A wine collection is like a garden. If left untended it will grow weeds.
This aphorism that I personally coined years ago remains true as my own collection goes past its twenty year mark. I always expected the weeds to appear in lost corners of my storage units, lesser known wines from forgotten vintages, orphaned within the overall collection. The kind of wine that raises eyebrows with my fellow tasters who might ask, “Why on earth did you keep this one so long?”
I’ve had a few of those. But I never expected weeds among some of my most prized labels, wines that I have never neglected, wines that I collected faithfully vintage after vintage.
Domaine Tempier Bandol, an unknown decades ago, discovered and popularized by the famed Berkeley wine merchant Kermit Lynch, initially attracted our attention as a poor man’s Bordeaux. A Provence wine made mostly of mouvédre, in the 1980s and 90s it was cheap and redolent of Bordeaux wines in nose and flavor. It had faults, including hints of sulfur frequent on the nose, and Brettanomyces contamination, but we didn’t mind. We found the faults somehow endearing, cult aficionados that we were.
Vieux Telegraphe, a Chateauneuf du Pape, also promoted by Lynch was very much liked for the same reasons. It featured more mouvédre in its mix and was often Bretty.
In the 80s and 90s both wines aged well and demonstrated a certain wild rusticity with age that was unique for their appellations. Everyone in our wine group collected Tempier Bandol and Vieux Telegraphe. They appeared frequently in our Friday night blind tastings allowing us ease in assessing how they evolved.
Some time after 2000 something happened, I still am not sure exactly what! The two wines changed.
Domaine Tempier was sanitized – no more sulfur or Brett – and its style was altered. We no longer mistook them for Bordeaux. To my utmost dismay they smelled and tasted Italian.
French wines that speak with an Italian accent are unacceptable! (Another of my personal aphorisms.)
Vieux Telegraphe lost its aging potential. We began noticing more and more older vintages that were stylistically all over the place, many prematurely oxidized.
In the meanwhile, as their fame spread among an increasing number of Kermit Lynch followers, the prices of both wines rose to a level beyond a poor man’s anything.
Earlier this year I came to realize that I had nearly nine cases of Domaine Tempier Bandol and Vieux Telegraphe, occupying valuable real estate in my crowded wine storage units. Tired and disappointed, I took an extreme measure that I never thought I would. I decided to sell them all.
I have always adhered to the notion that my wine collection is NOT an investment. It is a source of shared pleasure among my wine loving friends and family. My decision to sell was a protest action, an action borne out of frustration, of the kind one experiences upon discovering that the cult followed was fake.
It took some effort to inventory and consign all the bottles to K&L, a San Francisco wine shop that offers auctions. They forgo a 15% commission if the proceeds are used as in-store credit.
The wines sold in no time. I did not check if I had profited or lost in the process. I didn’t care. I now have a four figure sum as credit with which to buy new wine from K&L. In essence what I did was to exchange wines I no longer liked for future wines that I will hopefully enjoy.
Many wine group friends were surprised at what I did, some shocked. They were still under the spell of the cult, unable to fall out of love with what they had adored for decades.
In a way, my solution to the problem was very much a surgical one; I saw a rot within and I completely, decisively cut it out. I divorced them.
I am not the only surgeon in our group; others are from all walks of life. When it came to Tempier and Vieux Telegraphe, I turned out the only unromantic one.