The Wine Palate
What is it really that makes those uber-expensive wines cost what they do? Does the ’05 vintage of Chateau Petrus cost $2,000 per bottle because it took so much extra time and care to produce? Is Opus One as expensive as it is because of the price of the land and the skill of the wine makers or is it a well organized marketing scheme that disproportionately raises the price of these prestige wines? Like anything else, it is a bit of both. The more appropriate question, perhaps, is whether or not it is really worth the additional cost. I suppose that is based on your priorities. Are you looking for the experience of unfolding the intricacies of a unique and complex wine or do you want the thrill and status behind opening an expensive bottle that you have been keeping in your cellar?
The cynic in me says that there is no way these wines are worth the exorbitant prices and hype that surrounds them. I know that Petrus, for example, does not use superior barrels to that of a neighboring house such as Chateau Trotanoy. The parcel of land has similar soil composition and the winemakers at both houses are among the best in the industry. Petrus simply has the name behind it. The production is small and the bottles are carefully allocated to premium restaurants so as to never allow the wine to seem commonplace. Most of it is sold in the form of futures long before the wine is ever released.
When it comes down to it, I am as bulled by classic wine names and prestige as the next guy. There is nothing more exciting to me than getting the chance to drink a Bordeaux First Growth or a prestige cuvee Champagne. It is like a sacred ritual — you carry the bottle as though it were as fragile as a baby, trying not to disturb thousands of years of wine making that leads to the moment you are worthy to appreciate a small piece of history. You decant the bottle slowly and carefully and allow it to breathe for at least an hour, watching it out of the corner of your eye, suspense building as you wait for the true character of the wine to unfold. Occasionally, you try to get a sneak peek by smelling the wine through the top of the decanter. When it is finally time to toast and take the first sip, you do it in such a way that says this moment is worth remembering, the company the best you could ask for, knowing you are all blessed to be experiencing such a sacred thing. The romantic side of me says an experience like this is easily worth a couple hundred bucks.
Maybe there’s really no accurate way to judge the value of these wines. Their price certainly does not directly reflect the cost that went into their production. But hopefully it is a moment to share and remember.
Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in N.Y.C. and he tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments he is easily contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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