This is the second part in a three part series on wine prices over the past decade. Part one can be found here
, and today I follow up with part two, a look at Tuscan wines and the wines of the Rhone Valley.
I love Tuscan wines and I love Sangiovese. Pure, fresh, fruity and austere all at once, it’s one of the greatest food wines on the planet, and in the right hands it occasionally produces some profound wines. I’ve been buying less Tuscan wines as of late, at least at the higher price points, simply because the prices have, in my opinion, outrun the quality in most cases. Now don’t get me wrong, the wines we’re going to take a look at here are top notch, but are they really that much better than similar wines that cost, at least for the moment, half the price or less? I don’t think so.
I’ve put asterisks next to the producers that I think are still worth buying from a value, as well as qualitative standpoint. There is no arguing that Le Pergole Torte is a thing of beauty, but it’s just a little too expensive if you ask me. On the other hand, the I Sodi di San Niccolo continues to be quite a bargain and the Fontalloro, which hasn’t seen a price increase in a decade? Well that is simply a steal.
I don’t expect many of these Tuscan producers to see much more of a price increase down the pipe. While they are delicious, there are too many great Tuscan wines that offer just about the same experience for $50 or less. Unlike Barolo, Tuscany is a very large region with massive potential supply, and plenty of conscientious winemakers ready to undermine strength in the marketplace for their own advantage. And besides, as good as Tuscan wines are, they aren’t as good as Barolo!
So what is? What is another region with limited supply, traditional producers, and terroir-driven wines? If you said the Northern Rhone, you would be right. I’ve been complaining about the price increases in both the Northern and Southern Rhone for years now, which is a little odd since I no longer really enjoy the wines of the South. To a degree it’s simply that Grenache doesn’t really ring my bell, but the price increases have certainly colored my perception of wines from the region. Let’s take a look at some pricing and see if my prejudices have any foundation.
Sadly, or maybe not so sadly, it looks like I had already pretty much stopped buying Chateauneuf du Pape by 1999, with the few exceptions listed here. This trio of producers, along with Charvin and maybe one more would probably be the entire universe of Chateauneuf that currently interests me. The pricing of each remains within reason, particularly when compared to the myriad $100 bottles on the market. I can’t see these wines really increasing in price much, and in fact I expect that the prices for Chateauneuf overall will remain flat or decrease over time. The hype that these wines have enjoyed simply doesn’t seem to match up well to buyers’ preferences. Big points were awarded to big ass wines, so wise producers proceeded to add more big ass to their wines. We’ve ended up with wines that routinely push 16 percent alcohol, but we’re told they’re mega-balenced, get mega scores, are pushed for mega prices, and prove to be mega undrinkable to most people in the end. A sad state of affairs that reminds me a bit of the faux Doctor who injected concrete into the asses of unwitting patients, as well as her own. Somewhere along the way she lost perspective, me thinks.
Enough with the Southern Rhone; it was the wines of the Northern Rhone that got me started down this path. Syrah rules here, on difficult terrain producing some exceptional terroir-driven wines. But are they worth the money?
Surprisingly, for expensive wines, I would have to say yes. All the current release wines are close to or cheaper than their mature counterpoints, which is the way things should be, and in some cases by a significant amount. Even Chave Hermitage, one of the flagships for the region, seems to have held the line on pricing. Only the Delas Hermitage seems to have really jumped in price. Though I always felt that particular wine was a good bargain, I’m not sure the increase in price is worth it since the company was sold and the wines underwent a stylistic facelift between the 1999 and 2009 vintages. In fact, most of these estates experienced a change during this decade; one that has probably evened out demand for these wines as some stalwart customers have moved on, while new markets have been developed for these wines.
Syrah is always, for whatever reason, fundamentally a fringe player in the greater wine world. Yet still I look at the wines at these prices and think that the market for such unique wines must grow in the future. The Northern Rhone has their Leroys and DRCs, the LaLas for example, so naturally some wines will increase in price to fill the gap between those $500 LaLas and these wines. I don’t think I buy enough Rhone Syrah. Will I be able to afford them in three years? Join us next week for a look at the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy: the big boys!