If you want to buy a truly outstanding wine, they are out there. Most high-end merchants, and even the mass wine merchants (think Total Wine) offer a good selection. So will high-end restaurants. All you have to do is pay up for it. It’s axiomatic in the wine trade that high ratings command high prices. Follow the expert ratings up through the numbers, and by the time you get to the 98+ range (from one of the more reliable raters – more on that later), you’re into hundreds of dollars. Not all wines commanding those prices earn ratings that high, as other factors, like brand image, demand and scarcity figure in. So equating price with quality can lead to disappointment. But generally speaking, that’s the way it works.
Not always, though. Sometimes, you can find truly exceptional wines – wines that are just transformative when you taste them – that linger on the palate for nigh on a minute, and they do not ask sky-high prices. So instead of, say, $200-$300 per bottle, you’ll pay maybe somewhere around $100 per bottle (all prices noted are retail; you’ll pay more, of course, in a restaurant). These wines can be hard to find, so we call them “unicorn” wines.
In most cases, unicorn wines are made by great winemakers, making wines from single vineyards in low volumes. Many of these winemakers in the U.S. operate on allocation to customers who sometimes wait a long time to get on the list – if they ever do. Some bottles are allocated to top restaurants, and those restaurants may sell through their small allocation before new wines are released the next year. So spotting them “in the wild” is like spotting a unicorn. Moreover, sommeliers at top restaurants are likely to hold back from recommending these wines unless specifically requested, so they can preserve them for their best – and knowing – customers. Maybe you’re one of them. If so, congratulations. But if you’re not (and who can be a “best” customer in every restaurant they go to?), we’ll help you spot them.
The easiest way to do this is to recognize the great winemakers. That’s one of the capabilities we’ll bring you on Walter on Wine. A great example is Aubert. If you’re looking for a New World (think more fruit forward vs. Old World austerity), cool-climate wine like Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, the Auberts make wines that are just superb and often brilliant. You’ll never go wrong selecting one. But they are on tight allocation. So get on the list. Or if you see one dining out, grab a unicorn.