Expensive Tastes

Alcohol aficianados spare no expense when searching for the perfect bottles.

They say that you can’t buy happiness. But who are they, really? More to the point, have they ever had a bottle of Premier Cru Bordeaux or a tipple of 50-year old scotch? Because if they had, well, they probably wouldn’t say something that silly.

Now, this isn’t to suggest that lasting happiness, the kind that comes from having good relationships, a sense of purpose in life and the right neuro-chemical makeup, can be found at the bottom of a bottle. But this isn’t about a bottle, much less a bunch of them. This is about the bottle, the kind that you’ll remember for the rest of your life, the kind that you’ll tell your children and grandchildren about. This is the kind of bottle that gives new meaning to the term “spiritual experience.” No, the feeling won’t last forever. But what does? 

So, the good news: You can buy happiness. The less good news: It won’t come cheap. But, then again, why should it?

Best Bottle of Scotch

Glen Grant 60 Years Old by Gordon & MacPhail

Chateau Louis liquor store, $17,000 (750mL)

You know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. And, as it turns out, you shouldn’t judge a liquor store by its surroundings, either. After all, the Chateau Louis liquor store’s modest surroundings don’t suggest that it carries the priciest Scotch in town, but it does – and does it ever. There’s a bottle of 40-year-old Bowmore – one of only 53 ever made – that retails at $15,000. But it’s not even the best of the bunch. That honour goes to the 60-year-old bottle of Glen Grant (made by Gordon & McPhail), an elegant vintage with an equally impressive back story. In 1952, four days before the then-princess Elizabeth’s accession to the throne, malt master George Urquhart ordered that two Spanish oak sherry hogsheads – casks number 465 and 466 – be filled and set aside. In 2012, in conjunction with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, those casks were unsealed and the contents bottled. The price tag – $17,000.

Best Pour of Scotch

1937 Glenfiddich

Characters Fine Dining, $1,500 per ounce

For true Scotch aficionados, the 1937 Glenfiddich is as close to the Holy Grail as it gets. It’s an ber-rare yield that, when it was finally bottled in 2001, yielded just 61 bottles and two of them ended up in Edmonton. Both were bought a decade ago by Don Oborowsky, the president and CEO of Waiward Construction Management and the co-owner, along with son Shonn, of Characters Fine Dining. And while he’s still sitting on one – rumour has it that he was recently offered over $100,000 for it and declined – what’s left of the other is still available by the ounce at Characters. It’s the only place in the world where people can buy it by the pour, and those who pay the $1,500-an-ounce price tag get to have their business cards placed in their glasses and put in the cabinet along with the bottle as a tribute to their appreciation for good Scotch. It’s not all fun and games, though. “It’s a very scary thing to pour,” says general manager Jeremy Mercredi. No kidding.

Best Bottle of Wine, Retail

2008 Chteau Ptrus (Bordeaux-Pomerol, France) 

deVine Wines and Spirits,  $4,099.99 (750 ml)

The name “Ptrus” is to wine drinkers what Ferrari is to car aficionados: a mark of quality, a brand to admire and an experience, if one is lucky enough, to be had. This particular bottle received a score of 97 from Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, while deVine’s tasting notes indicate that it boasts “a dark purple colour as well as a sweet perfume of mocha, caramel, black cherries, black currants, earth and forest floor. Deep, unctuously textured, full-bodied and pure … it will benefit from four to five years of cellaring and should drink well for 25 to 30-plus years.” The only question is whether you’ll be able to wait that long to pop the cork.

In one of the best scenes in the 2004 movie Sideways, Paul Giamatti’s character famously expresses his hatred for merlot. But if the movie had gone according to the original script, he might have been singing its praises instead. The producers apparently wanted his so-called “treasure bottle” to be a merlot-heavy Ptrus (it ended up being a 1961 Chteau Cheval Blanc) but Christian Mouiex, the owner of Chteau Ptrus, passed on the offer to have his wine appear in the film.

Best Bottle of Wine, Restaurant


Parkallen Restaurant, $100,000 (6 L)

There are plenty of restaurants in Edmonton that sell good bottles of wine, and a few that sell great ones. But none of them can touch what’s on offer at Parkallen Restaurant, a place that serves up Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food and some of the biggest, boldest French Bordeaux you’ll ever find. Owner Joe Rustom’s cellar is full of mind-blowing French reds and they’re all available for the discerning (and deep-pocketed) diner. “There’s nothing in his private cellar that he wouldn’t part with to a paying customer,” says manager Mike Ward. The best of the bunch has to be the six-litre 1900 Chteau Margaux, a once-in-a-lifetime bottle with a once-in-a-lifetime price of $100,000.

Best Cellar


Gurvinder Bhatia knows a thing or two about building a wine cellar. As the owner and operator of Vinomania, he helps his clients develop, organize and value their own personal collections, and he’s been building his own since the mid-1990s. It started with a bottle of Ornellaia, one of the so-called “Super Tuscan” Bordeaux-style reds that have become at least the equals of the wine that inspired them. He’s been collecting them ever since, and owns every vintage from the mid-1990s through 2009. “It’s an absolutely stunning, stunning wine,” he says. “The thing I love about Ornellaia is that it’s very distinctly Italian, very distinctly from Bolgheri.”

Has drinking such good wine made it difficult for him to go back to less, umm, exceptional offerings?  “Absolutely,” he says. “I didn’t go back. That doesn’t mean I won’t drink inexpensive wine. But I won’t drink bad wine.”

Looking to start building your own -cellar? Bhatia has a couple of tips for you. 

1) Go big or go home

They might look a bit unwieldy, but so-called “large formats” – the 1.5-litre magnum bottle, three-litre double magnum and six-litre imperial – are your best bets if you’re looking to put them away for a while. “Anything that they deem to be a little bit special, they put into a large format,” Bhatia says. Better still, they age better and tend to appreciate more in terms of their value to other collectors. But their best feature, according to Bhatia? If you decide to crack them, you have to have a party. 

2) Don’t do it for the money

If you’re strictly looking to make an investment, stick to more traditional instruments like stocks, bonds and pogs. Wine collecting remains something of a crapshoot – yes, even more than the stock market – and Bhatia suggests that people only collect particular kinds of wine if they like them in the first place. “Don’t collect wine because you think it’ll increase in value,” he says. “Make sure you enjoy it. In case it doesn’t increase, you’ll still have something to drink.”

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