THIS IS BOUND to be a controversial column, especially among the privileged few who have spent fortunes gathering clarets about which enophiles George Saintsbury and Andre L. Simon left glowing accounts. Records of recent auctions show that wine appreciators paid $156,450 for a 1787 Lafite inscribed with the initials of Thomas Jefferson, and last November a double magnum of Mouton-Rothschild 1858 brought the highest price ever paid in the United States for a single bottle: $60,500.
Lloyd Flatt of New Orleans recently invited a quorum of wine worthies to evaluate a truly incredible collection of Chateau Ausone wines, a virtual marathon of 58 vintages dating back to 1877. Terry Robards, writing in the Wine Spectator, said that the parade of these St. Emilion wines ranged from "elegant to uninspiring," with "a feeling of disappointment" emerging halfway through the extraordinary event. While Robards gave the 1877 a score of 92, and the 1879 an even better ranking of 93, words such as oxidized , tarry , faded , even boring , are in his report. The highest praise came for younger vintages, such as the 1983 at 96.
There is no doubt that there is grandeur here, but unlike paintings and sculpture and other things of beauty, wine is not a joy forever.