Tag Archives: expensive wine

Expensive wine 138: Panther Creek Pinot Noir Winemaker’s Cuvee 2017

 Panther Creek Pinot Noir Winemaker's CuveeThe Panther Creek Pinot Noir Winemaker’s Cuvee offers quality and value in time for Thanksgiving

One thing we can count on this year, despite all of the disasters and sadness, is quality and value in Oregon pinot noir. Yes, premiumization made some inroads, and I tasted some disappointing wine.

But, for the most part, wines like the Panther Creek pinot noir are all they have always been.

The Panther Creek Pinot Noir Winemaker’s Cuvee 2017 ($28, purchased, 13.5%) has long been a Wine Curmudgeon favorite, but I haven’t always been able to find it on store shelves. So when I saw it this summer, I bought it immediately.

The 2017 is typical of the producer’s style: An earthiness that I like and that is almost Old World; restrained berry fruit, so not quite brambly but not California, either; and refined tannins. The latter are noticeable, but don’t get in the way and are not easy to do with pinot noir. Too many wines, even at this price, either forgo the tannins entirely or boost them so it seems like they sould be in cabernet sauvignon.

Highly recommended, and more than a fair value. This is on its way to being quite complex, and should be even more interesting in a couple of years. Yes, Thanksgiving wine, but a red wine for any occasion that calls for something well-made and a step up.

Expensive wine pricing and snobbery have been institutionalized, legitimized, and even admired

expensive wineCan’t afford to buy one of the world’s great wines? Then lump it

This is the second of two parts looking at the conundrum that is wine pricing today – we’re awash in cheap, often crummy wine, while the prices of the world’s great wines are at all-time highs. Today, part II: How we got to the point where no one but the ultra-rich can afford the world’s great wines. Part I: The grape glut, and what it means for consumers.

The problem with expensive wine prices is not that they are expensive or that wine snobs are eager and willing to pay them. We’ve always had both. Rather, it’s that never before in the history of wine has pricing and snobbery been institutionalized, legitimized, and even admired. We’re at a point where people buy the world’s great wines not to drink them, but to keep them in a vault and watch them appreciate in value, using their acquisitions to prove their superiority to the rest of us.

How screwed up is that?

But that’s where we are, and it’s the reason why the world’s great wines cost thousands of dollars a bottle. Consider: I can pay for a place to live for a month, or I can buy a  2016 Harlan Estate cabernet sauvignon for $1,450 at a Dallas retailer. By one estimate, prices of the finest wines have increased eight-fold since the early 1990s, even after inflation.

On the other hand, the price of decent everyday wine, despite premiumization and inflation, is probably about where it was when I started the blog in 2007. I could buy Domaine Tariquet for $10 then, and it’s more or less $10 today.

So how did we get to this point?

Much of it has to do with the seismic shift in U.S. wealth distribution over the past 40 years, where we’re approaching disparities not seen since the Depression. More millionaires mean more people with more money to spend, so why not spend it on wine? Isn’t that what rich people do? Or, as Sports Illustrated’s Jonathan Wilson has called it, the greed of late-period capitalism.

Besides, as one California winemaker told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Esther Mobley: “I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that wine has always been a luxury commodity. Unfortunately, it’s a beverage of privilege.”

And what better way to leverage that privilege than with Liv-Ex, the stock market for wine? Buy a bottle, put it away, and watch it appreciate in value. Who cares if it spoils or goes off? The point is not to drink it, but to use it to amass even more wealth. And, since the supply of fine wine is limited, the more it’s in demand, the higher the price will go. And, as Eric Asimov pointed out in last week’s New York Times, demand is increasing thanks to all that wealth.

How sad is that? Great wine reduced to a share of stock.

The irony, of course, is that legitimate stock markets serve an economic purpose, to help companies raise capital. Amassing wealth is a benefit, and not a stock market’s reason for being (as it is with Liv-Ex). The other irony? Liv-Ex is a lousy way to amass wealth. Its Fine Wine 50 index has increased 26 percent in five years, or about what an ex-sportswriter who writes about wine could do with a mediocre mutual fund. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, on the other hand, has increased about twice that much.

Long-term effects

So why does this matter to the rest of us? Shouldn’t we happy with our Tariquet and leave it at that? Let the snobs waste their money. And don’t we have more important things to worry about, like the increasing disparity of wealth?

Yes, obscenely expensive wine prices are a result of the disparity, not a cause. But know two things: First, that these prices work their way down to the bottom, so every $1,000 bottle of Harlan ends up raising all prices. The Mulderbosch rose, a pleasant enough wine, now has a suggested retail price of $17 for no good reason at all, save rising prices elsewhere. In fact, that’s the sham of premiumization — we’re paying more money for the same  quality wine and not a better bottle.

Second, and more important, can you imagine a world where only the most wealthy are allowed to look at great art and to read great books? You’re not rich enough for Picasso or Rembrandt or Shakespeare or Jane Austen, so lump it.

That’s not a world I want to live in. Do you?

Photo: “Wine Auction” by alans1948 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Winebits 669: Halloween wine, expensive wine, intellectual property

halloween wine

“Trick or wine?”

This week’s wine news: Dress up like a box of wine for Halloween. Plus, Eric Asimov on why we can’t afford the world’s great wines and intellectual property rights vs. the First Amendment.

The right costume? Want to be a box of wine for Halloween? A Detroit radio station reports that Franzia is making that possible. “The Francia boxed wine costume is only $25 and comes in two flavors, Chillable Red and Sunset Blush.” There is also a wine backpack, so you can drink wine while you look like it. No word on how many points the costume gets, though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone, somewhere, gave it a score.

No great wine for us: The New York Times’ Eric Asimov rants about one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite topics: The ridiculous prices of the world’s great wines. “Among the many ways the rich are different from you and me: Only they can afford grand cru Burgundy. That wasn’t always the case. … For example, back in 1994, a bottle of Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny 1991, a grand cru, retailed for $80 (the equivalent of $141 in 2020, accounting for inflation). Today, that bottle costs about $800.” The piece is well worth reading, and speaks to a post I’m working on for next week about the absurdity — and even obscenity — of expensive wine prices.

Nuts to the First Amendment: Because, of course, there’s money involved. The Libation Law Blog reports that “Beer, wine, and liquor trade groups are coming out of the woodwork” to support an appeal by Jack Daniels whiskey against a parody dog toy called Bad Spaniels, which looks like the Daniels bottle. Their support comes despite long entrenched and well-established First Amendment protection for parody, satire, and the like that made it possible for me to write this. Or this. Or this. But in the second decade of the 21st century, getting rich trumps all. Sadly, this is not the first time we’ve seen the wine business throw its weight around, spouting intellectual property. So nuts to you, beer, wine, and liquor trade groups. I’m going to look for one of these for Churro, the blog’s associate editor. Then he can write a post about playing with it.

Expensive wine 137: St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Kabinett 2016

St. Urbans-Hof Riesling KabinettSweet? Yes, but the St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Kabinett shows how gorgeous sweet wine can be

The Wine Curmudgeon’s campaign to increase U.S. riesling consumption continues with the St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Kabinett. This vintage isn’t necessarily a typical approach to German riesling, given how cold and wet the year was, but it is a delicious one.

The St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Kabinett 2016 ($25, sample, 8.5%) is sweet – make no mistake about it. But this is not sweet as we understand it from focus group supermarket wine, but sweetness that comes from beautiful candied lemon fruit and a fresh, honeyed sweetness. In this, the acidity and minerality balance the sweetness. The former, though not necessarily noticeable, keeps the wine from being syrupy, while the latter cleans the palate at the finish. Who am I to argue with the Wine Spectator’s assessment: “Elegant.”

Highly recommended. Drink now, but would probably improve with a couple of more years in in the bottle. It also needs food – and how often do you hear that about sweet wine? The St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Kabinett would pair more effectively with something like sausage and braised cabbage than anything spicy.

Imported by HB Wine Merchants

Winebits 666: Wine ads, wine country fires, expensive wine

wine ads

“Come on. ..you know sex sells wine.. even if it doesn’t.”

This week’s wine news: Wine ads are missing the point by emphasizing sex. Plus, a wine country fire update and expensive wine foolishness

Sex doesn’t sell: A new study, published in the academic journal Sex Roles, casts doubt on whether sex actually sells products. This result should be especially important for wine marketers, who rely on sex almost as often as they do snobbery to sell wine. The Italian study found that women were less likely to find a product attractive and were less likely to purchase it if the product used sexual female models than if the ad was neutral. Men, even more surprisingly, were unaffected by ads’ sexualization. Said the authors: “The present study has practical implications for marketers because it suggests that ‘sex does not sell.’ In addition, considering both the psychological damage and practical inefficacy of sexualized ads, our findings have important implications for public policy.”

Scorched vines: The Wine Spectator does a fine job recapping this fall’s California wine country wild fires, “More than 200 wineries are in evacuation zones. A few vintners have managed to return to their properties to assess damage in recent days. But evacuation orders remain in place for much of the area, keeping many out.” I did a Napa radio show a couple of weeks ago, and it looked like the worst of the fire season was over. But then the Glass Fire sprang up last week.

Betting on wine: We’ve written several times about the Kafka-esque reality of Liv-Ex, a stock exchange for the world’s most expensive wines. I mention it again to show one should drink wine instead of investing in it. A smart investor, according to the Liv-Ex article, would have seen a 20 percent return in a decade by investing in specific Robert Parker-favorited wines. Wow — two percent a year? Can’t I get that with a bank CD and then drink the wine?

Expensive wine 136: Bellavista Vendemmia Rose 2014

Bellavista Vendemmia roseThe Bellavista Vendemmia rose, an Italian Champagne-style sparkling wine, provides value and lots of quality

Most Italian sparkling wine is Prosecco, which rarely costs more than $15, offers a bit of sweetness, and has decent bubbles. Franciacorta, which is made in the Champagne style and uses the same grapes, is much less common; Italian producers make 200 times more Prosecco than Franciacorta.

Hence, Franciacorta is pricey and not always easy to find. I got to taste the Bellavista Vendemmia Rose courtesy of the Italian Wine Guy, who apparently took pity on me for having to drink wine like this.

Still, the Bellavista Vendemmia Rose 2014 ($44. sample, 12.5%) is well worth the effort to find, and it’s certainly worth its mid-double digit price. It’s a nuanced, sophisticated sparkling wine, and much appreciated after all the stuff I’ve had to plow through the past six months in the pursuit of wine journalism. Look for some brioche aroma, lots of berry fruit (strawberry? raspberry?), those wonderfully tight bubbles that show top-notch Champagne-style wine, and a long, clean, and minerally finish.

Highly recommended. Drink this on its own, but it’s a terrific food wine – socca, anyone?

Imported by TMT USA

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