“Would you keep it or drink it?”
A few of us are contemplating a bottle of 1945 Château Latour, which is being photographed for the upcoming Grapes for Climate Change Action wine auction catalogue, when someone raises the question. It floats in the air, unanswered.
A week later, I ask Tony Aspler, Canada’s leading wine expert, for his thoughts on drinking such rarified bottles. Aspler doesn’t hesitate: “You have to drink the wines! They’re not for looking at!”
Equal parts bon vivant and academic, he views old and special wines as great experiences to be shared with great company, rather than trophies to be hoarded in a dark cellar. With over four decades spent drinking, educating and writing about some of the finest wines ever made, Aspler knows what he’s talking about.
The latter is a charity that Aspler founded in 2001 with Arlene Willis and Sam Sarick. It combines the love of wine and a desire to support a variety of humanitarian causes around the world – with all funds raised going directly to their partner organizations. Proceeds from this year’s auction will be used in support of Tree Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, as well as humanitarian relief in Ukraine.
Though Aspler is in the enviable position of tasting amazing wines on a daily basis, he continues to hunt for special bottles at auction. His greatest score was a 1865 Château Lafite, which he nabbed back in 1970.
Aspler invited a handful of like-minded oenophiles over to enjoy the 105-year old bottle. As he tells it, “it was rather like a beautiful old dowager entering the room, dressed in her finest gown and tiara, giving the community a dazzling smile, and then dropping dead. For the first minute or so, it was immaculate. But as soon as the air got to it, it oxidized into vinegar.” Aspler has no regrets about the brief encounter, explaining that it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to try a wine from the golden age of claret, bottled before phylloxera – a microscopic aphid-like insect – wiped out nearly all of the ancient vines in Europe.
Aspler’s enthusiasm for wine extends far beyond the world’s greatest or oldest bottles. He notes that the act of sharing any bottle, be it simple or fancy, is worthwhile in itself. He enjoys the conviviality of it all, and is delighted that his lifelong passion is now shared by a greater audience than when he first started decades ago. More than ever, the general public feels empowered to learn about wine online or off, find out what they like, ask questions, and even travel to wine regions to enjoy new food and wine experiences. Aspler loves that the days of bland drink orders like “a glass of white wine” are behind us, as we move collectively into the realm of “perhaps a glass of New World Chardonnay?”
The next frontier may be convincing more drinkers to buy at auction, which Aspler sees as a fantastic place to pick up rare and interesting wines. His tips for those just starting out: study the catalogue, decide on what you want to buy beforehand, and make a note of what you want to spend so you don’t get carried away if bidding heats up. He also suggests that novices look for mixed lots (i.e. those which contain bottles from different winemakers and/or vintages), noting that seasoned collectors tend to pass over these offerings. That makes them a great opportunity to expand both palate and cellar. He also recommends that bidders make sure they know when the auction ends, in case they want to sneak in a final bid (or two) before the bidding closes.
As for his insider pick from the auction, Aspler recommends bidding on the “Cuvée from the Heart,” special blends of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from 50 winemakers from Ontario and British Columbia, overseen by Thomas Bachelder and Ross Wise.
The auction will be a special one, both for the quality of its offerings and the causes it supports. Though he spends most days tasting and evaluating wine professionally, Aspler has his eye on a few bottles in the auction – “not that I need any more wine” – which will, one day, be thoughtfully uncorked, and shared with friends.
ABOUT THE AUCTION
Waddington’s, in partnership with Grapes for Humanity and Dymon Wine Cellars present Grapes for Climate Change Action 2022 virtual wine auction, October 12-19, 2022.
This auction furthers GFH’s commitment to raise funds to aid in the battle against the threat of Climate Change and to support global communities in need.
Waddington’s is honoured to return as host of the auction and to support Tree Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and humanitarian relief in Ukraine.