Random thoughts on the world of wine, presented in no particular order.

Friday, May 1, 2009

How not to find value...

The other day I had the chance to meet a vintner from a boutique California winery; he makes about 4 wines, all estate-grown around his house.  I'll decline to name him or his winery, for reasons that will become clear shortly.

Really, he was quite a nice guy.  Very friendly, in a slightly reserved kind of way -- were he a generation younger, I think he'd be a blogger, in fact -- and he served three of his wines, two of which were 3-year-old library releases (the current release is 2005, we had the 2002).  There was a white Bordeaux blend, a cabernet (well... 85% cab, 13% merlot, and 2% petit verdot.   But, in the US, since it's more than 75% of one grape, the wine can be called that grape), and a Bordeaux blend with cab, merlot, and cabernet franc (less than 75% of any single grape, so it's sold under a proprietary name).  He did feel very strongly that his wines were "great values," that the prices they were being offered for were "rediculously low."

The white (a new-release semillon and sauvignon blanc blend) was good.  Not great, though, and not worth the selling price when compared with Bordeauxes in the same price point ($15-$25, in this case).  Then, I tried the cabernet... and this is where it fell apart.

The wine was acceptable, but not anywhere nearly as good as the vintner apparently thought it was.  This was a wine in a price point where I have come to expect a lot ($30-$50).  Honestly, when a bottle of wine in a store costs more than an entree at a restaurant, it's got to really wow me to make me want to buy it.  This was... plain.  Simple.  For less -- far less -- I have had easily a dozen wines that are better, from appellations as near as Napa and as far away as Stellenbosch.  And I was forced to have to talk to the man; he wanted to know how I liked the wine.  "Oh, it's very complex, showing secondary notes of dried fruit and flower, some suede around the edges, but still retaining some fresh fruit at the core.  Special-occasion wine."  In other words, I didn't say what I was thinking, to wit, "why the hell is this $40?  It's worth $18 at best, and that's just so it doesn't get caught up in the price points of $15 and $20, which are pretty crowded with good stuff.  All in all, I'd rather have a number of other wines."

Then, the Bordeaux blend, his "premier" wine.  According to the vintner, "if we had any more of this vintage at the winery, we'd sell it for $95 a bottle."  The list on it was $70.

And, again, it was good.  But, nowhere nearly as good as he seemed to think it was.  In fact, given that this wine was nearly the list price of a new release of Chateau St. Jean's Cinq Cepages (and, $30 more than I paid for the new release of Cinq Cepages last fall...), and my thoughts on that wine -- it's quite good, and very worth the $40 I paid for it -- all things considered, I'd rather have 5 bottles of Cinq Cepages than 3 of this winery's "premier" wine... and you can keep the $10 in change.

So, why is this not value?  Simple.  For one, this winery is a specific sub-appellation of Napa, and indeed, it's all estate-grown.  So, it's very geographically specific, and that's going to raise the price (let's face it, "an Oakville cab," costs more than "a Napa cab.") Secondarily, the vintner seems to think much more of his wine than it's worth -- and price is, at least in part, a reflection of what the vintner thinks of his wine.  Finally, this winery is a bit of a darling to certain critics, and those 90+ ratings raise the price.

Yet another reason not to follow the herd -- you wind up paying too much, in my opinion, for too little.

So how do you not find value?  Shop in the premium regions, buying only highly-rated wines, and buy wine from vintners who feel strongly that their wines are worth what they say it is, rather than what the market dictates it is.  That's a recipe for overpriced wine.

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