Spend enough time in the world of wine and you’re bound to meet them. The (let’s face it, almost entirely) men who think you should be impressed by their wine exploits. By how often they drink Raveneau. By the number of years in their vertical of Harlan magnums. By the number of bottles in their cellar. By the lineup of empties from last night’s “dinner with the boys.”
Since time immemorial men have sought to demonstrate their “prowess” through their material possessions and their public exploits. Wine is just one of many domains used for the signaling of wealth and power.
The only problem is, everyone looks like a chump compared to François Audoze.
Back in the early 2000s when an epicenter of the online wine community was the open, public forums at erobertparker.com, lots of us participated (and lurked) in wide-ranging discussions about wine, and built relationships virtually with wine lovers around the world.
At one point, around 2006, someone new joined the discussion, and immediately caused a furor. In broken English he began posting about drinking bottles that most people would go a lifetime without seeing, let alone getting to drink. And not just one bottle of 1919 Chateau d’Yquem, but lineups of 19th and early 20th century wines that quite literally made one’s eyes pop out of their heads.
Most of us were initially convinced that Audouze, and what he was calling his Academie des Vins Anciens, were an elaborate prank or the highly overblown puffery that we’ve come to expect in the world of wine. Surely no one could possibly have gone to the effort to collect quite so many truly ancient wines, let alone afford the staggering costs of such an endeavor.
But it quickly became apparent that Audouze was the genuine article, and that in France he was something of a legend among French wine lovers, who would save their Euros to attend one of his fabulous dinners in Paris that involved opening a dozen wines from 60, 80, or even 100-year-old vintages.
Audouze, the retired longtime-CEO of ARUS, the French steel company, began collecting wines in 1976, and quickly fell in love with older wines. The older the better. And by older, we’re talking about wines bottled in Napoleon’s lifetime. His entry into the awareness of American wine lovers came through his early, very charming, and quite humble engagement with the online wine community.
Once the astonishment over his drinking habits and experience faded, he became a beloved resource for questions about older wines, and has always been quite approachable, seemingly content to share his love for ancient wines with anyone who wants to engage on the subject. And more to the point, he’s always been delightfully humble about the fact that he regularly drinks the stuff most wine geeks only dream about.
A while back, I learned that he was on Instagram, and so I’ve been following him for some time, enjoying glimpses of crumbly corks, ancient bottles, and their contents as well as his thoughts on what they taste like.
But then yesterday he posted a photo of a lunch table that made me and the rest of his followers sit up and take notice. For in the background, behind two nice place settings, were a staggering number of empty wine bottles.
Apparently, enough of his followers clamored for a complete view of his “empties shelf” that today he posted a video of the dedicated room he has for his bottles, which he estimates as representing less than a third of what he’s really consumed in recent decades.
The room looks like it’s bigger than my entire house. Seriously. And it’s stuffed to the gills with thousands and thousands of empty bottles.
So. Think you’re a wine baller?
Look upon the mere leavings of Audouze, ye ballers, and despair.