A few years ago I ran into a Jeroboam of Chateau D’Yquem at Wine House a San Francisco wine shop. It was around $3000. I wondered who on earth would need a bottle like this, since it could supply a party of hundreds. At 3-4.5 liters (depending where it comes from) a Jeroboam is the equivalent of 4-6 bottles of wine. The Yquem is a Sauternes, a dessert wine from Bordeaux, the most famous and coveted label of the region. Sauternes is usually purchased as half bottles (325cc), because one only drinks a small amount of it at the end of a meal. A regular 750 ml. bottle can supply a good size party. This monstrosity would certainly provide a memorable coda for many.
The experience brought up the issue of large format bottles and how to use them, a dilemma in my wine-life to which I have not found a solution.
Aside from providing higher volume of wine to a given group of drinkers, large format bottles carry the added advantage that the wine within them ages more slowly. The collectors market is aware of this fact and thus larger formats command higher prices as they age. Such bottles are more likely to be purchased by those who plan to sell them for a profit. Magnums are by far the most preferred choice for collectors and investors alike. At 1.5 liters, the equivalent of 2 bottles, they are practical, still small enough to serve in many common occasions. What to do with anything bigger is a problem.
Over the years I have collected a half dozen 3 lt. bottles. I am not into wine as an investor and never intend to sell anything I own. I bought these merely to diversify my collection. Now I can’t find any venue in which to serve them. They are mostly Napa-Sonoma wines purchased in my visits to the wineries. The oldest is a 2002 Schug Pinot Noir, with the bottle signed by Mr. Schug himself. I am beginning to get anxious about it, because even in its high volume format, it still needs to be consumed within a certain period of time, around a decade was my safe guess.
The problem is that I cannot have just one wine dominating an entire party. People will want diversity. Thus the number of people a 3 liter serves is considerably more than what it would provide by itself, and depends on the group’s collective liver power as well as drink preference. I experienced this first hand at a wonderful Thai restaurant called Wild Ginger in Seattle where a I attended a private party for my brother’s 50th birthday. A friend of his brought a 3 lt. of L’Ecole No. 41 Merlot, a Washington State wine from Walla Walla, to the occasion. The waiters kept pouring it into small, elegant decanters, and serving it to a group of around 12 close friends and family. It was a very good wine, unquestionably the best Merlot I have ever tasted (a varietal I dislike in its domestic form), but it competed with mojitos, Bloody Mary’s, margaritas, and other wines that the group was consuming. I stuck with the L’Ecole all night, and the bottle seemed bottomless. At the end there was still some leftover.
Having learned my lesson from the L’Ecole No. 41 episode, I have modified my idea of who and how many my 3 liters should serve. Hence my inability to find a suitable occasion. My conclusion about my large format problem is that unless I widen my social circles or start using my wine for investment gains (that Schug with his signature is, I am sure worth something!), I should stop buying such wines. And I have.
Today I walked into K&L, another wine shop in San Francisco and was struck by the sight of a 6 liter Chinon in a fancy wooden box. The attendant at the counter noticed my expression and began a conversation with me. When I told him about that monstrous Ch. D’Yquem I had seen at Wine House, he said he had made a very similar sale a few years back. He couldn’t help but ask the purchaser what he intended to do with so much Sauternes. “I am getting married”, was the answer. “Wow, what a waste”, I said, imagining several hundred already drunk and festive people being served a bit of this amazing wine and only a tiny minority appreciating what they got.
“I would definitely prefer selling such bottles versus serving them to the undeserving”, I concluded. I suppose that’s my last admonishment about large formats. Hopefully they would go to someone who would appreciate them.