Does the increasing popularity of ultra-expensive wine mean wine has become a collectible and not something to drink?
The Big Guy, who hangs out with a better class of wine drinker than I do, forwarded me the auction company email: “Can you believe the prices of these wines?” he wrote. The list was expensive wine run amok – impressive labels, certainly, but prices that even I had trouble comprehending:
• $8,500 for a bottle of red Burgundy.
• $1,000 for two bottles of an 1872 Madeira.
• $40,000 for a case of 2000 Petrus, perhaps the Holy Grail of wine collecting.
• $4,750 for a magnun of another red Burgundy.
Which raises a host of questions: Who buys these wines? Do they actually drink them? And, of course, the one that has always fascinated me – how does one justify paying thousands of dollars for a bottle of wine?
Because spending that kind of money happens all of the time. It’s just not auctions, but includes trading on Liv-Ex, a stock exchange for wine. In this, the growth of ultra-expensive wine sales and expensive wine becoming more expensive have been hallmarks of the 21st century wine business. Two decades ago, people bought wine to drink it. Today, more and more people buy wine not to drink it.
This matters for two reasons. First, as these ultra-expensive wines grow in popularity, more resources will be devoted to them. If more resources are devoted to these wines, will less be available for the wine that most of us drink? Second, how healthy can the wine business be when its most prized products are kept in locked vaults? How can the evolution of wine — from something to drink with dinner to a version of coin collecting — be a good thing?
Yes, the sale of ultra-expensive wine remains a small part of the wine business. Those 10 million cases of Barefoot that are sold annually dwarf ultra-expensive wine sales. But how much attention does all that Barefoot get? The hype for ultra-expensive wine dwarfs Barefoot, as well as the rest of the wines that most of us drink. That even I’m writing about it says something – and it’s probably not good.