“Such is American business, I guess, where the desire for obscene profit mutes any discussion of conscience.” —Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes
Wine auctions make me nauseous. Something about obscenely rich people trading winemaker passion like chattel rubs me the wrong way. Somehow, I don’t feel the same way about art, although wine is bottled art. Maybe it’s that art can actually be shared with the world instead of being ferreted away in a dank cellar. But it’s really crass economics — a freshly minted, good vintage bottle of Montrachet — a coveted Burgundian chardonnay — starts around $300 and will only rise from there. Such blatant profit-seeking is happening at chic auction houses all over the world. And increasingly, online.
Of course, in this land of the free and the capitalist, this is how things work — supply and demand. There’s a desire for disgustingly overpriced wine (look at the popularity of Napa cabernet sauvignons), so auction meccas like Christie’s happily engage the interested (for a share of the proceeds, of course). French properties like “first growth” Bordeaux, ordained by the French government as the highest quality and consistency, sell for the most cash, flaunting legendary names like Lafite or Mouton Rothschild.
But wine auctions online are a different experience. I recently needed a 50th wedding anniversary present for my parents. I figured if two people can stand each other for that long, they deserve a pretty fucking phenomenal bottle of wine. Or at least one that has the potential to astound. But right after my local quest began, a problem arose: With the exception of marriages, 1958 sucked. Poor weather around Europe made production small, and Portugal, my usual go-to country for older wines, didn’t make much vintage port either. Supplicant calls to private cellars around the country also proved fruitless.
So, like all those who can’t find their true love at the local market, I turned to the Internet. The online wine auctions brimmed with bottles. Private and public sellers all over the globe had 1958 selections from Portugal, Italy and France. But, wouldn’t you know — all way out of my price range. If only I would send the proper English seller $500, he’d be happy to ship me a bottle of overpriced, possibly bad, 50-year-old wine.
But what if, upon opening, that $500 bottle was complete crap? I’d feel victimized like the guest of honor in a prison gangbang. It’s just too much to risk on my bohemian paycheck — unless I wasn’t ever planning on opening it. Which begs the question: What’s the point of that? At least a piece of expensive art can be appreciated while I wait for it to appreciate. I buy wine to drink it, period. As an art history minor, I understand the importance of preserving the past, but profiteering on wine that will never wash over a loving palate just ain’t right.
In the end, I said, “Screw 1958” and bought my parents vino they could actually enjoy — a bottle of 40-year tawny port, with a 10-year-old tawny chaser. They loved it on sight, then, as they should, cracked it open.