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Fine Wine Writing by Jonathon Alsop

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Raise High The Wine Bar, Oenophile!
September 1998


One of the operative characteristics of the true wine lover is the ability to go too far and get carried away on a consistent basis. Each obsession represents the unique character of the individual, which is what I guess keeps me and other wine writers in business.

There are people who become fixated on a wine or vintage of wine and will stop at nothing to complete a collection. Wine magazines are full of desperate classifieds looking for one and only one vintage to complete a vertical tasting of ten or twenty or even thirty years. The ads never say, "Money is no object," because they don't have to. Some ask, "Please be gentle while taking me for every penny you can," but just a few.

Then there's the wine lover who actually thinks of wine in the cellar as a financial investment in the future. Granted, if you buy Bordeaux from an excellent year, like 1995 for instance, for $50 a bottle when it's just released and store it perfectly, the same wine will be selling for many times that in 2035 when you drink it at one of the grandkids' graduation dinners. And this is the problem, isn't it? To get your investment back, you have to liquidate (no pun intended) one way or another. Many wine lovers discover what Pete Rose discovered when he went to sell off his all-star baseball paraphernalia some years ago: it's worth more to own than to sell. I'd have to create an accounting spread sheet, but I bet if you invested the same cash over thirty years, you could just buy whatever you wanted to drink whenever you wanted it, and you'd still come out ahead.

Eventually, if you go too far out of bounds, you hope friends or loved ones will set you straight with either a loving, " This is an obsession bordering on mental illness," or a full-blown intervention involving your parents from out of state to curb over -vigorous wine collecting, but that's another story entirely.

I had dinner a few months ago at the always excellent Uva in Allston with my friend Felicia Sanchez, owner of the Centre Street Café in Jamaica Plain, and a friend of hers who told me the tale of a wine lover gone immensely wrong. Frankly, it put all other reports of excess to shame, since it possessed an almost Aristotelian unity of time, place, and character, embarrassing all three entities pretty much equally.

It seems this woman herself had been engaged to a man who was a zealous collector to the tune of 150 cases, but stored under marginal conditions in someone's basement. When he would open wine for dinner, he would open a special bottle of wine for his beloved, not because it was the wine she loved most of all, but because her palate was inferior to his and there was no point having her drink the wonderful nectar he drank. When he finally broke off the engagement, one of the issues at the top of his break-up list was this mis-match. Frankly, if I were this woman, a wine goob of this magnitude would have been out of my life way before he had a chance to walk out under his own power.

Imagine what it must have been like. "Oh, you'd like a glass of wine, sweetheart? No, don't drink what I'm drinking. I have some wine out in the garage that I use to take bugs and road tar off my car. I'll get you a glass of that. Better yet, here's a little something I've been using to clean pennies."

While there is a positive, rational elitism to wine lovers that respects the natural evolution from this I like to this is good and this is better, the particular mutation in this story does for wine what Hitler did for the little square moustache. We wine professionals have a technical name for this type of connoisseur: the complete turd.

My new friend still likes wine well enough, although I bet she'll never really be able to love it, sadly. Anyone would be too scarred. She knows where those 150 cases are, however, and she's on very good terms with the people who live upstairs from them. I'm lobbying for a big wine party, courtesy of Mister Wonderful.

I'll bring a bag of pennies.

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