UPDATE: Expense Report

I'm often asked why wine is so expensive.

My usual response? You're buying the wrong wine.

While that statement appears trite and even condescending, it’s a catch-all for a different way to look at purchasing wine to drink and to cellar. When it comes down to it, is the pleasure derived from an outstanding bottle of $10 Muscadet really that different from what is experienced with $500 Montrachet? I would say no.

Yes, the Montrachet may be vastly more complex, long and tertiary in its display of layered fruit and terroir expression...but then again, is it really?

Part of the pleasure many collectors radiate with rare and costly wines involves the chase, acquisition and subsequent euphoria over sharing those treasures with hand-selected friends and guests (or themselves). The pleasure derived from the $10 Muscadet is uninhibited – it is clouded by nothing more than what is in the glass. There is a different form of pleasure derived from the pursuit of Melon de Bourgogne (than Montrachet) but the cerebral and gustatory sense of satiation is just as profound.

If that is the case, then why do many of us go to great lengths to acquire $500 ($2500?) Montrachet?

That is an age-old question that has never fully been answered but, I can tell you with certainty, that I’ve yet to enter a wise old oenophile’s lair and find it chock-a-block full of Touraine. First Growths? Certainly. La Grapperie? Not so much. I’ve heard the argument that fine Bordeaux, Burgundy, Port, Barolo et al have stood the test of time and the new-fangled “trendy/eccentric” wines have not.

I guess they’ve never tasted trendy 1900 Cotes du Jura Rouge.

Of course, there are exceptions - wine that may be costly and from a known/saturated region, but are still purely genuine, against the norm, age-worthy and immensely captivating (Il Caberlot, Mayacamas, Tertre Roteboeuf) and there are also examples of the opposite - wine from relatively unheralded regions (from an age-old collector’s point of view), where 95% of the output is in the $10-20 range, but certain examples break the mold from a cost and “serious” standpoint (Clos Rougeard, Valentini, Peyre Rose).

In defense of the wine-buying public, in the past, there was not enough information available in print to spark interest on wine regions other than the tried and true – a renegade such as Kermit Lynch was, well, a renegade. Most merchants and importers concentrated on the same geography as what was reviewed or discussed in the requisite UK and US journals and that pattern created a cycle of production, purchase, cellar and consume that followed a very set path...

...until now.

For the first time in vinous history, the emerging culture of wine production and collecting (both sides of the equation) are so intertwined with the same technology (the internet age), there’s a real sense that Mt. Etna may be just as important as the Gironde or Gevrey and the pleasure derived from each can be (and is) one and the same regardless of cost. Twenty years ago, that notion would have been preposterous and you would have been hard-pressed to find half a dozen wine shops in the US stocking anything from Sicily other than Marsala. The same can be said for “lesser” regions across Europe and beyond (the emergence of the Southern Hemisphere has played a big role in this as well – last week, when Wine Library announced (and announced and announced and announced...) their massive 98pt Cabernet deal, it was from Argentina - not Napa, Bordeaux or even Italy. Do you think they could have done that with any serious intent 15 years ago? I don’t think so).

Circa 2012, there’s a real sense that exploration in wine actually means more than just exploring the Medoc. Part of this is economic – young people, who have more time on their hands to absorb multiple blogs and chat rooms, simply do not have the disposable funds that many “elderly” (40 and older) oenophiles are fortunate to have in Reserve. It’s as if an entire new generation of wine drinkers (and readers), a generation that was never exposed to the “Bordeaux, Burgundy, Port” (BBP) mentality doesn’t know any better. They don’t realize that unknown hand-made wine from Ribera Sacra isn't supposed to age or the volcanic treats from the Canary Islands aren't worth your time or cellar space. Don't get them started on sparkling wine from the Savoie or those ridiculous grower Champagnes - certainly not worth anyone’s time.

In fact, what they don’t know is that they’re supposed to ordain BBP as the be-all-end-all, just like their elders did before them. In addition, what they fail to realize (mostly by choice) is the large sum they are saving by investing in wine regions they explore for themselves - what they discover on an adventurous amble down the unknown wine road that the previous generation of wine collector would not only find heretic but a complete waste of time, money and grapes.

Maybe the new generation of wine collector has an unflattering set of wine-open eyes and ears - reading, listening and tasting in a most uncouth and impressionable way. After all, wine was never meant to entice south of 14th Street, lets just keep it above 70th and Madison. In fact, today’s new wine collector, just doesn’t seem to know much about anything...

...except wine, of course.

- Jon Rimmerman