. Not all wine needs to be great, and, it turns out, not all great wine is prohibitively expensive.

It may be true that I rarely indulge in those whose legends whose prices have outgrown the realities of my universe, but, when all is said and done, I do not feel like I am settling for less. I am convinced that I drink better today than I ever did. It is, I think, a good time to be a wine drinker.


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Ports in the storm
by doug wilder
Posted on:12/6/2012 4:19:15 PM

Steve, Your story reminds me of a couple memorable experiences shortly after I began working in wine during the early '90s. The importer for DRC invited a bunch of somms and retailers to lunch at Fleur d Lys. The wines included 4 or 5 Romanee St. Vivant back to 1967 as a warmup followed by the entire portfolio of 1990 from Montrachet to Romanee-Conti. Another time the trade organization of Portugal held a tasting in SF where there must have been 35 or 40 producers. I spent my time tasting the 1963 at each table. Aside from wine, the same price escalation/scarcity of top examples can be said about great single malt scotch whisky, Much of what I purchased in the 1990s can't be replicated because of the pressure for getting more product to market sooner, and as you lament about bordeaux, 30 year and older are priced beyond my comfort level. One of the advantages of whisky is it doesn't go bad after opening.

No Subject
by Hadleigh Wines
Posted on:12/10/2012 7:44:17 AM

Great article, thanks for posting and interesting too to read your readers' response. At Alexander Hadleigh Wine Merchants and Importers Ltd we are passionate about maintaining our huge portfolio of wines, fortified wines and spirits and keen to hear from any readers about their favorite choices, past and present. Our warmest wishes to you all for a great Christmas season. 

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