Warning: this blog post comes laden with subjective ramblings on relative value of wine which may upset some of the Old Guard.
A few weeks ago I attended a recently-established annual family gathering where the wines are supplied by a wine-loving uncle who each year benevolently provides the attendees with a case or so of classed-growth Bordeaux from his private cellar.
The first year it was Cheval Blanc, and that year coincided, much to my dismay in hindsight, with my first year in the wine business, so that although I could recognise that the bottle before me was a big deal I did not have the skills or knowledge at the time to fully appreciate how big a deal it was. I have no real memory of the wine, nor can I even recall the vintage; depending on the latter a bottle of Cheval Blanc can set you back anywhere from €200-€400 at least. Wilde said that youth is wasted on the young, and likewise the glasses of of Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’ Saint-Émilion I was necking were certainly wasted on me.
I missed the next two gatherings unfortunately, rueing the wines I was missing as my knowledge of wine expanded, so when the opportunity came to attend the 2013 edition I was all over it like a rash; oh, and I was also looking forward to seeing my extended family of course.
My cousins still joke about how, after starting in their direction upon arriving, I suddenly made a beeline for the wine table as it caught my eye. And there it was: Mouton Rothschild. Not only that but the 1985 vintage too. So here it was before me: an aged, Premier Cru Classé / “First Growth” Bordeaux, pretty much the Mecca for wine lovers everywhere.
So the first sip was … well, actually it was a little hot and sharp, and didn’t really settle as I drank it. A second glass shortly after, however, was much more approachable, leading me to believe that the previous had come from a bottle that may have been tainted in some way. So after the first stumble here it was, and it was … well, very nice. It was of course very “aged Bordeaux” in style, and though I have not had many of those in my time – the closest being a 1999 Château Lanessan – there have been similar characteristics pointed out to me in other Cabernets I’ve tasted over the years. By this I mean that dusty, cedar-and-blackcurrant style beloved by Cab fans everywhere, and this Mouton definitely had that in spades. A little more searching revealed more: brambly summer berries, some oak to go with the cedar, a touch of tobacco and coffee maybe. The texture was good and the tannins were just right.
But yet … but yet …
Wine Searcher states that this vintage of Mouton Rothschild can be had for €250 or thereabouts. Which begs the question, which was asked by everyone at the table that evening: is it worth €250?
And here we go with the topic of subjectivity and the relative value of things. Whole books have been written on this subject I’m sure, and it’s a topic bandied about everywhere from university lecture halls to local pubs and looks to never be resolved.
Take, for example, this beanie hat by Italian label Bottega Veneta – it’s on sale now online but normally costs €350. Yep, you read right: €350 for a beanie hat, made of wool. Or perhaps this bracelet by French label Maison Martin Margiela which costs €355; it’s made of brass and seems to have no actual design complications or labour-intensive features, and the last time I checked brass isn’t a precious metal, so why does this accessory cost so much?
Amongst other things it’s about perceived value, rarity, exclusivity, supply and demand, and above all desirability. It’s about status and having what others don’t have. Knowing that it cost so much and yet nevertheless attainable is enough of a reason for many to pay the price.
Of course there are been significant costs involved in producing a bottle of Mouton Rothschild – their attention to detail in this regard is world class – and obviously its age will increase its value as it does with any appreciative good. But the question begs to be asked again: is it worth €250?
Robert Joseph, in an excellent article on Tim Atkin‘s site, says that “it is almost impossible to spend over $25 on making a bottle of wine, and pretty damn difficult to run up a bill of over $15.” Robert’s article is an expanded, and much more coherent, exploration of this issue and well worth a read.
And I, I’m afraid to say, am not going to sufficiently answer the above question in this article. If you’ve read this far in hope if this then apologies, but this topic is beyond my ken. I myself, personally, don’t think it’s worth the money, but then again I don’t have the taste for nor experience of aged fine Bordeaux, so that pretty nullifies my opinion on this.
Hence the title of this post: it’s dangerous to meet your heroes they say, as you often end up disappointed. Still, it was good fun to try it.