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#91 - Fine Wine

#91 - Fine Wine

Fine Wine
Price: French Lessons

One of life’s great joys when you are “comfortable” is being able to distinguish upon which side of the hill grapes were grown, weather patterns that summer and on which day they were picked by delicately inhaling. Bonus points to those who can name a delightful boulangerie, a five-star hotel and a helipad within a five mile radius of the vineyard. Few topics can enthrall the wealthy the way that debating the finer points of a vintage Chateau Lafite can but be warned, there’s hardly any point to speaking about a bottle corked more recently than the Reagan administration.

Taking a stroll through your local gas bar could lead you to believe that all good wines come in a box or have catchy names like Night Raider, Fat Bastard or Naked Grape. You would be mistaken. Take a gander through the cellar of a connoisseur and you will discover that wines have unpronounceable names from places you’ve never traveled. This is all part of the charm of a great wine, the more obscure it is the more valuable it becomes to the truly rich. Wine is a game of one-upmanship where exclusivity and rarity are as important as an iron-clad prenup and a divorce lawyer with blood-drenched fangs. Naturally, one never admits to buying a bottle but refers to the cases secured at their favorite auction house.

Of course, the challenge as always, is to use your cursory knowledge as the bridge to gaining acceptance by the upper crust. While you would think that fitting in with a group of people that drink all evening would be a simple task, recall that like a first wife, one always spits and never swallows at a tasting so you will not be able to use inebriated-induced charm to win over your tannin swilling compatriots. As gaining superior vineyard knowledge requires time, money, patience and the equivalent of a PhD in meteorology, one must turn to collecting and innuendo to make nice. My best advice is to speak as though drinking your wine is beneath you and you are sure to turn heads. Remain vague and imply that it is crass to discuss the contents of your cellar. Furthermore, refer to cellars that you keep in various countries. Seek to illuminate your flock of oenophiles by imparting upon them the famous words of Lawrence Jamieson, that you collect wine to ensure it is properly cared for but that it is too valuable to drink and too dear to sell. While deep knowledge of tasting notes is impressive, your mystery and aloofness could make you the most sought after vintage in the manor.

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#39 - Auction Houses

#39 - Auction Houses

Sir Anthony Van Dyck
Price: $4,080,349 incl bid premium

Rich people love auctions as much as the rest of the world. Name a product and there is an auctioneer that will sell it. Ask people what comes to mind when you say auction and you will hear eBay, perhaps Ritchie Brothers if you come from an Italian construction family or 4-H if you believe chewing grass while riding a tractor is a good day’s work. For the rich, the timeless auction houses of Christie’s and Sotheby’s are the only place to bid on rare items.

The difference between auctions that the wealthy attend and the fast-talking hawkers or electronic auctions that the rest of the world uses may seem as superficial as price but it goes much deeper than that. The rich love exclusive auction houses for the, well exclusivity of it. There is something intensely gratifying for the wealthy to sit in a hushed room surrounded by other sophisticated, educated, cultured and wealthy people. The sound of the gavel and the soothing English accent of the auctioneer make buying rare items with the flash of a numbered paddle worth the 10% to 30% premium that buyers part with as part of the “hammer price”. Yes, that’s right when you pay more than $6M for a little known Picasso, you can expect to give Sotheby’s as much as $1.8M for the privilege of owning it. On top of that, the house takes about 15% from the seller. Imagine that.

If you can get past the sheer volume of commissions you can better understand what bidders are really paying for. It isn’t about buying the art, but rather the peer recognition at cocktail parties and museum galas of your unspoken wealth and ability to pay extraordinary sums for products that will likely end up in a climate controlled vault. Remember, this is a world of exclusivity. Anyone can walk into a gallery in Chelsea to buy art or the local liquor store to buy wine but neither bestows the level of recognition from your peers as purchasing a Château Lafite-Rothschild Vintage 1982 from Christie’s for $186,643. So raise your glasses and toast the rich for their uncanny ability to lose touch with what things really cost.

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