At a time when there is so little life in the economy that there’s talk of the high priests at the Reserve Bank administering last rites, it’s bizarre to discover that new wines are being released at such stratospheric price points you could probably buy a decent house in the platteland for the cost of a case. That there is even life in the rarefied atmosphere in which these statement wines trade is an indication that for many consumers wine has long ceased to be a beverage. Instead it has joined fast cars, contemporary art and complicated watches on the trophy shelf of the superrich. It was not always so: as recently as the 1970s even the world’s top wines could be found in middle-class homes. Dom Perignon cost about R15, 10 times the price of a Nederburg Cabernet, positioning it as a special-occasion bottle rather than an alternative to paying school fees. With this transformation in its meaning (the drink is secondary to the status it conveys) has come many changes. For a start, ...

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