Just grapes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 October, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 October, 1998, 12:00am

Ordinary civilians should stay away from wine auctions. Anyone not privy to the wacky world of wine would think it sheer madness, plunking down a small fortune for dusty old bottles of fermented grape juice.

How would they come to grips learning that $6,000 magnums will never be drunk? Never be opened? Maybe the designer frock crowd, who blissfully don $40,000 gowns for a single night might grasp the notion. Rock stars, computer titans, or Arab sheiks would not bat an eyelid at the stratospheric cost, but vintage Domaine de la Romanee Conti is probably not their drink of choice.

So who does fork over a king's ransom at Christie's, and more importantly, why? Let us take the case of Chateau Lafite - in the wine business since 1806. It is not unthinkable that an early 19th-century bottle should have a ridiculous sounding price of $300,000. Yet, the proud possessor of this rare prize would undoubtedly whisk it home, ensconce it in a glass-fronted cabinet and lock the door. There it would remain on display, unopened forever, passed on to the next of kin or sold.

It would be foolhardy to let curiosity force the plug to be pulled.

Unknown handling and temperature changes over the years coupled with the probability of oxidation could easily have killed the wine ages ago. Why take the risk of pouring vinegar when the unopened bottle increases in value? An empty vessel, on the other hand, is worth less than a recent premium Wolf Blass or Cloudy Bay.

The uninitiated should buy wine to drink now or at the most, to lay down for five or six years.

If you think about how many people devote their time, energy and know-how to planting, growing and fermenting the juice - it is kind of crazy not to drink the stuff.

When it becomes too precious, too old and too iffy to drink, it is no longer wine but just another possession.