I used to spend thousands on fine wine. My photography was going great so I was bringing in lots, but I somehow got it into my head I wanted to be a sommelier as well. Long story short: Goodbye, money! I can’t even say it was worth it.
Before I even had a clue what I was doing, I was adding to my microcellar. I own a small wine fridge perfectly calibrated for cellar aging, and it currently holds mid-range Bordeaux. Highlights include a 2005 Château Montrose and a 2011 Château Palmer. I know what I’m doing now, but I bought my first $100+ bottle when I was only 20. I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING. I was a “label drinker”. To this day, I sometimes still am. In fact, I’d say 99% of wine drinkers are. It’s damn near impossible to have such a vast working knowledge of wine that you know exactly what you’re buying each time. For me though, that’s the fun.
I actually went to school for this. I hold ISG Level 1 and WSET Level 1, and I hope to achieve WSET Level 3 and French Wine Scholar someday. I’ve also done some pretty extensive tasting outside my courses, and know enough random crap to talk a big game. I can get seriously revved up about Loire Valley whites, and I’m also pretty passionate about my hatred of BC Cab/Merlot. I’m an intermediate wine drinker now, and if I can offer only one piece of advice to a novice wine drinker, it’s this: UNLESS YOU HAVE WINE EDUCATION, DO *NOT* SPEND MONEY ON HIGH-END WINE.
I’ve bought a lot of high-end bottles in my life. Most of them were old and improperly stored. My $250 bottle of 1979 Spring Mountain? I bought that from a very reputable store, but either its extreme age or improper cellaring made it flat and lifeless. I once cracked a 1983 Recioto at a dinner party. Same thing. My $150 glass of 1962 Amarone back in January was overwhelmingly meh as well. Hell, I’d take a 2014 Nota Bene any day. It’s not even the fault of the winemakers! When an ancient bottle isn’t in the possession of someone who knows how to take care of it, THE WINE BASICALLY DIES. Also, virtually no one takes care of wine properly. Try keeping a bottle at 55° F for 10+ years with no fluctuations. Then, consider humidity, vibration, light, and security. If a reputable liquor store can’t handle it consistently, HOW CAN YOU WITHOUT A MAJOR INVESTMENT?!?
Then, there’s the argument that most people can’t tell what they’re drinking anyway. I could pour Barefoot into an empty bottle of Osoyoos Larose and most of my friends wouldn’t notice a difference. Remember my rant about Veblen goods? Nowhere is that more apparent than in the wine world! Half the time, you’re buying the label! How good the wine is is subjective, and it’s a waste to pay extra HUNDREDS for a slightly different flavour profile!
The best wine I’ve ever had was memorable because of other things going on. I once cracked a top-notch bottle of 1999 Barolo at my grandfather’s 80th birthday. I remember savouring that bottle for hours. My roommate and I opened an Amarone at his 23rd, and I remember that clearly because the wine was just awesome enough to blow his mind. Wine only serves to complement an experience. You all remember that scene in Sideways when Miles drinks his 1961 Cheval Blanc alone, right? Without a great experience to add to, a great wine became forgettable! It’s like putting gold leaf on a turd. Not worth it!
If you’ve ever been tempted by high-end wine, there are better things to spend your money on. 100% of the time, I could’ve found an objectively better “cheap” wine if I’d just put in the effort to look. All it takes is doing some research and picking the best bottle of $20 Rioja or Argentinian Malbec you can find. Trust me, you wouldn’t notice a difference. That’s for wine scholars to agonize over. YOU can take the extra $100 you WOULD’VE spent and either up your meal’s food game, or put it to good use via snowflaking or investing. MOST OF YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS BUYING HIGH-END WINE.
I drank out of a free 3L box of Pinot Gris in a parking lot this week. Still more memorable than that 1979 Spring Mountain. For now, I’m saving my money and making no more purchases for the microcellar. Hell, I’m even thinking about selling off my bottles. Seriously, the fact I used to drink and collect rare wine shouldn’t impress you, but disgust you. I was a sucker, and I paid lots for the privilege. I’ve had positive high-end wine experiences TWICE in my life, and I study it.
Stick to $20 bottles when you’re feeling fancy. The high-end wine world is just rich people patting themselves on the back and paying for labels. Think of it as Asshole Tax. I paid it because I was an Asshole.
Sorry, winemakers. Am I wrong though?