A case of Romanée-Conti Grand Cru recently sold for nearly a half million dollars. When a friend texted me this news, my initial reaction was, will anyone drink any of it?
My wife Julie and I regularly jab each other with a long running exchange. I think jewelry is frivolous and I don’t own any, not even a wedding ring. Whenever Julie buys a piece of jewelry – and she loves gems – I tell her how vapid this is. Julie in turn has a ready answer, targeting my wine collection. Some day you’ll drink all your wine and it will be gone, she says, but I’ll still have my jewelry.
Touché! I don’t have an answer to that. But I am beginning to wonder if my wine collection will really all go away.
My collection is around 1200 bottles. The bottles I value most reside in a humongous glass cased, finished-wood cooling unit in our living room. It holds 920 bottles and is always nearly full. It’s what guests first encounter when they enter our house.
My visitors all have the same reaction to my wine cave. They look at it in wondrous amazement, their jaws slack. After a soft, Wow!, they recover, pull out their cell phones, and take a photo.
My wine storage unit is not just a convenient substitute for a cellar. It is the most impressive material article I own. Would it have the same impact if it were empty?
I am now in my early sixties. It took me two decades to collect and age the wines I have in that unit. From hereon I should be drinking what I have, and aim for an empty cooling unit by the time I die. But I doubt I can do that, lose the grand showpiece of my life.
My wine cave needs to remain full because those bottles in it have an ornamental value. There is no way I can drain its contents. As empty slots open, I buy more bottles and fill them.
Back to that case of Romanée-Conti. The news report estimated that the price of this sale was $39,700 per bottle.
For those who don’t know, Romanée-Conti is one of those celebrated luxury labels. It is a French wine from the Burgundy region, one of its best. The grape varietal is Pinot Noir. The vintage of the half million dollar case was 1978, one of the best in the 20th century with longevity if cellared well.
The wine was sold at a Christie’s auction to an anonymous Asian buyer. I have no doubt that the purchaser bought it as an investment, like stocks or bonds, and that after a while intends to sell it at a profit. As the Romanée-Conti goes round and round in an endless wheel of greedy sales it will get older and less drinkable.
Once again, will anyone drink it?
My guess is that it may eventually end up with a true wine connoisseur who might open a few of the bottles. Once empty however, the bottles lose their ornamental magic. I bet he or she won’t open them all.
As my wine experience has matured, I have come to the realization that in addition to its many attributes, wine serves a precious ornamental function. It’s not there to just drink, but to look at and admire.
So, now maybe I have a comeback for Julie’s quip about her jewelry.