I’ve been beating the Rioja drum for a few years now, so I won’t go overboard yet again, though it is worth pointing out that Rioja continues to offer the best values in ready-to-drink, ageable wines in the market. Again, if you don’t like Rioja that means nothing, but if you enjoy these wines, something approaching the midpoint, stylistically between Bordeaux and Chianti in many ways, you’ll find these values hard to beat.
2001 CVNE Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva $55
2004 Bodegas Francos Espanolas Rioja Gran Reserva Bordon $25
2001 Hermanos Pecina Rioja Reserva $30
2006 CVNE Rioja Reserva Vina Real $30
2004 Ramon Bilbao Rioja Gran Reserva $28
2005 Miguel Merino Rioja Reserva $35
2004 Sierra Cantabria Gran Reserva $30
2001 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Reserva $40
1998 La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 904 $45
2004 la Rioja Alta Vina Arana Rioja Reserva $30
An Upward Climb
But here too, in Rioja, it’s easy to see the prices beginning to slide upwards. It’s fascinating actually, to watch the wines of one producer after another being discovered by a broader audience. Prices for wines from Lopez de Heredia, and the top cuvees from Marques de Murrieta, La Rioja Alta, and Muga, for example, all seem to be gaining a following among the cognoscenti. Other producers rise to fill the voids left by increasing prices, though even then many wines do remain attractively priced.
Perhaps the most disturbing recent development with the wines of Rioja has happened with back vintage wines, generally a harbinger of things to come. The great wines of Rioja, bottles from the 40s, 50s, and 60s were, until very recently, dirt cheap in the secondary markets. That has all changed with many great wines commanding prices in the 100s of dollars, commensurate with their quality. As old wines rise in price, so too do the younger vintages. Collectors are now able to justify the investment with the promise of high returns in the long run! It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, except when it isn’t.
If one would need an example, myriad in fact, of wines they did not appreciate enough to warrant their purchase, one would only have to turn towards California, and Napa in particular. I wonder what the past two decades will look like from a historical perspective. Vast increases in the prices of many wines, driven by dubious ratings, and resulting in a ridiculous disparity between mature wines from great producers and vintages often being greatly discounted over more recent vintages. To a certain degree this has to do with the rampant grade inflation that has taken place over the past two decades among wine critics. Old vintages only got 92pts, while newer ones routinely get 96 or 97. A lot of people will argue that the overall quality of the wines have increased, which might be true if you think fruitier wines are necessarily better, but the truth remains; there were many, many delicious wines produced in California over the past several decades that today sell for peanuts.
California Cab Cont'd
Ok that is a slight overstatement. Many of these wines have seen their prices increase markedly over the past two or three years, but they are still cheap, and I don’t think they’re likely to stay that way. Consider the following, all purchased by me this past year. For the heck of it I’ve included recent examples of each wine for comparison. Then you tell me something is not out of whack.
1996 La Jota Anniversary Cabernet $70 2008 is $90
1993 Elyse Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet $35 2007 is $60
1991 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet $90 2008 is $105
1985 Caymus Napa Cabernet $65 2007 is $80
1983 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet $60 2007 is $90
1978 Chappellet Napa Valley Cabernet $40 2009 is $45
Now's the Time to Stock Up
Now, you might not want to drink old California Cabernets, but I find them to be preferable to most of the younger versions. Lower alcohol, fresher fruit and all that, but I’m not here to knock your palate. What I did mean to do here was to alert the budding collectors out there to the deals of the day. The days of affordable Dujac, Conterno, and Lynch Bages, not to mention first growths, are gone. I’ve been around long enough to have participated in many of what were your greatest wine buying discussions to know that the older you are the better the deals. However, each era has bargains before them, but sometimes they’re just not easy to see.
While I freely admit that $40 for a bottle of wine may be difficult to characterize as a bargain, these four groups of wines are set to outperform the market in 2013. Of course there are outside influences, that fiscal cliff, the Eurozone crisis, and China’s pandora’s box of an economy that can easily usher all my brilliance right out the door, but today, at this moment I’m sticking to my guns. My dear friends, buy some of these fine wines this year, if you’re in the market for fine wines of course. I cannot imagine that these wines will ever be more affordable, and with the future we face, a couple of good bottles to drown our sorrows will be a requirement, not an option.