IMAGINE HOW MUCH more fun wine auctions in this country would be if German wine auctions were the model.
In 1985 I was fortunate to sit in on the all-time greatest German auction ever held, a dessert wine drinker's fantasy.
Records fell like the light snow that carpeted Trier that day and night, as a rich, golden trockenbeerenauslese, vintage 1893, became one of the most expensive white wines ever sold at auction anywhere in the world.
The final bid of $8,630 came from a Japanese collector who remained anonymous, as did most buyers that day.
The sale of that sweet, late-harvest Riesling marked the second time within an hour that a new German wine record had been set and broken.
CURIOUSLY, THE GERMAN WINEMAKERS didn't care who the bidders were. They were focused on which wines are in the greatest demand, which is as it should be.
We who cover American wine auctions, particularly charity events, probably pay too much attention to those bidders seeking publicity.
Late-harvest, dessert-style wines—called "stickies" because that's what they are—do age incredibly well and can often last and improve for up to 100 years or more.
But that German rare wine auction remains fixed in my mind for other reasons, most notably the fact that every one in attendance that day got to taste each auctioned wine twice.
Unlike most American wine auctions, where they try to set a fast pace, this affair was long-drawn-out and methodical—short on action but long on words and tasting.
WE GATHERED AT 9 a.m. for the pre-auction tasting and sampled wines up until noon, when we broke for lunch.
At lunch, many quaffed beer to quench their thirst and cleanse their palates.
The auction started at 1 p.m. and since everyone in attendance needed a pour, it typically took 10 minutes for each lot to be auctioned off.
This sit-down tasting offered bidders—and journalists—a second chance to taste the wine they might bid on and to double-check their notes from the morning's walk-around tasting.
There were few spit buckets on the tables and even fewer spitters, as I recall.
WE ENDED UP tasting some 64 wines twice that day, mostly sweet ausleses, beerenausleses, trockenbeerenausleses and eisweins (and now you know why German wines are a copy editor's nightmare).
Fortunately for me I was seated next to the great wine master Peter M.F. Sichel, who not only translated for me but coached me on which were the better vintages and wines.
All told, each person in attendance averaged 1.5 liters of sweet wine that day, which was more dessert wine than the typical German consumer drank in a year.
At day's end we were pretty tuned up. My pen, pencil, notebook, camera and glasses—everything I touched—were as "sticky as a beehive," I wrote in my journal.
American wine auctions could be a little livelier and a lot more fun if they used a little more imagination.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions