I am not a wine person. Emphatically not. I enjoy it and if you put it in front of me I will drink it, but I don't know anything about it and no effort is made to disguise that fact. The only adjectives you'll hear me use to describe it are on the level of "Good." or "This tastes like communion wine / Nyquil." Its history has some interesting moments though. Like the Great French Wine Blight in the 1860s.
Sometime in the 1850s – best estimates suggest 1858 – an unwelcome visitor made its way from the United States to Europe. No one knows where it went first or how it got there but it is known that by 1863 a North American aphid called Daktulosphaira vitifoliae, aka Phylloxera, was appearing in vineyards. The aphid specializes in the roots of grape vines. Being endemic to the Americas, American grapes are largely resistant to Phylloxera. In a reversal of the introduction of European diseases like smallpox to the Americas during colonization, European grapes had no resistance whatsoever to the new visitor. French wine grapes with famous names that became wine of exorbitant value died en masse. There was nothing anyone could do to stop it.
Well, there was one thing. But the French didn't want to do it. They could graft France's legendary wine grape vines onto American grape roots. In theory this maintained the integrity of the French grape varieties, but many purists thereafter considered French grapes tainted by the process of being crossed with their American cousins. Regardless of one's position on that issue one thing is certain: had the American roots not been used, most or possibly even all of France's legendary wine grapes would have been lost. So the bright side is that they all survived for us to enjoy today.
There is a segment of the wine enthusiast community that reveres wine made from the "pure" French grapes, i.e. wine bottled before the aphid made its journey and changed everything. While wine from before 1860 would be valuable today regardless, French wines of that era are especially sought after for their use of the untainted Gallic grapes. Stories of people paying insane prices for such bottles of wine are numerous. Two are particularly amusing to me. They will amuse you too, provided you are a terrible person like me.
In 1985 Malcolm Forbes, magazine publisher and father of 90s punchline presidential candidate Steve Forbes, paid over $150,000 for a bottle of something called Chateau Lafite 1787. Then he did as rich d-bags tend to do and showed off his grand acquisition in the most conspicuous way. He put it in a grand display case under a light. A very bright light. A very bright light that generated a lot of heat. Heat that dried and withered the centuries-old cork. Eventually it shrank and fell into the precious beverage. That was $150,000 well spent.
Forbes looked like a miser compared to wine collector William Sokolin, who paid over $500,000 for an 18th Century Chateau Margaux. While showing off his purchase at a social event in New York, Sokolin – wait for it – accidentally knocked the bottle off a serving cart and, in what I can only imagine was the slowest slo-mo in human history, watched it tumble to the ground and shatter. What does one even do in that situation? For half a million bucks I would get down and lick it off the carpet. I mean, if the alternative is having everyone at a fancy social event watch you have a complete emotional breakdown then I don't think it's any more shameful. At least get some on your finger and rub it on your tongue. No shame. Do what you gotta do.
The only potential consolation is that many wine experts believe that wine of such advanced age is likely undrinkable anyway. Sure, let's go with that.