When a White Elephant Wine Exchange Results in a Big Steal

carrudes 2000Try as we might, my high-powered friends—a cadre of three of O.C.’s best-known food and dining writers and a highly placed publicist—could not get our schedules together to attend a Champagne tasting. We decided instead to enjoy a la-dee-da lunch at Marché Moderne and indulge in a wine exchange. These were the rules: no gift wrapping and the bottle must have cost $39 or less, which is the average price of a California wine according to the Wine Spectator.

We started with a bottle of Domaine Carneros—hey we missed the Champagne tastings so we were entitled! Then came lovely salad, moules frites, shrimp Provencal, pork belly with langoustines, and incredible desserts including some killer beignets.

After the main course we realized we were busted. Sous chef Jeremy—it was a rare day off for Florent Marneau—was presented to our table as if we were the royal family. That right there could have been the highlight of the afternoon but then the wine exchange began.

We decided to do it white elephant style. We drew numbers and each person picked a wine bag, revealing the bottle inside as we went along. Then there was the usual stealing and swapping according to the crazy rules of the game. Frankly I would have been thrilled to have any of these bottles: Rochioli Russian River Pinot Noir 2008; Justin 2007 Savant; Alto Moncayo 2008 Grenache; and HammerSky Zinfandel 2008, which I brought. (Hammersky did not harvest zin this year making that wine even more valuable.)

But when it was all said and done I walked away with a Bordeaux from Paulliac that my friend said her husband had cellared for 10 years. I didn’t recognize the label, I just trusted her husband’s taste—he has a great palate and he is one of those amazing collectors. Among his stash: knives, guns, Cuban cigars that once belonged to Alfred Hitchcock, and oh yeah, some wines.

At the first opportunity, I stole that bottle from the original gal who picked it. I pranced away feeling pretty good about myself and the second I got home hubster Googled away to discover the following: Carruades 2000 is a second label for Lafite-Rothschild, it’s rated 93 points by Parker, it begins to peak in 2011, will drink well for at least 20 years, and is now valued at waaaay more than $39. Gulp!

Smarty pants who set this whole thing up suddenly felt like the Hamburgler. There was only one thing to do. Arrange a dinner party and invite the lady who brought it to the table, as well as the one I stole it from, to share in the tasting. Yup, dinner’s on me. Which is OK because no matter the pedigree or price, wine always tastes better when you drink it with good friends.—Anne Valdespino

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