Upon Discovering Yourself To Be A Millionaire


By Alexander Foot

Should one’s drinking habits be affected by the health of one’s bank account? The obvious answer would be yes, for most of us. But what if, like a good friend of mine, you were unexpectedly bequeathed a sum of one million dollars?

I stress here the random aspect. He didn’t know his aunt was a genius speculator in stocks, nor that he was the only surviving relative. So one day, instead of pennies in his account, he had 1, 000,000 smackers.

Being a wine tippler of long standing, my friend had to think hard about his situation. He enjoyed most alcohols well enough, but he was blessed (cursed) with both good taste and an aversion to libational ostentation. How should he celebrate his sudden good fortune? More, even much more, of the same? Or was it time to examine some of the famous wines he had often read about but seldom tasted.

Naturally, he called me. I went through the usual contortions that friends feel upon hearing good news about friends (pleasure, anger, envy, anticipation) then settled down to offer my advice.

First, I said, be aware that many well-known wines are expensive merely because of snob appeal and/or small production. In other words, being rare may make something valuable but not necessarily good-tasting. I cited the example of Chateau Cheval Blanc, a St. Emilion of high price and reputation but the consistency of Justin Trudeau. In my personal tasting notes, I was unable to find a single vintage of this wine that I rated higher than ‘acceptable.’ Meanwhile, Chateau Figeac (same region, half the price) I consistently rated ‘sublime.’

Equally, many expensive European whites, especially from Burgundy, should be labelled caveat emptor. A general exception would be Montrachets from a good bottler. Or you could buy a new car.

What about New World wines? Well, not counting Australia’s wonderful Grange Hermitage, most hoity New World wines are a bit like Paris Hilton: famous for being famous. Is Opus One really worth $200 a bottle? Especially when they are so many tasty Californians available at $25 a bottle? Don’t even talk to me about those wanna-be Chileans now moving into triple digits.

These ruminations reminded me of my first taste of a truly great wine. Prices are, of course, relative, but I recall the 1985 Chateau Haut-Brion setting me back $180 some fifteen years ago. I had gotten a bigger tax return than usual and decided to splurge on a fancy red Graves because my wife was cooking venison backstrap. Together we opened the wine and carefully decanted it. The dining room was soon filled with heady aromas of black currant, leather and wild mint. A tiny sip confirmed that the Merlot tannins were sweetening perfectly. An hour later, dinner was ready and we combined in our mouths one of those perfect marriages: aged Premier Cru Bordeaux and medium rare venison. (Other perfect game combinations include Rheingau Riesling spätlese with wild goose or Alsace Pinot Blanc with pickerel).

My friend then raised the idea of stocking a wine cellar. This appealed to me greatly. A friend with an overflowing wine cellar is a friend indeed. But then I recalled another pal from years ago who had also come into some money. He had asked me to help him select twenty age-worthy wines to sit quietly in his basement until they came to maturity. With his money and my expertise, we selected a breathtaking range of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhônes and a smattering of Riojas. After settling the bottles into their cozy shelves in his cellar, we agreed to stay friends for a long time so that we could taste each of the wines as they became ready.

The next Sunday morning I received a panicked phone call from my friend. Did I have any wine? In those days, liquor stores closed for the Sabbath and the desperate depended on bootleggers. I begged poverty so my friend explained morosely that relatives from the Deep South had dropped in on the previous Friday and his normal supply of table wines and beer was now gone.

Very reluctantly, I suggested he might open one bottle from his treasure trove in the basement. I explained that Rioja is released after several years of bodega-aging and might be ready to drink. “But everything else is closed tighter than a banker’s fist,” I warned.

My friend moaned in agreement. “They did taste terrible last night, so we added soda water to them.”

I choked. “Your wine cellar?”


“All of them?”

“All of them.”

He recovered the next day, but I never have. I guess the rich are different from us.

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The Lush Life

Alexander Foot

Alexander Foot was born in Rhodesia, raised in Lithuania and now makes his home in Churchill, Manitoba. He has worked as a chicken-sexer in New York City, an elevator-operator on Baffin Island and a marriage counsellor in Utah.