WineInk: The Mark Oldman tradition continues, virtually

Kelly J. Hayes


1990 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Ermitage “Cuvee Cathelin,” Rhone, France

One of the wines under “Multi-Billionaire,” this is a syrah from Hermitage that would be nearly impossible to find right now. But a few years ago a collector whom I was interviewing opened a bottle for our enjoyment. Whether he was a billionaire I am not sure, but even then this opening was an indulgence. This is how I described the experience in this space in 2010, a decade ago: “When I looked in the glass at the wine it looked to be velvet, not just in color but also texture. I took a healthy swig and promptly went to heaven. Every once in a while, one tastes a wine that turns the lights on. A wine that changes everything. This glass, for me, was one of those wines.”

In summers past, wine writer and educator Mark Oldman has been one of the most popular presenters at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.

His meticulously well-conceived seminars have elevated annually, celebrating first Wines for Millionaires, then billionaires, and ultimately (we hope) gazillionaires. The seminars created a community of followers enriched by his casual and quirky examinations of many of the world’s most expensive wines. Many also attended to get a taste of high-priced, limited-edition wines that he poured in minute quantities — wines that most would never have an opportunity to taste otherwise.

Though disappointed by the cancelation of this year’s Classic due to the ongoing corona calamity, Oldman remained undeterred. He quickly pivoted and launched a weekly series of online tastings where fans and aficionados could go and purchase wines from to taste alongside him.

Virtually, of course.

Oldman’s appeal is that he makes wine fun and accessible. Knowledgeable, but devoid of condescension, he takes the pretense out of wine, even when discussing bottles, which by virtue of their price are largely reserved for the .001%. So it was that, with his usual price-conscious creativity, he created one of the most useful and entertaining wine documents that I have ever seen.

Using the device of billionaires and their wines that he has previously exploited in both his Aspen seminars and a book (“How to Drink Like a Billionaire,” Simon & Schuster, 2016), the doc is titled “Billionaire Wines and Their Less Expensive Substitutes.” On a red burgundy background, evocative of a traditional steak house wine list, he takes readers from Champagne to Sauternes in six simple pages, listing the most expensive wines in the world and then breaking out less expensive alternatives to each.

Each section begins with a “Billionaire” or “Multi-Billionaire” wine and a price range. Say it’s Napa cabernet. The top choice coming in at $1,000-plus a bottle is Screaming Eagle. But below that are Dalla Valle Maya, Scarecrow, and the Schrader “Old Sparky” for “Millionaires,” which sell in the $500 to $700 range, as the wines matriculate down the price field to a Newton Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon that can be had for $54.99 on, for “Thousandaires.” And the Newton is a very fine wine.

Now Oldman is not using vintage information or even specific price info. Rather, he is painting a general picture that there are ways to drink various grapes and wine styles at hugely varied price points and still enjoy what the bottles bring to the table. It is a short primer in wine values that is easy to digest and relatable to just about anyone who has even a rudimentary knowledge of wine.

Yes, there are those who can afford the flavors of a Grand Cru Domaine Leflaive Montrachet, which, depending upon the vintage, may carry a price tag in excess of $5,000. But Oldman also illustrates how one can experience the joys of chardonnay from the Burgundy region for less than $60. “If you’d rather avoid the prestige premium for the villages famous for Montrachet — Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet — the respected appellation of St. Aubin is wedged right next to them and over-delivers for its price,” he writes in a box below the White Burgundy selections.

He divides the Bordeaux wines by Left (cabernet-dominate) and Right (merlot-dominate) Bank and lists “second label” estates that can provide value. For Piedmonte he rightly notes the Giacomo Conterno Barolo “Monfortino” Riserva is one of the classics of the region, but also suggests affordable offerings from other great producers. “Another strategy is to look for the grape Barbera from a talented Piedmontese producer, such as Elio Grasso or Paolo Scavino.” He writes, “Both cases get you “Piedmont Lite,” a typically softer and less complex red that requires no bottle aging.”

For sparkling wines, his options range from a French Champagne, the Krug Clos d’Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs Champagne found in the low four figures, to a New Mexican-produced Gruet Blanc de Noirs made by a French family that can be purchased for less than $20. Both sparkle. But they are very different.

Oldman made this document available as a downloadable bonus “premium” for those who attended the first of his wine seminars on Zoom. There are more virtual tastings upcoming and you can find more information and register at And be sure to ask for a copy of “Billionaire Wines and Their Less Expensive Substitutes.”

It’s a great read and it just might help you save some money. Even if you are a multi-billionaire.

Aspen Times Weekly

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