Precious, My Precious

When does a wine evolve from prized to precious?  I mean precious like a rare, flawless diamond, precious like a commodity or an investment.  I recently toured a friend’s fantastic personal cellar, which included bottles of La Tache and Domaine Romanee Conti.  His cellar is fully digitized and integrated with Cellar Tracker software, which allows him to monitor current auction prices with a single keystroke.  It’s pretty fabulous.  Although admittedly gauche, I was compelled to ask whether he’d bought the DRC for personal consumption or as an investment.  The answer was both.  He’d bought a three pack- two were conscious investments and that final bottle was allocated for an as-of-yet-unknown occasion.  But now that the aforementioned bottle is worth upwards of $11,000, it’s become an investment.  His “Precious” is slated for auction.  Even the most sought-after Sonoma wines are a far cry for the high stakes world of the Napa cult cabs.  And one alights to a stratospheric echelon when trolling for Burgundies.  But where do you draw the line between sumptuous drinking and pretentious hoarding?  Does any occasion justify quaffing an $11,000 bottle of wine?  I can barely justify a $28 dollar sushi roll, where I’m tallying the cost of $4.50 per bite. 

John Brechter and Dorothy Gaiter (formerly of the Wall Street Journal) spearheaded “Open that Bottle Night,” a national event encouraging wine novices and cork dorks alike to finally crack open that singular bottle.  It’s a forthright concept.  How many of us stockpile bottles for special experiences that never evolve?  You hold the wine so long that it fails to celebrate an epoch deliciously.  Nothing tastes sadder than popping the cork on a prized bottle only to discover that it’s past it’s prime, like fat Elvis or Rocky VII.  On the other hand, it’s probably more excruciating to consign that same bottle to the auction block, after years of anticipating its first, exquisite sip.  The ephemeral, fleeting Beatrice haunting your dreams but beyond your grasp, “Precious” is reduced to a “sold” icon in your software database. 

Brian and I recently shared a pretty fantastic bottle to celebrate work success, his birthday, and a night without the kids.  (It was a Grand Cru Echezeaux, not DRC, in case you were curious.  And I know you were).  My palate memory of Grand Cru Echezeaux is rich and extensive, premised on my having tasted exactly one other bottle in my lifetime.  That single taste imprint has evolved into my Ariadne, a memory thread heralding the ultimate fulfillment of ideal mouth feel and opulent finish.  I recall that wine being sublime in its finesse and soft, full, mouth-coating beauty.  It was unprecedented in my quixotic recollection.  Compare this passionate prose with the reality of our recent bottle.  It was indeed supple in its finish and quite lovely, with darker fruit than expected and soft, integrated tannins.  But truth be told, it failed to live up to my expectation of “Echezeaux” as a concept, a flawless, consummate paradigm. My glorious memory of that original taste had recalibrated the bar, heaving towards unrealistic expectation. 

If I lived in the world of $11,000 wine, I imagine I’d face down that perilous battle regularly.  Do you crumple before temptation and drink it?  Will it taste like the chinkling, twinkle of gold coins or a waterfall of bullion?  What if it only tastes like copper pennies?  Or it’s corked?  Do you just “open that bottle” with like Chinese takeout, simply to foil the karmic energies? 

Brian and I have been lucky enough to attend events where we’ve witnessed  “investment” wines offered at auction.  But we’ve never been able to stomach such a splurge or the exercise the rigorous devotion to hold wine as an investment.  We’d much rather drink it, with our friends. 

And therein lies the wine investment paradox for me.  I’d rather share those unique bottles and enrich the experience.  Let the wine develop an afterlife of its own.  Who cares if the memory transcends the wine itself?  That’s what sticks.  The memory is really the most delicious part.

For those of you looking to make some new wine memories, we hope you'll join us at Cucina Urbana in San Diego on Saturday May 10th from 1pm-3pm for our Spring Release party.  Tickets are available online by clicking here.