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Is it a sin to covet wine you can’t have?

9 comments

I was cruising around the Internet when I stumbled across this topic at eRobertParker:

The ONE Wine You Would love To Taste, Easily, More Than Any Other Wine?

Asking a wine lover which wine he’d like to taste more than any other is like asking an aspiring rock musician which rock star he’d like to jam with. Hendrix? Springsteen? John Lennon? Clapton? We’re talking aspiration, baby!

Here are a couple of the wines people said they wanted: 1999 La Tache, ‘45 Romanee-Conti, ‘62 La Tache, ‘34 Richebourg, ‘45 Romanee-Conti, 1811 Yquem, ‘91 Henri Jayer Echezeaux, 2000 Pavie, ‘78 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino, ‘76 Clos Ste. Hune and so on.

Heavy on Burgundy and especially DRC, which is no surprise; DRC is arguably the most famous, coveted wine in the world among aficienados. However the question, and the responses it elicited, are so rich in meta-meanings and context that they demand a little online analysis here.

The enjoyment of and desire for fine wine always has had an element of covetuousness. After all, nobody wrote in to say they wanted Mondavi or Mouton Cadet! Various moral philosophies and religions have decried covetuousness for millennia. While the Seven Deadly Sins do not specifically include it, “to covet” can well be interpreted as the combination of two, or possibly three, no-no’s it does mention: greed, lust and envy. “We begin by coveting what we see every day,” Hannibal Lector told Clarice Starling in “Silence of the Lambs.” Begin what? The suggestion, coming from that psychopathic killer’s lips, is that covetuous leads to all sorts of aberrant human behavior. And, of course, most famously there is Exodus 20:17: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbor’s.” Including, presumably, thy neighbor’s wine.

So when asked about “the one wine you’d like to taste,” are the responders coveting, or are they simply, innocently replying to a question concerning preference?

I’m not big on the notion of sin, although it’s a good word with which to describe Hitler, or Pol Pot, or the terrorists who take innocent human life in the name of religion. I certainly don’t think it’s a sin to desire wines you’ve heard and read about all your life that you’ve never had the opportunity to drink. Yet in this holiday season, when materiality once again threatens to overwash the spiritual aspects of Christmas and Hanukah, it’s fair to ask if we show a darker, more covetous side of ourselves when we express a desire for rare, famous wines. Most of us would not admit to longing for mansions, luxury cars, yachts, private Caribbean islands, rare antiques and treasure chests of jewels — it would be unseemly, especially in this era of the New Frugality. Yet we readily confess our desire for “1811 Yquem” et al.

I think it says something about wine, and about human nature, and about the mysterious relationship between the two. Even the most liberal and self-effacing among us drools at the prospect of a private tasting of the world’s rarest wines. It may be a minor form of covetuousness, but it can be forgiven.

  1. Nope, I think it’s only a sin to covet thy neighbors wine… unless of course they’re into that sorta thing! :)

  2. I think, as budding wine geeks, we all enjoy this kind of thought (and emotion?) experiment. I know that one my blog, I posed the question if readers wanted me to write about wines that they likely couldn’t ever get (either due to price, production, availability, etc.). The overwhelming response was Yes. I suppose it’s good to have ‘Rock Star’ status wines out there to get our collective geeky juices flowing. :)

  3. A lot of wine culture is built around coveting, not to mention gluttony in the form of over-imbibing. The amusing part to me is often wine aficionados wrap it up in a sort of mystique, as if it is paying homage to some great work of art to get drunk. The secondary qualities of wine are what elevate it, but it’s primary purpose is to deliver alcohol. Aside from professionals, you don’t see many people expectorating into a spit bucket!

    Who would turn down a chance to try a great wine? Not me. But perhaps the idol worship is taken too far. If it’s not old wine, it’s super cuvees and vineyard designates. In the end, though, it’s really tasty liquor. People should enjoy what is available in their price range, not try to check off wines on their bucket list. Wine should be an intellectual and hedonic experience, not an unfulfillable quest.

  4. Morton Leslie says:

    I was once invited to a catered dinner where eight guests were to drink a series of wines purchased at auction by hosts. I found the prospect to be exciting and readily accepted. Beginning with several ’45 First Growth claret followed by two sister burgundies from the mid-19th century and ending with Nacional. At then end the fellow next to me, a titan in the financial world who chaired several important charities, expressed what I was also feeling. We had just put into our gut something that could have impacted the lives of less fortunate individuals in a significant way. Maybe it wasn’t sin, but I can say I’ve never since coveted this sort of thing.

  5. Well said sir. While I have tried to inhabit the tenet of the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” but it has been tough at times in this business. I used to work at a wine store that had displayed prominently above the counter 5 emptied bottles of vintage DRC, a headstone to one of my employer’s wanton nights of Bacchanalian debauchery. Many a customer opined their envy to me and the staff. And I too have had my fair share of close encounters of the divine wine kind – the first growths, old Ports, ’28 Cheval Blanc, etc. – vicariously through customers, friends, competitors. Yet at the end of the day, what does it mean? It’s great to see a wine writer of your stature put things in proper perspective. Cheers!

  6. These wines are great stories, great memories and emotions. I doubt the wine in the bottle, if consumed out of context, would be that remarkable at all.

    I spent three years tracking down a rare bottle I had tasted 10 years ago. Back then it was the best wine I’d ever had. Last month I opened it- mediocre at best.

  7. vinorojo86 says:

    As a side question, Would you still want that ’34 Richebourg if it was poured into a bottle of two-buck and then delivered to your door? I honestly believe that there are hoards of people who want these wines because of what’s outside the bottle, not what’s inside. Again, a great topic Steve.

  8. Steve…for the record, I openly admit a longing for mansions, luxury cars, yachts, private Caribbean islands, rare antiques and treasure chests of jewels!

  9. I would love to try the wine that Jesus converted from water. In theory it would be the best wine the world has ever seen, but it is also possible that he just rabbit-out-of-the-hatted some Gallo Hearty Burgundy.

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