IN VINO CE ANCORA VERITA MA BISOGNA CERCARLO
THERE IS STILL TRUTH IN WINE BUT YOU HAVE TO LOOK FOR IT
Seamus Muldoon, Himself
Copyright © 1997-2010
All Rights Reserved
In vino veritas never interested me in the slightest. I
always knew what it meant, but it didn’t apply to me, because I was
stupid enough to say whatever I felt like saying without first having to
get drunk. To be sure, I never learnt to play the frat boy pretend to go
along with the flow gambit that gets people into fraternities and
enables them to subscribe to absurd company mission statements as though
they weren’t really all bullshit.
In another dimension, however, I had the great good fortune to learn
about wine without having to take courses in it. I have enjoyed so much
of it for so many years, and have such a wonderful palatal recollection,
that at this advanced age I unabashedly consider myself to be an expert
in vetting vino.
Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” contains the suggestion
that the past cannot be recalled, no matter how acute one’s intellect
may be. Thomas Wolfe echoed the sentiment in his “You Can’t Go Home
Again”. What was can never be revisited because we cannot go back to who
we were when we were there before. The intervention of experience
And yet, current experiences conjure up recollections, however
indistinct. Proust’s taste of a Madeleine, like my sip of wine, brings
back sweet recollections of places, events, music, people, sentiments
that we cherish, even in some impressionistic mind’s eye picture. Last
week I stumbled upon a few bottles of the Greek white wine Robola. I
first enjoyed this wine in Charleston South Carolina in a small Greek
restaurant next to what used to be the Riviera Theater on King Street.
Belinda and I enjoyed this wine together during a really delicious Greek
lunch of souvlaki and salad with fresh baked pita on a sunny day in a
beautiful city where I spent part of my youth. This bottle brought back
that memory of a day almost twenty years ago.
There are many other bottles that would bring back many more memories,
but that I really don’t think I will buy. There is a limit to what I am
willing to spend on a bottle of wine. While I sometimes exceed that
limit when I am entertaining clients, I usually don’t do that for
In the early 1960s, when I was in law school, wine was unbelievably
inexpensive. As a law student living like Rodion Raskolnikov I could
still occasionally afford the occasional Chateau Margeaux at about $ 10
a bottle. Even as late as 1974 wine was very accessible. A case of
Mouton Rothschild in Detroit then could be had from the Red Wagon wine
store for about $ 250.
The so called Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 caused disruption in currency
markets all over the world. People went nuts. Time magazine posted a
picture of a wine bottle on one of its covers relating to a story that
people had begun buying fine wine to hedge currency fluctuations. Wine
became more than something to drink, and even more than something wine
snobs “laid down” for future consumption. By 1975, what I had been able
to enjoy at $ 250 a case went to $ 800 a case. The normal demand for
wine as something to enjoy exponentialised by the demand for wine as a
currency hedge, considering that no more wine was produced, drove the
price through the roof. It has not come back down.
The effect was both terrible and beneficent for me. It was terrible
because I used to enjoy really good European wine. It was good because
it incentivized the improvement of California wines to the point at
which they soon became more enjoyable just for their sheer luscious
qualities. I remember a bleak winter spent driving from city to city in
the Midwest, up to my ass in snow, taking depositions and attending
preliminary injunction hearings in several courts in a franchise case in
which the franchisor decided to work me to death to break my resources
and make it impossible to represent my franchisee clients. The
franchisor failed in that effort. But I kept a case of Robert Mondavi
Reserve Cabernet in the back seat that I enjoyed as I drove along with
my Quarter Pounder with cheese and large fries. To this day I find it
hard to eat a good hamburger without a bottle of that wine. The price of
Mondavi Reserve Cabernet today helps me control my cholesterol by not
eating too many hamburgers. Also, if they catch you enjoying a bottle of
good wine while driving today it is as bad for you as it might be if
they caught you on your cell phone.
Similar happy days memories of almost twenty years ago associated with a
case of good wine on the back seat include almost a week enjoying Oregon
with Belinda and a case of Yamhill Reserve Pinot Noir in the back seat
as we drove along. We had only recently begun our great love affair that
continues to this day. We used to buy that wine directly from the
vintner and have it shipped in – but not anymore due to the fact that
really good Oregon pinot noir sells today for around $ 70 a bottle.
Italian wines are now priced far above fair value. Not so hot Italian
wines are now masquerading as fine wines, promoted by glamorous
marketing and passing for the earmarks of sophistication for wine rubes.
Robert Mondavi has teamed up with Frescobaldi to produce some delicious
super Tuscans, Luce and Lucente, but they are now priced beyond what
would be considered a daily wine event for normal folks. In Spain, Jorge
Ordonez has taught the vintners how to overprice in comparison to
quality. A good Rioja today from Baron de Ley, their Finca Monestario
bottling, is now about $ 700 a case. At $ 300 a case for the lesser
Riojas you are being scammed. You can buy wonderful Chilean wines for
about $ 170 a case if you know what you are doing and shop carefully.
Chile is the bargain of the planet right now, but Concha y Toro has
discovered that people will pay $ 700 a case for their Don Melchor
bottling. It is delicious, but at $ 700 a case it is not something
One could posit that overpricing is good for wine aficionados because if
you drink the best every day, then the best becomes ordinary. I must
admit that these really top shelf bottlings are extremely delightful on
the celebratory occasions when I enjoy a bottle or two with a friend.
The days when I kept five cases of Mouton Rothschild and much more of
Clos Saint Denis (Domaine DuJac) on hand in the wine area of home are
I enjoyed Mouton Rothschild instead of Lafitte Rothschild in those days
due to price differences without noticeable taste difference. The
vineyards lay across a narrow path from each other and belonged to the
same vintner. But Mouton was a second growth Paulliac while Lafitte was
a first growth. The 1895 Bordeaux classification was that significant.
In 1973, Mouton was made a first growth wine. The Rothschilds had the
label done by the French artist Marc Chagall, and on it was the
statement, “Second je fut. Premier je suis. Mouton ne change.”
There is an old joke about the wine snob who brags that he can tell by
tasting which wine, which vintner, which vintage, which vineyard, which
field in the vineyard, which day of the week the grapes were picked,
which end of the field the pickers started on, and whether the picker
was right handed or left. He was handed a glass of piss and took a sip,
pronouncing it to be piss. “Yes. But whose? He was asked.
Wine is much like art. It is exactly like art in so many respects that
it is certainly liquid art, and, at its best, liquid music. But what
causes wine to be at its best is a composite of many dimensions. Some of
these are serious and some are hilariously funny.
I had a wonderful Belgian friend who was the president/managing director
of a European client of mine who, when not focused with all his might on
very serious matters, could find his sense of humor and allow me to
really enjoy it. I miss Cecil DeWagter a lot and much of this
retrospective is dedicated to my memory of the dear man. One of his sons
had the luxury to be able to become a world expert on a subject of
absolutely no relevance to anything. How nice it was of Cecil to be
proud of his son’s expertise, even if there might have been only one
institution of higher learning in the world that had the subject
anywhere in its curriculum. If you study at Carcassonne, you can fall in
love with the poetry of Andre Chenier and the music of Umberto Giordano.
Et puis d’un ton charmant ta letter me demande
Ce que je veux de toi, ce te je te commande,
Ce que je veux? Dis-tu. Je veux que ton retour
Te paraisse bien lent; je veux que nuit et jour
Tu m’aimes. (Nuit et jour. Helas! Je me tourmente.)
Presente au milieu d’eux, sios seule,sois absente;
Dors en pensant a moi; reve-moi pres de toi;
Ne vois que moi sans cesse, et sois toute avec moi.
Cecil loved to hold court on the subject of European wine. He was
wealthy enough to have enjoyed the best and frugal enough to be
conversant about the vins ordinaires of all of Europe. Cecil explained
that every bourgeois cuvee had two gradations – villages and superieur.
What most of us had heard of as the grade of wine just below vin
ordinaire was simply called plonk. But few of us ever considered that
there might be a plonk villages and a plonk superieur.
Below plonk there is pighette – slang for piss. Accordingly there is
pighette villages and pighette superieur. Finally, the bottom of the
ladder, that lowermost rung beneath which nothing exists, with its two
gradations, is called tordre boyeaux (twists your bowels). If you have
not tried it, you are no connoisseur. One cannot go outside of an
envelope if he does not know the dimensions of the envelope to begin
Wine, like fine art, involves a lot of bullshit. The bullshit is
hysterical and I have already written about it here.
http://www.seamusmuldoon.com/chef.htm . The difference between
connoisseurship and pretense to connoisseurship is galactic. But people
buy the trappings and pretend. The pretense is so absurd that it is
funny. A section of that story deals with wine bullshit. So many people
never realize that just looking for very enjoyable wine on your own –
once you know the ranges of taste that you enjoy and can afford– is so