Tag Archives: expensive wine

Expensive wine 135: Domaine Louis Michel Chablis Butteaux Premier Cru 2015

Louis Michel Chablis ButteauxThe Louis Michel Chablis Butteaux doesn’t taste like other Chablis, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing

This is not the kind of Chablis that many of us expect – minerally, taut, and steely. Instead, the Louis Michel Chablis Butteaux is rich and full, much softer than I usually want from Chablis. And that difference is just another part of the joy of wine.

How different is the Louis Michel Chablis Butteaux 2015 ($30, purchased, 13%)? The winery’s website lists scores from five major international critics for this vintage of its chardonnay from the Chablis region of France’s Burgundy. Each score is different, and the two French scores are the lowest. That five people who taste this kind of wine for a living disagree about its quality (even allowing for the inefficiency of scores) speaks volumes about how unique this wine is.

Because it is. My tasting notes are just as perplexed: “Softer, less traditional style of Chablis, with less minerality and more ripe apple fruit. And what is it in there that almost tastes like oak?” Because this Chablis doesn’t see oak (and most, in fact, don’t).

So what’s going on here? Chalk it up to what the late and much missed Diane Teitelbaum told me years ago: Wine is not supposed to taste the same. It’s supposed to be different – otherwise, what’s the point? This producer, in this part of Chablis with this terroir, doesn’t make wine that tastes like the wine that other producers make in other parts of Chablis, with different terroir.

This difference is not about good or bad; this is a high quality wine that will probably benefit from another couple of years in the bottle. It’s just different, and that’s something I have learned to appreciate.

Imported by Vineyard Brands

Pricing note: Price is suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariff

Winebits 657: Expensive wine, phylloxera, French wine

This week’s wine news: The Wine Curmudgeon isn’t the only one thinks expensive wine is too expensive. Plus, we may be close to a victory over phylloxera, wine’s greatest scourge, and the trials of French wine in the pandemic era

phylloxeraToo pricey: David Morrison, writing on the Wine Gourd, doesn’t mince words: Prices for high-quality wines “are outrageous compared to what they were half a century ago, relatively speaking. Put another way, high-quality wine is much less affordable these days.” His result is based on a study published earlier this year, which found that high-quality wine prices are much more expensive than what their inflation-adjusted prices should be. Apologists for expensive wine (for all wine princes, in fact) always cite inflation as the culprit, so it’s good to see two reports that show them to be wrong. In fact, inflation is rarely the issue; if I was up to it, I would do a post detailing how technology and supply chain efficiencies have wrung inflation out of much of the way wine is priced. Rather, the cause is premiumization and the idea that all wine should cost more because it should. When wine is touted as an investment like real estate, diamonds, and gold, instead of something to drink, how can we expect rational pricing?

An end to phylloxera? Phylloxera is a louse that sucks the sap out of the roots of grape vines, which kills the wines. An infestation at the turn of the 20th century almost destroyed the French wine industry, and the louse still wreaks havoc on vineyards in the 21st century. It’s resistant to pesticides, and the only way to prevent it is to graft non-vinifera rootstock onto vinifera vines (vinifera is the species for the European wine grapes that make the world’s best wines, like merlot and chardonnay). Now, though, scientists may be one step closer to eradicating phylloexera after identifying its genome – the bug’s complete set of DNA. The research could eventually lead to resistant rootstocks, eliminating the need for costly grafting.

Wine woes in France: The French wine market has collapsed, with the Trump tariff and the pandemic playing key roles. This piece from the New York Times tells the story all too well: “And so some of the succulent and subtle white wine for which this region is famous, nurtured on the stony, sunbathed Alsace slopes, will wind up as hand sanitizer.” One Alsatian producer is dumping one-third of its production – almost unprecedented. The story reminds us wine is made by people, some of whose families have been doing it for hundreds of years, and that trade wars have consequences that we may not consider.

Photo courtesy of Helena Lopes, using a Creative Commons license

A tale of two Italian wines: Boffa Carlo Arneis and Mionetto Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze 

Italian wineThe former is a lovely $15 wine, while the latter is a $40 Prosecco. How can Italy be going in two completely different directions?

Premiumization has done horrible things to the wine business, so horrible that they go beyond cutting sales and alienating younger consumers. Thanks to premiumization, wine is becoming something not to drink and enjoy, but for collecting and for showing off. Case in point: these two Italian wines.

The Boffa Carlo Arneis 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%) is a beautiful, almost elegant white wine, with subtle lemon and stone fruit, nuanced minerality, and a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a tremendous value for arneis, a lesser-known grape where prices can top out at $30.

The Mionetto is a $40 Prosecco (sample, 11%). It’s a well-made and enjoyable sparkling wine, but in the end, it’s a $40 Prosecco, not all that different or better than the legions of $12 Proseccos cluttering supermarket aisles.

So how did Italy, a country with thousands of years of winemaking chops, go from the more or less traditional approach that gave us the arneis to one based on premiumization and a $40 Prosecco? Because decisions are increasingly made based on marketing and category management, and not on wine.

My guess? Someone, somewhere decided Mionetto needed a product to compete with Champagne and high-end California sparkling wine. So we got a $40 Prosecco – not because the world was demanding a $40 Prosecco or because the grapes were of such high quality that they would produce a wine worth $40. We got it so an Italian wine would be able to sit on a store shelf next to Champagne and grab some of that market share. Because if a wine costs $40, it must be worth it, right?

The same thing has happened with rose, where the marketplace has been flooded with $25 pink wine that is almost no different from $10 and $12 rose in anything other than retail price. The reason? Because people who buy $25 red and white wines have been taught that cheap wine is crap, so why not sell them $10 rose that costs $25? A rose producer I know can launch into a rant on that subject even more quickly than I can, which should tell you how widespread the practice is.

Finally, remember that this post is not about price, but about value, and that expensive wines can offer, value, too. That’s the Wine Curmudgeon’s mantra. The wine business will have you believe that value is no different from price, because that’s how it makes its money. Because, $40 Prosecco. But we know better, don’t we?

Photo: “Hanging Bottles” by garryknight is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Expensive wine 134: Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Gris 2017

eyrie pinot grisThe Eyrie pinot gris shows why this family producer is one of the best wineries in the U.S.

No, the Eyrie pinot gris is not the most expensive wine in the world, and most of the Winestream Media would probably consider it popularly priced. But for those of us who consider value more important than anything else, a wine that costs this much and delivers value is rare and worth noting — and a wine to buy over and over.

The Eyrie pinot gris ($23, purchased, 12.5%) comes from one of my favorite producers, the second-generation Oregon winery that did so much to bring pinot noir to that state (and the U.S.). The pinot gris, if less well-known, is equally worth drinking.

This is still a very young wine, and the pear fruit (and maybe some peach) really isn’t showing the way it should in a few years. It’s sort of hiding in the background, so that when you taste it, you’re not quite sure if it’s there, but you know something is. And, of course, that’s far from the only quality — lots of flint and minerality, maybe some spice, and a clean mouth feel.

Highly recommended. Pair this with grilled seafood or roasted chicken, and be glad such value still exists in a wine costing more than $20.

Expensive wine 132: Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2017

chateau montelena chardonnayThis vintage of the Chateau Montelena chardonnay shows once again the greatness of California wine

Full disclosure first: When we talked last month, Chateau Montelena winemaker Matt Crafton told me he read the blog and enjoyed it. Who am I to argue with his good sense?

Regardless, it’s easy to write nice things about the Chateau Montelena chardonnay, which I do every couple of years. This vintage ($50, sample, 13.9%) is again a testament to what makes California wine so wonderful – fresh, layered, sophisticated, and uniquely different from great wine anywhere else in the world.

In addition, the 2017 tastes completely different than the 2015. Which, as Crafton and I discussed last month, is part of the joy of wine. Truly take what the vineyard gives you, and let the wine speak for itself. Because what’s the point of making the same wine every year just to get 92 points?

The 2017 is still very, very young, and its fruit and spice won’t completely show themselves for at least several years. But the wine is still drinkable and quite enjoyable – some floral and apple-y aromas, a wonderful rich baked apple fruit precisely balanced with the rest of the wine, and a long, amazing, and chalky finish.

Highly recommended, and just the thing for Mother’s Day. Toast Mom with this, even if you can’t be with her, and appreciate life’s small pleasures in a time of uncertainty.

Mini-reviews 132: Ava Grace, Tasca D’Almerita, River Road, Chateau Malescasse

ava graceReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.

Ava Grace Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): Light, almost riesling-y sauvignon blanc from California. It’s not bad if you prefer a less intense style, and it’s a fair value; it just tastes like there is a lot of winemaking going on in an attempt to make it less varietal.

Tasca D’Almerita Nero d’Avola 2016 ($20, sample, 13.5%): Premiumized Italian red from Sicily made in an international style, which means it doesn’t taste like nero d’avola and it’s not very interesting. Imported by Winebow

River Road Family Stephanie’s Cuvée Pinot Noir 2017 ($30, sample, 14.3%): Classic, post-modern cocktail party California pinot noir – heavyish, with lots of cherry fruit, almost no tannins, and only a hint of pinot noir character.

Château Malescasse 2016 ($25, sample, 14.5%): There are two ways to look at this French red Bordeaux blend. First, as a French wine that tastes French, with herbal notes, currant fruit, and that French mouth feel. Second, as an every day style of French wine that costs $25. Imported by Austruy Family Vineyard Import

Expensive wine 131: Justin Isosceles 2015

Justin IsoscelesThe Justin Isosceles is a powerful, well made California red blend

The Wine Curmudgeon has always appreciated Justin’s wines, whether the $12 sauvingon blanc or the pricey, pricey red blends. It’s not necessarily a style I prefer, but the wines are always well made and aren’t as over the top as so many others.

The Justin Isosceles ($70, sample, 15%) is a case in point. On the one hand, this red blend (mostly cabernet sauvignon, with about equal parts merlot and cabernet franc) costs a lot of money, and especially for a wine from California’s Paso Robles region. Plus, that 15 percent alcohol screams “HOT FRUIT BOMB DESIGNED TO GET 96 POINTS!”

On the other hand, it’s not nearly as hot and as ripe as it could have been. Powerful, yes, in that fruit forward, California style. That means lots and lots of black fruit aroma, and it tastes of not too sweet cherry fruit. Plus, there is even a little spice, and the oak pushed just enough to the background so as not to get in the way. If it’s not subtle, it is mostly balanced, very layered, and well worth drinking (assuming the price doesn’t scare you off).

I’m not sure the Justin Isosceles is going to age all that well for that much longer, so it’s ready to drink now.