Very early on, my father gave me the advice that if I was going to be a wine drinker it was important to learn about wine. The basic idea was that people who haven't learned about wine would always need to depend on others for guidance to safely find good wine. Of course if everyone agrees that a wine is good, and as a brand it becomes well respected, its price will rise out of sync with lesser known brands, and there can be real value in what less dependable makers are capable of in particular vintages. So, by learning the fundamentals of wine, you would be able to drink better, more economically, than the large group of people who need to pay for concurrence.
This went well for me for a long time; while friends were spending $40 for fruity California monsters I was able to find very similar wines capable of playing the same parts from places like Washington and, to some extent, Australia at a significant discount; an ability that has proven very helpful now that any Napa cab, good or bad, trades in the hundreds.
In most cases, since I was drinking current vintage wines and not looking for genius potential I was quite capable of finding wines actually drinking better in their youth than most of the more famous wines people were spending large sums of money on. Of course the pitfall of studying wine becomes apparent when you have your first great one. For me it was the '98 Beaucastel.
One evening when Bubby had returned from France with some cheeses that are very hard to find here in America (insert the FDA sucks comment here), Urchin brought over a '98 Beaucastel to enjoy them with. At this exact moment, what was a mildly distracting interest in wine turned into an obsession. I had had good Burgundy before, I had tasted most of the first growths and super seconds, there are stories of bottles of d'Yquem disappearing from my dad's cellar in my youth, but on this fateful night I saw for the first time potential greatness and it was not cheap.
You see, every great I had had up to that point was something someone else had acquired and shared with me once it was accepted as great, so I never thought to get involved in the process. Here, though, was a wine with many things to offer and a promising future I felt I could see. It seemed to be wonderful, with huge potential ahead. I immediately bought a case and put it in the cellar and, starting in '08, I plan to drink a bottle a year each January (this is the month we had the first) because I want to see how it evolves. And now I search the wine world incessantly for more of these wines.
The '98 Beaucastel was dangerous because it took away my myth that all expensive wine was overvalued. Turns out some things are worth more money and, with a strong foundation in basic wine knowledge (thanks dad), you can start seeing potential in different places. Plus, there is the fact that a big part of learning what Pinot Noir is capable of is having a properly aged DRC from a great vintage (insert gloat about the '39 DRC RC here). My path of seeking out more of these special wines all starts with Urchin's Beaucastel. That one bottle has now cost me in wines, books, and storage, but mostly it has made me embrace the passage of time, something I never did before. Beware the great ones!