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Out Of This World: What Makes a ‘Priceless’ Wine Priceless?

The old controversy over how the average person can’t tell an expensive wine from plonk, so why pander to the pedestrian palette, has arisen again. I’ve recently seen a few articles online debating the companion issue of ‘what makes a great wine great?’ We may never know the answers…

Pétrus from Space - © 2021 ChristiesTHE bottle of Pét6rus: With just one item of its ample provenance.

I’m a firm believer that one should enjoy what they’re drinking. Even if the wine snob at the next table makes gagging noises, crosses his eyes and grabs at his throat with one hand while pointing an accusing finger at me with the other when he spies the label on my Vin du Jour. Actually it’s sometimes more amusing to just sit back and watch the snobs in their fits of condemnatory gesticulation. I’m going too far, you say? It happened to me once. Just once, mind you; but it really did happen.

Rules To Choose By

Anyway… My philosophy can be boiled down to a short list of Rules To Choose By.

  • If you’ve had it before and liked it, go ahead and take it home.
  • If you’ve heard good things about a certain wine from friends whose tastes correspond to yours, take it home.
  • If the wine is a varietal (that is, is identified by the main or sole grape variety in the bottle), and you’ve enjoyed that variety before, give it a try.
  • If you can’t pronounce the name on the label, and it costs more than $15, leave it on the shelf.
  • If it costs less than $10, leave it on the shelf.
  • If you’ve had it before, thanks to the misplaced generosity of a friend or your own misfortune, and didn’t like it, leave it on the shelf. (Wines don’t get THAT much better year to year just due to deviations in the condition of the soil, the weather or other conditions that affect the ‘vintage’.)
  • If the Alcohol content is too high (i.e.- over 12 percent), leave it on the shelf. Only sweet / aperitif wines can stand up to that kind of punishment. If you have a sensitive pallet, such stuff will taste ‘chemically’ or like you might imagine gasoline would taste.

A hefty price alone means nothing

I leave you with what may be the ultimate proof that a high price – or extreme rarity- alone is no guarantee that a wine will be superb. Much less drinkable. In fact, as the wink-in-the-eye newspaper stores relate, the situation is often quite the opposite.

We’ve all heard about the bottle of 300-year-old brandy (or beer, or Chateau Neuf de Pap) that’s been brought up from a shipwreck and is either being auctioned sans taste test of any kind or awaiting a great, ceremonial uncorking for the media and the snobs. More often than not, the contents of the bottle turn out to have spoiled over the aeons (in booze terms) and the party poops out pretty quickly. In fact, as far as I can tell, that’s the rule, rather than the exception.

So… What about a bottle of Pétrus 2000 that’s been aged in the weightlessness of space for a year? Would you pay $1 million for a bottle?

The 2000 vintage of Pétrus normally goes for about (US)$6,000 per bottle. That’s partly because it is considered a great wine by tasting pros and partly because Pétrus only makes about 30,000 bottle of the wine a year, making any vintage of Pétyrus rare, right off the bat.

Spaced out… for 400 days

However, a commercial firm that specializes in sending cargo to space, to visit the International Space Station for varying periods of time, sent a case of Pétrus into orbit for 400 days. According to a BBC report, “After more than 400 days in space, travelling around 300 million km (186 million miles) in zero gravity, the wine returned to Earth in January 2021.”

English wine aficionado told the BBC: “It’s hard for me to say if it was better or worse. But it was definitely different. The aromatics were more floral and more smoky – the things that would happen anyway to Petrus as it gets older. […] There aren’t that many wines that can genuinely age for 60, 70, longer years, and Petrus is one of them,” she said. She was not sure whether zero gravity had an effect on the wine, or if the journey to, from and around the Earth did. “But there was a clear difference,” she insisted.

Three bottles were opened for tasting by a panel of experts. The remaining 8 will be held back for ‘future research’, not specified by Space Cargo Unlimited, the outfit that sent the wine to space in the first place.

One bottle – and one only – is being sold through Christies’ private sales branch, and is expected to fetch about (US)$1 million a piece.

So… would ya?

From a purely practical point of view: There’s only one bottle available. That makes the rarity factor infinite. Can’t put a price on that, I suppose. The ‘space voyage’ thing is also unique, so one can’t presume to put a price on that, either… Who’s to say the single available bottle won’t go for a lot more?

Are you the kind of guy, or gal, who plays poker or baccarat in the best clubs with no limit? Do you keep a banded stack of $100s somewhere on your person for emergencies? AND are you the kind of high-roller who knows his/her wine? If you could lose $1 million in one of those poker games, and walk away unconcerned – except about which 5-star restaurant you were going to have breakfast in – you might lay out $1 million for that bottle of Pétrus.

But I’ll bet the buyer will be some company or celebrity who will ensconce it in a special temperature-and-humidity controlled cabinet, and trot it out on uber occasions when they want to impress somebody.

After all, at the bottom of it, the simple truth is that wine snobbery is 100 percent sociopolitical. The vast majority of folks with the bucks to indulge in it don’t have the wine education or experience to know a Pétrus from a Prosecco…

As for me…

I recommend this approach: stick with a good, old, familiar $25 bottle of what-you-like most. I guarantee it will make any occasion more special and any favourite meal more enjoyable!

~ Maggie J.