Q: I received a strange gift from a friend in Santa Barbara, Calif. He is a Realtor and was given a case of this product from an estate listing. It is a Paul Masson Rare Cream Sherry Cuvée No. 801C. He was told it was from the 1970s. It comes in a brown, somewhat heart-shaped bottle. Can you tell me anything about this?
Is it better as a conversation piece, or is it a rare and weird delicious find worth quaffing?
A: I checked with Charla Metcalf, the public-relations manager for Canandaigua Wine Co., the parent company of Paul Masson. She tells me that Paul Masson produced their California cream sherry in the heart-shaped bottle for many years — until 1994, when they transferred to a new shape because the heart-shaped bottle mold was no longer usable and apparently would have been very expensive to replace.
Why a heart shape? Because Paul Masson, so the story goes, was born on Valentine's Day.
As to its value and drinkability, I'm afraid the news is not good. Millions of bottles were produced throughout the years and very widely distributed. When I checked, there were several bottles up for auction on eBay, one with an asking price of $6.99 and the caveats that "the value of the item is in the container and not the contents, and the item has not been opened and any incidental contents are not intended for consumption!"
The advice from the winery is if the bottle has sentimental value, keep it. Otherwise, they suggest discarding the product as it is undrinkable.
Paul Gregutt answers questions weekly in the Wine section. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.