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The Greatest Wines You’ll Never Drink

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GrapevineThe most expensive bottle of wine on the market today and in the history of wine? French!

The most sought-after wines of capitalists and entrepreneurs? French!

The most expensive wine regions across the globe? French! French!

Wines with the best quality-to-price ratio in the vast world of wine? French?

I choose my punctuation carefully. After all, “best” is the opinion of the beholder. For me, the term connotes a combination of price and quality, not simply a macroeconomic precept of supply and demand.

French wines – of the high-end variety – almost singularly have been caught up in a spiraling funnel of critics’ scores and high-end luxury status marketing. They’ve become commodities and trophies, to be inventoried and traded, rather than be enjoyed as nectars of the gods, to be savored and shared with friends and of families.

Many sophisticated wine lovers, with Champagne taste but boxed-wine wallets, may never experience these fine wines as they age to their ultimate expression of the vineyard and the winemaker.

Large corporations have acquired many French Bordeaux estates over the last decade; the bottom line has become of greater importance than distribution to the masses. As a result, large staffs of corporate professionals have developed expensive marketing plans to raise the price of their commodities.

And they have been hugely successful. A bottle of 2000 Mouton Rothschild from the Bordeaux region cost about $150 at release. The 2020 release price? $640, and this is before market speculation affects the ultimate retail or auction price. To me it’s like trading in gold futures or Dutch tulips; prices for commoditized products may bear no resemblance to intrinsic value.

Today’s market for high-end French wines resembles an exchange-trading floor more so than a retail shop. These wines are bid up at auctions by well-heeled buyers to stroke their egos. They are purchased as personal trophies rather than for personal consumption, and as such, it is likely that a corkscrew will never open many of these bottles. The average avid wine consumer will most likely never have the opportunity to taste these wines.

I speak from my soapbox with the voice of personal experience, as I’ve succumbed to this temptation myself, albeit in a minor fashion. Over the years, I’ve invested in highly regarded French wines for my cellar, enjoyed expense account French wines at restaurants, splurged on French memory wines to celebrate our daughter’s wedding day and suffered ignominy in my tale of woe, related in this column, when I opened a treasured bottle of 1982 Mouton Rothschild.

Historically, these high-end wines were more affordable, as price increases were more or less in lockstep with the rest of the wine market (my personal rationalization). However, in protest, I am no longer a purchaser (investor?) in these wines. This is a palpable loss to my palate, as I consider high-end Bordeaux and Burgundies to be the finest representations of liquid nourishment available to humankind. 

In the eyes and keystrokes of esteemed wine critics, French wines consistently draw unparalleled accolades and high scores. But in the eyes, palates and wallets of many wine connoisseurs, there are alternative wines that can bring a rush of excitement to the ethereal experience of wine appreciation.

But scores shouldn’t be the determining factor for wine prices – and thankfully they are not. Is a bottle of $500 Bordeaux, rated 96 out of 100 points by esteemed wine critics, more price-worthy than an American Cabernet Sauvignon, rated 96, at one-tenth the price? Or more worthy than many fine affordable wines from the United States, Italy and Spain that have come to market to fill the French high-end void?

Visit your local wine merchant and experiment. You will find highly acclaimed wines at moderate prices in the shelf space vacated by high-end collectible French wines.

Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at nantonaccio@theexaminernews.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.

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