The historical value (or lack thereof) of wine

For a recent column in Decanter Jane Anson interviewed Michel-Jack Chasseuil, one of the greatest wine collectors in the world. I had come across his name before, namely while browsing through his book  ‘100 vintage treasure from the world’s finest wine cellar’. Chasseuil is an obsessive collector and the proud owner of some of the rarest and supposedly greatest wines in the world. He had the luck of starting early, when an average month’s salary could still buy you a case of Pétrus whereas you would need to offer up an arm and a leg for a bottle these days. For winegeeks and other collectors his cellar containing over 40 000 bottles must be heaven. Cases and cases of port spanning three centuries, every vintage of Romanée-Conti for the past 100+ years and an international selection of some of the rarest wines ever made are proof of a lifelong passion. When I finished reading the interview however, I was left with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

While I admire the effort and the passion displayed by Chasseuil, I do wonder if he derives the same joy from drinking a wine as he does from merely adding it to his collection. Winelovers often get lost in their obsession and end up just wanting to buy everything that they encounter. They have to have every vintage of a wine they liked or they have to cross off every grand cru classé in the 1855 classification. At a certain moment however, people risk losing track of what wine is about. Wine is something that is supposed to bring joy to the people and in my opinion, this can only be achieved by drinking, not by simply spending several grands on a bottle only to tuck it away in the cellar for the rest of your life. What is the fun in that?

Chasseuil’s greatest dream is to use his collection for the erection of a Louvre of wine, a hall of fame for wines that are considered universal heritage. I can understand the motivation behind this. For example. the bottle owned by Napoleon mentioned in the article could certainly be considered as an item of historical value as it is linked to a historical figure, but would other wines in the collection pass the test so easily, given the fact that very little of the wine is truly finite? Stocks of a certain vintage are of course not limitless but there will always be new wines, new estates and new vintages to discover and add to the cellar. For instance, when would you consider Bordeaux 2010 as a hallmark of human achievement? In 50 years? A century? It is not because you keep something around in the cellar for a sufficient amount of time that it automatically gains historical value.

For me the thrill of drinking wine is in the moment, popping the bottle in company and simply getting to the bottom. That way only the memory remains, which is far more valuable than whatever is merely gathering dust in your cellar. Most of the empty bottles around the apartment quickly find their way to the bin but some of them are kept around. These are by far not the most expensive bottles I’ve ever drunk, nor are they necessarily the most difficult to find or the best, but they are linked to moments that I want to remember and from every single one I can say when and who with it was drunk!

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