Sunday, August 3, 2014

Auction Time!

1999 J. F. Mugnier Musigny, Lot 23 at Bonhams Fine & Rare Wines auction

On the heels of my first Masters of Wine tasting, I've started a new adventure in the industry and within one week found myself tasked with making a shortlist of Burgundy selections for the company to bid on at the Bonhams Fine & Rare Wines auction in San Francisco last week. With lots such as four bottles of 1998 Domaine Leroy Musigny listed for the reserve price $10,000 - $15,000, it was an interesting first auction foray for me.

Okay, 'interesting' doesn't quite describe how I felt about my first wine auction. 'Painstakingly controlled exuberance' is closer to the truth. Perhaps soon enough I'll be completely blasé about auctions, since they are technically business transactions. But to me, that is only part of the story.

There is something ineffable and special about an individual bottle of wine, especially something like a Magnum of 1982 Lafite Rothschild. There is the history and heritage of the producer and the wine, and there's the story of the bottle itself: whose hands it had passed through, how it got here, and where it will go next. This isn't necessarily sentimental, either; it's simply fascinating to me. It is a journey; it is life. I imagine I will always feel this way about it.

I attended the pre-auction tasting although not surprisingly, none of the wines on my shortlist were available to taste. There were quite a few individual buyers there "looking for a bargain" and at an average of several hundred dollars a bottle, I guess I live in a different world since that is a tidy sum of money from my perspective! I tasted every wine there, from France to California, as part of my learning experience. Perhaps because of my assiduous note-taking, people began to follow me about, asking for my opinion on this or that wine.

My favorites at the tasting were poles apart: 1982 Henri Boillot Meursault (the most creamy, luxurious liquid caramel popcorn you'll ever have) and a 2004 Pax Syrah Lauterbach Hill Russian River Valley (totally non-typical for a Syrah, but it was one of the most balanced wines in the tasting lineup; like a cool climate California Cabernet Sauvignon).

Our bids went in on my birthday, my Burgundy selections alongside a number of cult Napa wines. Two days later the results were in and I couldn't help but leap from my chair and whoop when I saw that we had won the lot for the 1999 J.F. Mugnier Le Musigny (among lots for the 2009 Richebourg and 2005 Grands-Échézeaux ... hooray!). I don't know why, but for some reason I had really hoped to procure that one. I do have people in mind for whom the wine will be greatly enjoyed (or resold), but I feel a bit of pride in ownership myself ... just a little!

Holding a bottle of the 1999 Musigny after the lots were delivered!

I know that this really isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things, and that bigger auctions with even more highly touted wines will be around the corner. That said, every experience in life is to be had one at a time, to be enjoyed and to be learned from as much as possible. So while I feel somewhat silly to be jumping up and down about the Burgundian booty from my first auction, I am all right with my first flush of excitement.

After all, life is like wine: Each bottle is ultimately a mystery; you never know what exactly it will be like upon opening, and you never know how it will evolve. And for some, you have to make that decision of when to hold on for longer or when to bite the bullet and crack it open. Most of all, that $9 wine from Spain you bought at Trader Joe's could absolutely blow the label off a $11,000 1982 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée Conti for you. You never know, and that's the beauty of it. So I will continue to embrace the experience of new adventures, however trite or silly they might seem.