Thursday, May 22, 2008

Provenance

Yesterday I posted a review of Benamin Wallace’s book, The Billionaire's Vinegar. It’s an excellent book and I highly recommend it even for those who know little or nothing about wine.

What struck me from reading this book is how little regard there is to the provenance of the old bottles that are purchased by wine collectors. Now I suppose some of them buy the wines merely as trophies, but as I have said before, I feel wine is made for drinking. Tasting the contents would be the thrill for me of acquiring something old and/or rare, not placing it under a spotlight or making sure everyone knew I had bragging rights to the wine.

But given how wine changes hands and there are so many hands involved, as well as the fact that people are basically greedy and will do anything for money, how can you really be sure that the old wine you pay so much money for is any good? And that it is authentic?

I guess the older the wine, the bigger the gamble. You just have to take that chance, although myself, I doubt that I would be very trusting of the whole process without having supporting documentation of the highest integrity.

And who’s to say what you are tasting is even the real thing? Unless we have extensive tasting experience and a supreme confidence in our own tasting abilities, how do we know what one of these old treasures is supposed to taste like? Would we be able to detect a forgery?

Of course, I’m thinking about this from the perspective of someone who could never afford to dabble in the world of fine wine collecting. My own collection averages under $20 per bottle and I have to think long and hard whenever a bottle over $25 or $30 tempts me. I could never bring myself to spend thousands of dollars on a bottle of wine given the risk of its having gone south, or the wine inside not being what it is supposed to be.

But when I run across a $10 bottle of wine that I’ve never heard of that looks tempting, that’s a whole different story. I take the risk, buy the wine, and if it turns out to be a lemon, well, chalk it up to experience. It’s no big dent on my pocketbook.

Well looking at it from the perspective of the rich folks who engage in collecting expensive wines, spending a few thousand dollars in hopes of landing a great bottle of wine is probably no different than my own poor self pulling out a ten-spot for that bottle on the shelf with a question mark on it.

And as for whether the wine is genuine or not, rich or poor we’re all the same. If we want to believe something, we’ll make ourselves believe it.

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