Expensive wine characteristics

Collectible wine. Nice to dream about, unlikely to be acquired. You probably are not going to spend more on a bottle of wine than on your daughter’s wedding.

Still, fascinating. What do collectible wines—costing $1,000-$12,000+ a bottle—have in common and how can that direct your three-figure splurges when you feel reckless, euphoric, and celebratory?

• Special places. There are only a handful of vineyards in the world where soil, vineyard orientation, and climate are perfect. Plus—a big plus—there are generations of winegrowers who discovered the precise grapes that perform best on this blessed spot on planet earth. Many of the vines in these special areas are 50 or 100-plus years old. Low yield, high quality, supply and demand.

• Made of popular wine grapes. When you spend inheritance-level money on a bottle of wine, it almost certainly is pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon or a cab-merlot blend, chardonnay, or riesling. Exotic grapes may be wonderful, but they do not command Christie’s Auction House prices.

• Perfectly ripened grapes. This is where expense comes in. The wines are made with perfect, hand-harvested grapes. Balance between ripeness and acidity is precise. Pinot noir will have around 13.5% ABV and may have as low as 3.3 pH. Cabs will be in mid-14% ABV and around 3.7 pH. Chardonnay will almost never exceed 14% ABV. Those are very tight corridors. Ripeness produces alcohol. Acidity is inversely proportional to ripeness. Balancing the two is high art, and you pay for that special skill.

• Oak. It is trendy to disparage oak aging—“oak monsters” of the past century. Well and good and right. But highest-priced stuff still spends time with wood. The élevage (aging programs) include significant time in oak—two years is not unusual—although the oak usually is discrete mix of new and used oak or very large casks (which reduces oak influence). Subtle decorum is the key, but oak is still part of the waltz.

• Vintage. The greatest efforts are not produced every year. When they do not meet highest standards, winemakers do not bottle their highest end wines. They sell the grapes, may produce a second-label wine, but if the vintage does not measure up to four-figure standards, they don’t bottle it. You get what you pay for.

Last round: It is true that too much wine can kill people, but just think how many people are born because of it.