In the last month or so, I've sent a few cases of wine off to auction. If you had asked me a few years ago if I would ever sell these off—Harlan, Kistler, Dalla Valle—I would've said "never," having collected them and drunk them over nearly a decade's worth of vintages.
It's not as if their quality failed to live up to their reputation—the wines are excellent. Instead, it's the relationship I have with the wine that's changed.
For me, there's more to choosing wines that go into my personal cellar than just quality. Sure, you might think it's easy for me—I taste thousands of wines a year and know what my scores are before anyone else. But, to avoid any perception of conflict, I don't buy wines right before the reviews are published. And, assuming I'm not on the winery's mailing list, I buy at retail, paying full markup like everyone else. (So I feel your pain out there, trust me, I do.)
Consequently, the wines that make it into my cellar aren’t for speculation. What makes it into my cellar—and what stays in my cellar—are wines that I have a connection with.
Making that connection can be done in different ways, such as a visit to the vineyard or a meeting with the winemaker. Along the lines of the old adage that a wine always tastes better in the region it was made in—for me, a wine always tastes better after I've kicked the dirt that the grapes were grown in. I make a connection with a wine when I really know where it comes from, how it gets into the bottle and who is really behind it.
It probably comes as no surprise that as the Rhône has absorbed more of my time in recent years, I've made more of a connection to those wines—and maintained the connection. In contrast, after making annual trips to Napa for a few years running, I haven't been there in over four years now. My connection to the region is fading, and so is my connection to some of the wines.
So in going through my cellar recently, I realized I could sell a bottle of Harlan and buy a full case of top-quality Châteauneuf-du-Pape. That reality, combined with my fading connection to the one wine and the burgeoning one with the other, made a decision I wouldn't have thought possible just a few years ago suddenly rather easy.
It's always a little sad to say good-bye to a friend, but relationships fade in and out over time while new ones spring up. The same simply holds true for me and the bottles in my cellar.