Tag Archives: expensive wine

wine news

Winebits 411: Wine prices, Chinese wine, red blends

wine prices ? Expensive wine prices: Or, as S. Irene Virbila wrote in the Los Angeles Times, a look at old Kermit Lynch newsletters finds a “…breathtaking change in wine prices over the years. Over the course of three decades or more, prices go up, of course. But 10 times in some cases?” Lynch is the celebrated importer whose name on a French wine label is reason to buy it regardless of varietal or region, and Virblia has tracked price changes for several of his wines since the early 1980s with depressing results. Given that cheap wine prices have not increased 10 times over 30 years (maybe doubled, at most) and that the cost of wine production has remained remarkably stable over that time, this speaks to the increased demand for high-end wines since then, and especially for wines with pedigrees from experts like Lynch.

? So long, China: Remember when China was going to save the French wine business? Not now, says the Reuters news service. “Now wine is being sold below cost, some is going bad sitting for long periods in poorly maintained warehouses and decent Bordeaux wines are going for 15 yuan [US$2.50] a bottle.” Not that the Wine Curmudgeon warned the French about this, that raising prices to gouge the inexperienced Chinese had dangerous long-term consequences — but what do I know? The Chinese market has been hit by what passes for a recession there as well as the government’s continuing crackdown on corruption, in which wine bribes play a huge part. By the way, those “decent” Bordeaux wines that are selling for $2.50 in China cost 10 times that much in the U.S.

? Red blends take over: The popularity of red blends — which means, in most cases, sweet red wine — continues to rise, reports Nielsen. They accounted for more than 13 percent of the $13 billion that consumers spent on table wine during the 52 weeks ended Sept. 12, 2015, up from 11 percent in 2011. How important is that change? As I have written before, it’s almost unprecedented, with red blends the third biggest seller in the U.S. behind chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon in U.S. grocery and super stores. Interestingly, the Nielsen report doesn’t use the word sweet to describe the red blends, since so many producers don’t identify the wines as such. But we know what’s going on, don’t we?

winereview

Expensive wine 79: Northstar Merlot 2010

northstar merlotSte. Michelle Wine Estates does something no other Big Wine company does as well — produce top-notch expensive wine that speaks to terroir. Not even E&J Gallo has been able to figure that out. How else to explain that the Wine Spectator picked the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon as its wine of the year in 2009?

That’s why I was so eager to try the Northstar Merlot ($42, sample, 14.7%) during the Pacific Northwest tasting at my El Centro class a couple of weeks ago. The Northstar, owned by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and made with grapes from Washington state’s Columbia Valley, has a fine reputation and it has been several years since I tasted it. It didn’t disappoint.

Look for dark, rich fruit (very intense but not overly sweet black cherry?), with an undercurrent of baking spices, zesty tannins, and just enough oak to round out the flavors. It is a powerful wine, but in that specific Washington state sort of way. In this, it’s not bloated or flabby, and will age for much longer than you’d think — at least 10 more years.

This is merlot as merlot, not as a cabernet sauvignon knockoff or as something sweet and fleshy to sell in the grocery store. Pair it with roast lamb and keep it in mind for a holiday dinner.

winereview

Expensive wine 78: Raumland Marie-Luise Brut 2008

 Raumland Marie-LuiseGerman sparkling wine made in the traditional Champagne style? How much wine geekier does it get? Not much, but the Raumland Marie-Luise is well worth the trouble to find and the price you will pay.

The amazing thing about the Raumland Marie-Luise ($40, sample, 12%) is not that it’s well made, but that it’s such a value, even at $40. I’ve tasted Champagne (before the boycott) at that price and even $20 more that wasn’t as pleasurable to drink — mass market plonk at high-end prices. The Raumland is made with pinot noir, astonishing in itself given the rarity and inconsistency of German pinot, but even more so given the wine’s subtlety and style. This is not an oaky, yeasty sparkling bomb, but a wine with fine, tight bubbles, hints of berry fruit, an almost spice-like aroma, and bone dry.

Highly recommended, though it may be difficult to find. If you can, serve it on its own (chilled, of course) or with seafood and chicken. We had it with a shrimp boil during the infamous wine samples dinner, and the Raumland was gone in minutes. This is also a fine gift for any open-minded sparkling wine drinker.

winereview

Expensive wine 77: Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2012

Leeuwin chardonnayCall it irony or coincidence or whatever, but Australian wines keep showing up in the monthly expensive wine post even though Australian wines are a drag on the market and aren’t famous for being expensive. Bring on the Yellow Tail shiraz, right?

Nevertheless, that producers like Leeuwin are making these kinds of wines points to the quality that has been overlooked in Australia’s troubles over the past decade. The Leeuwin chardonnay ($70, sample, 14%) is top-notch, even for the price, and if it isn’t high-end white Burgundy (chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France), it’s not supposed to be.

Look for rich, delicious apple fruit, as well as what the wine magazines called baked apple aromas, with a little cinnamon and spice mixing with the apple. Also, the wine has a full mouth feel, which you should get at this price. This is a New World chardonnay, a little heavier and with a little more oomph than white Burgundy, but it understands that quality is about more than oomph. In this, it should age well, losing some of the heft and becoming more refined over the next several years.

Drink this chilled with classic chardonnay cream sauce dishes; it’s also the kind of wine to give as a gift for someone who wants to explore high-end chardonnay, and understand that terroir exists in places other than California and France.

winereview

Expensive wine 76: Chateau Pontet-Canet 2003

Chateau Pontet-CanetHow silly are Bordeaux wine prices? The Big Guy, who bought the Chateau Pontet-Canet 2003 (13%) almost 10 years ago, should have kept it in case he needed to top up his grandchildren’s college fund. The wine has doubled in value since he paid $60 for it at a Dallas wine shop.

Wine as investment is an alien concept to the Big Guy and I. We buy wine to drink, which is why any review of the Chateau Pontet-Canet has to take into account its ridiculous run-up in price. What’s the point of a $120 wine, even from a producer as reputable as Pontet-Canet — a fifth-growth estate in the 1855 Bordeaux classification that’s often compared to second growths — that doesn’t make you shiver? Because, as well made as it was, and as well as it has aged, and as much as we enjoyed it, it was worth $120 only if the person buying it wanted to flip it like a piece of real estate.

Which you can’t tell from its scores — proving, sadly, that the idea of the Emperor’s New Clothes is never far from wine and that scores can be as corrupt as a Third World dictator. That’s because the only way to keep the market going is to keep throwing lots of points at the wine, which seems to have happened here. I found lots of mid-90s, with nary a discouraging word.

If you get a chance to try it, the Chateau Pontet-Canet has more fruit in the front (blackberry and raspberry) than you’d expect, and which explains Robert Parker’s fondness for it. The tannins were very soft, and the acidity was muted, almost an afterthought. If you sniff really hard, you can smell graphite, which makes the pointmeisters go crazy. The finish is long, but not extraordinarily so, and the impression is of a quality wine that would be a steal at $40 or $50. But memorable, as one reviewer described? Hardly, unless you’re marveling at the demand for a $120 wine that was made 12 years ago.

Again, this is not to criticize its quality, but to note how little the Bordeaux market has to do with reality. You could buy four terrific bottles of Chablis for the same price; three bottles of a Ridge zinfandel, maybe the best value in the U.S.; or two bottles of Pio Cesare Barbaresco, one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.

If and when the French understand this, they’ll understand why 90 percent of the world is priced out of Bordeaux. Until then, I’ll somehow live without it.

winereview

Expensive wine 75: John Duval Plexus 2011

plexus 2011John Duval is a legend in the Australian wine business, someone who made some of the greatest wines in the country’s history when he worked for Penfolds and who has produced consistently outstanding wine on his own since leaving Penfolds in 2003. His wines are an example of the best of Australia, blending terroir, craftsmanship, and that sixth sense that the best winemakers have about what should go where.

The Plexus 2011 ($39, sample, 14%) is a red blend that does all of that, combining shiraz, grenache, and mouvedre to produce a wine that is somehow both powerful and sophisticated, soft and structured, cultured and free-spirited. In this, it does what so much great wine does, marry what seem to be contradictions to produce something greater than the whole.

Look for lots of berry aromas, followed by ripe but not quite jammy blackberry and cherry fruit and some spice and black pepper. That the alcohol is so low for an Australian wine speaks to Duval’s respect for terroir and to work with what the grapes gave in a cool vintage, rather than to force high alcohol to please critics. Not surprisingly, the 2011 Plexus only got 89 points from the Wine Advocate, about what it gives very ordinary $15 California chardonnay.

Highly recommended and a steal at this price, especially given how much junk is for sale that costs more than $40 and gets 94 points. We tasted this in my El Centro class, and the students were flabbergasted that this style of wine could be this delicious and taste so completely different from anything they had tasted before.

This is a Father’s Day gift for anyone who loves red wine and wants to take a step forward in understanding how wine can be different depending on where it’s from. Serve this with any red meat or Father’s Day barbecue.


Post sponsored by Famous Smoke Shop
If you decide to test the waters with a cigar paring when enjoying this exquisite John Duval red blend, the online smoke shop Famous-Smoke.com, suggests the Cohiba Nicaraguan. The full-bodied flavors of the Cohiba will match perfectly with hint of spice that comes with the John Duval Plexus Red. The lush smoke you get from this cigar is creamy to the finish, and will keep your palate tantalizing for more till the very nub. Pick up Cohiba and other premium cigars from Famous Smoke Shop.

wine news

Winebits 388: The world hates expensive wine

expensive wineThe cyber-ether has been full of vitriol for expensive wine over the past month, so much so that even the Wine Curmudgeon has wondered what’s going on. Some of these posts make me seem like a “bring on the $100 samples” member of the Winestream Media:

? Damn you, Napa cabernet: Something called Vox Observatory, which is part of the company that owns the chi-chi Eater food site and the SB Nation sports blogs, posted a video called “Expensive wine is for suckers.” The results? Not only is expensive wine overpriced, but many of the tasters said they liked the way the cheap wine tasted better than they liked the way the expensive wine tasted. One even went so far as to say that she was glad she had cheap wine taste. I wonder: Would Eater have run a similar post, citing the cheap and simple qualities of grocery store tomatoes over $15 organic, heirloom tomatoes? Of course not. This post speaks directly to the cliches the wine business and the Winestream Media reinforce about wine, and how their approach intimidates people who aren’t wine drinkers.

? Grocery store cheap wine: The cheapest offers the best value, according to a study done among British supermarkets. Almost two-thirds of the wines sold at Lidl and Aldi, known for their low prices, were called a good value; at least half the wine at six other chains was judged a poor value; and three-quarters of the wine at the bottom grocer was called a poor value. This is an amazing result, and not just because so much wine in grocery stores is so ordinary. It speaks to the concept of premiumization, and that producers and retailers aren’t giving us better wine when we pay more money, but the same wine in better packaging and with more expensive marketing.

? The placebo effect: Think your pricey wine tastes better than the cheap wine I drink? That may be because you want it to, says a study in the Journal of Marketing Research. Says the report: “Expectations truly influence neurobiological responses,” and there are even brain scans to prove it. Again, not a surprising result, and especially for those of us who have spent our professional careers trying to educate people on the differences between cheap and expensive wine.