Vintage bottles of wine are selling at Sotheby's for outlandish prices. Banking on wine may be as old as the hills, but nowadays excited bidders seldom get to raise a goblet with the same enthusiasm. These wines are deemed 'too good to drink' and often spend the rest of their lives languishing in a dark, climate-controlled cellar. It is ironic that magnificent vintages end up as unreal and remote a commodity as pork bellies or tin futures. This may be because many of these high-rollers came late to wine. Perhaps initially intimidated by phrases like 'surprisingly coy . . . faint notes of rhubarb . . . bombastic on the tongue', they now retaliate by making rare and sought-after bottles inaccessible to ordinary wine-lovers. Luckily, I was weaned on wine. As a toddler, I licked fermented elderberry juice from my grandfather's finger. Rose was poured as casually as Coca-Cola at our dinner table. The local pizzeria, where raffia-bottomed Chianti bottles hung from the ceiling like giant peaches, allowed us as teenagers to share the then cheap red while we ate our pepperoni pie. Later on, Ivy League suitors showed off by ordering Chateauneuf du Pape. It was great drinking the complex wine, but it was just as impressive they could pronounce it. In Italy, nothing tasted better than fresh, young golden Frascati in Frascati, or brand new Montepulciano in Montepulciano. In my first apartment, mastering the culinary trick of cooking-with-wine, friends were wowed by my coq au vin and boeuf Bourguignon. Today, even veteran wine snobs happily pull corks from inexpensive Chilean reds and New Zealand whites. Wine lovers say the more you taste, the more you know, the less you are influenced by hype or other's opinions. Wine 'collectors' claim a prized Petrus can make a successful dinner. Maybe so, but you have to open it first.