What on earth is a “unicorn” wine? It sounds like something made up after one too many glasses of Chablis at a Harry Potter fan club meeting. It’s actually a recent and growing trends among sommelier and wine geeks alike – a unicorn wine is a wine that is so unique and rare that they’re seldom spotted, let alone tasted. There are no hard and fast rules for Unicorn Wines – and it will depend on who you ask, what makes for a real Unicorn.
I first heard the term two summers ago, without even realizing it. While at a dinner in New York, a bottle of Sancerre was delivered to the table. One guest, the director of fine wine at a top wine store in Manhattan, took one look at the label, turned to Coravin inventor Greg Lambrecht and practically shouted, “a unicorn!” as he handed the bottle over. I didn’t think much of it – wine people are always using strange terms to describe wine (I just love when my glass of Riesling smells like petrol). Now, two years later I have come across this phrase more and more frequently, always recalling that moment at City Winery.
Scouring Twitter for #UnicornWines, I found some common threads. Scarcity, for example, is key. A small production or a hard-to-find vintage is pretty much essential. There is also an element of mystique that’s difficult to describe. Famous or deceased winemakers, legendary wineries, and unique or fashionable production regions all contribute to the “unicorn” classification.
Wine Spectator asked this same question – what exactly is a “unicorn wine,” in an article on their blog, and they compiled the following list of answers from a Twitter chat in August 2013 under #unicornrules and #unicornwinerules. Here are some of the answers provided by top members of the wine industry:
“The wine must have a production of fewer than 200 cases.” – @RN74, Raj Parr
“You feel genuinely uncomfortable when opening because it may never happen again.” – @ChadZeigler, RN74 sommelier
“The winemaker is no longer with us or retired.” – @RN74, Raj Parr
“If you have to ask, it ain’t Unicorn.” – @leviopenswines, writer Levi Dalton
There you have it, Unicorn Wines. Kidding, obviously there is quite a bit of required knowledge to be able to identify a true unicorn wine. That said, that doesn’t mean that you can’t start your own unicorn list. When you come across a wine that you find remarkable, or if you’re like me who reads a lot about wine and you hear about a wine that you feel like you need to try, add it to the list. See how many of your own personal unicorns you can acquire as you go!