Wine Talk

Snooth User: dmcker

Utterly absurd

Original post by dmcker, Mar 1, 2012.

A couple of news items I was pondering today.

First, Robert Parker came out with his ratings for the 2009 Bordeaux vintage. Ever the masochist, I decided to go look at some prices in the marketplace after the ratings were released. Some samplings:

2009 Chatau Latour                        100 points                  $21,500 a case

2009 Chateau Margaux                   99 points                   $17,500 a case

2009 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou  100 points                   $ 4,000 a case

2009 Chateau Pavie                       100 points                   $ 5,400 a case

2009 Chateau Palmer                       97 points                   $ 4,500 a case

2009 Chateau Pichon Comtesse      95 points                   $ 2,900 a case

2009 Chateau Leoville Barton           93+ points                $ 1,490 a case

2009 Chateau Troplong-Mondot        99 points                  $ 2,150 a case

2009 Angelus                                     99 points                  $ 4,925 a case

2009 La Clarence (Haut Brion 2nd)   92 points                  $   950 a case

2009 La Croix (Beaucaillou 2nd)        91 points                 $   580 a case

 

$333/bottle, current release for Beaucaillou? $1,458 for a bottle of Margaux?? $450 for Pavie??? $375 for Palmer???? We're supposed to feel we've scored a bargain with Leoville Barton at $124, or the worst 1st growth 2nd label at $79, or the 2nd of a 2nd at nearly $50????? Again, these are all current releases! None of these wines should be drunk for several years, anyway. And, BTW, these prices are on the low side of the market for each label.

So my question is, who's buying these? And why, when there's so much good wine from other areas at much saner levels of pricing, that will give at least as much pleasure (even though I'll admit I do have an unfortunate weakness for Latour, initiated back when it was affordable--unfortunate in that it can undo small fortunes if excercised these days!)? And what kind of thin-aired atmosphere do the Bordelaise want to try to keep living in? After the Chinese economic bubble bursts, good luck, I want to say, but the devil on my other shoulder then pipes in with 'tough luck, you've earned it'.

To put things in perspective, GregDP's series of articles on the $2500 and $5000 dollar cellars would be made totally irrelevant if someone wanted to buy any of the above. Personally, I'd *much* rather have his $5,000 cellar than a single case of the 2009 Angelus!

The second news item was a marketing director for a Wall St. firm, earning $350,000 a year, crying poor and saying he can barely consider himself a full member of the middle class, living as he does in Manhattan. In that part of that town, trying to keep up with the real players in those firms (marketing directors are just support team players, anyway, with no real playing time in the big games), I can almost commiserate. Especially if he wants to buy a bottle of good Bordeaux out at a restaurant (add their markups to the costs above)!   ;-(    But then he also probably pays a higher percentage of tax than Warren Buffet...

Replies

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Reply by shsim, Mar 2, 2012.

Giac, yea I agree with you that people cannot buy wines with that prices. It is ridiculous. However, with regards as to whether they can sell that much highly priced wine, luxury may be rare and make up 1-5%, but they are rich and can probably buy the wines up easily, it is just whether they do it or not. And this is the market they are targeting. Not the rest of the 95-99%. They are obviously not marketing it to us when they jack up the prices like that. Thats why it might be sustainable in that sense. The prices would not go up much higher though.

Like GregT said, some people consider it a luxury good, and yes these overpriced bottles are luxury good. And then theres wine for the rest of us. It is whether winemakers start to do that, which is the trend that you guys already mentioned. And that sucks. Lets just hope more believe wine to be an everyday beverage than luxury goods.

yea, it is funny that you mention that because that is exactly why people should not trust ratings as much as they do trust their own palates. I am sure not everyone has the same preferences as Robert Parker. Even if there is a consensus on a wine, it does not mean one will like it as much as another.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 2, 2012.

I'll have to read the whole thread more carefully over the weekend, but (I swear I am not his press agent!) huge kudos to GregT for (re-)introducing Thorstein Veblen to this group!  Maybe I can get you all interested in reading John Dos Passos's USA Trilogy, where he is discussed.  (I get grief at my law practice for actually using the law books and not doing everything online--I'm a paper and ink guy.)

Makes my point, too, that the cream of California Cabs (and that's not the weird culty stuff like Colgin, Harlan and Screaming Eagle--Veblen goods supreme), which competes very well with the first growths (not their second labels) and runs you anywhere from $70 to maybe $150, is not pricey at all, compared to this nonsense.  Stock up on your own faves--Mayacamas, Chappellet, Montelena, Dunn, Togni, and what have you. And a $14 Bord is pretty much a $14 Cal Cab, if you know what to look for--take a look at Liberty School, Franciscan, the lower priced Buehlers, and things from Sonoma.  Not Haut-Brion or Chappellet, sure, but as good as the same price bottle from Bordeaux?  I think you'll find a few. 

I think I've posted the link to Dr. Vino that follows in another thread, but Parker cannot distinguish the wines blind--even when he has tasted them before.  Note in the article that he gets 1 of 6 guesses right--and those are the ones he was willing to guess on! Did he taste any of these blind before naming them 100 point wines? "Explode in a puff of ludicrous hyperbole" indeed. 

Hmm, when these wines peak in, oh, 2032 or so, giving them just the 20 years they ought to have, Parker will be 85, good luck willing.  Will he be around to answer for this, or is he making these pronouncements now for the benefit of his friends in Bordeaux with the thought that he probably won't be expected to justify this later?

I've said elsewhere that I really didn't get the 2007 S. Rhone hype either--I've had some nice inexpensive CdRs, but I'm not seeing the huge potential or realization in the better wines from the south that I have started opening.  If I had to guess, the '09s will be better.  I have nowhere near Parker's knowledge base, but I'm just wondering if his ratings serve any purpose besides helping a few big producers.  Kind of the Wilfred Wong of the upper end.  (There, I've said it, and they can both sue me.)

 

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 2, 2012.

Veblen was a bit of a curmudgeonly fellow, who also often felt he didn't get his due at the time, starting from his undergrad days. Could be a cute soap opera episode about why he had to leave Stanford's faculty. Would be interesting to have him alive and kicking and talking about wines he might like from CA or France as opposed to his views of the wine business. Get him and Ambrose Bierce to visit and the Forum would be a lively place, indeed.

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Reply by gregt, Mar 2, 2012.

Great rant Fox! And I don't want to be picking on that blogger, who might be OK, I was just was citing him as an example of someone for whom it's very important to be associated with Bordeaux.  Or vice versa, I'm not sure how it's supposed to be viewed.  It was funny watching the reaction today after the prices were released - the top wines started disappearing from stores all over the country. Some of the buyers were no doubt hoping to flip at some later date but others wanted to be "in the know" or "insiders" or whatever and have the wines that scored 100 points.

Now as far as Spain goes, I have to speak up.  It's not like people are going to wake up and find out that there are values there.  What's happened is that the score inflation has killed the market at the top end. Wines that used to sell for $200 are being discounted.  The only ones that haven't been affected are Vega Sicilia and Pingus. Vega Sicilia has however, been able to overcharge for it's "lesser" wines - Alion and Pintia, both seriously overpriced these days. But the score inflation damaged the rep of the wines. Today there isn't really a credible critic for Spain, which is what drives the market at the top end.  There are critics, but no Parker.  His notes move the market in Bordeaux and the Rhone. They used to move the market in CA.  There are plenty of other critics to be sure, but nobody who matters economically the same way.  That's illustrated by the prices of the wines on the secondary market - see what scores correlate to the highest prices and check out what the scores of anyone else do to the price of a wine - usually it's nothing. 

That however, has nothing to do with pricing. He likes this vintage and I have to say, for the bit I've tasted, I agree.  I just don't think the pricing curve makes sense, even at the "lower" end. Fox mentioned Chappellet.  That's a very good winery and even the cheap wine, the Mountain Cuvee, is worth looking at and at $25, I don't know of many Bordeaux that compare.  You'd have to move into say, $40 or $50, which is the entry fee to Bordeaux these days.

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Reply by zufrieden, Mar 2, 2012.

OK, so we all agree that Bordeaux is overpriced and that wine - which at least in some instances may be interpreted as Veblenesque luxury items, is expensive.  It is easy to blame the Chinese or any other arrivistes  for this regretable development (I live in a community with a good headcount of that august race - many of whom I count among my best friends in this hostile world), but this attention to scoring (Parkeresque or otherwise) and hence Veblen-like conspicuous consumption is always going to attract the nouveau riche. (Side prediction: Parker is due for a comeuppance). 

I do not have the time to comment in detail, but the whole rotten edifice of pricing is indeed tied to fashion and one's place in the spotlight.  However, may I remind the disappointed of something.  Bordeaux remains special in certain respects; if you want to enjoy the fruits of this region avoid the so-called "bargains" of the super-seconds (at least two thread responses); look to the smaller producers who don't provide the two or three cases of juice to critics for favorable reviews (well, do it for crying out loud!)  Many of these wines are (in truly double-blind tastings) likely to equal wines up to ten times the price differential.

Finally, my compliments to the intellectual efforts of Foxall, Dmcker and GregT and others for their superior commentary.  My compliments!

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Reply by gregt, Mar 3, 2012.

Zuf - good point. There are some producers who put out decent wine at decent prices.They're the ones who are kind of screwed too. Their wines should be in wine bars and at shops and people should be picking those up and instead, because of the publicity over the top end, the average wine customer, especially the new wine customer, just doesn't look at Bordeaux.  You can go into many wine bars here in NYC and you don't see any Bordeaux offered. I suppose I shouldn't feel sorry for those producers actually - they went into or stayed in the business with open eyes, but the "system" is gamed in favor of the larger, more famous producers. And the little guys aren't helped by the fact that there is quite frankly, an ocean of crap coming out of Bordeaux.

I don't really blame anyone - not the Chinese or Russian oligarchs or any other arrivistes, or Parker, who could have had no idea what was going to happen when he started blogging. He was just a guy with a mimeograph machine. But people in the US wanted some help and he came along at the right time - an unpretentious small town guy telling people that yeah, this big name wine isn't really all that good. Things aren't that way any more, he's perhaps unwittingly morphed from Snowball to Napoleon and the followers are all chanting "four legs good, two legs better", but perhaps in a way that was inevitable.

People are weird.  I had a friend who managed one of the most prestigious wine stores in NYC.  He got a call from a well-known union president requesting that a case of some off-vintage bad Bordeaux be delivered right away for a dinner party that night.  He told the guy that the wine wasn't really all that good and he'd be better off getting something else more enjoyable (and coincidentally, more prole.)  The guy told him "you SOB, you're just trying to keep the wine for your other customers! Send me two cases!"  He wanted to buy the name. Just like people were supposed to do pre-RP. And of course today, with the two legged perspective, our esteemed critic isn't going to tell people yeah, this big name wine isn't really all that good, the name correlates to the scores.

Anyhow, D - my man was a curmudgeon eh?  Makes sense actually, as the observation he's most known for could only have come from a rather cynical sort.  I don't know much about him but I like him!

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Reply by JonDerry, Mar 3, 2012.

It's interesting too, that some of the surprise chateau on the Parker 100 list I just picked up a couple weeks ago for $45, and $50 (Clos Fourtet, Smith Haut Lafitte) respectively, for their 08's. The 2009 Clos Fourtet and SHL are also going for $119, which isn't really that bad for a Parker 100. 

Greg, I get what you're saying about people feeling it important to be associated with Bordeaux. To me, if one is in to wine, they should stay current with all of the major regions. Zuf, you make the point that i've been trying to around here, that there's actually other wines in Bordeaux other than the 30-40 highest in price, and plenty with fair values.

 

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 3, 2012.

Jon, visit that WineBerserker thread to see what they think of the Clos Fourtet and SHL. It's rather humorous...  ;-)

There's all sorts of interesting wine coming out of Bordeaux across the region, stretching from Entre Deux Mers down to the way-south. But whether it's the Leves or the Parkers or anyone else who wants to create a name for themselves in winewriting, and write something that the arrivistes can digest and keep coming back to, the cynic in me (and them) doubts you can create enough of the right attention writing about outliers and the more esoteric.

Best thing to do when you have the opportunity is go take a vacation over there and travel around eating and drinking. More than just a couple of days, if at all possible. This will change your viewpoint on a number of things, away from what American consumers are forcefed through mainstream winewriter hype, and how it might trickle down ultimately to shelftalkers and less freeminded wineshop proprietors (sorry, I just had a runin earlier today with a not-so-bright bulb behind the counter at a nearby shop here in Tokyo, who insisted on pushing a vanity blend the shopowner had made at Stagecoach in Napa, even though the blend was utterly disjointed crap and the petit verdot tannins in it wanted to strangle me at first swallow).

Am scheduled to have our monthly dinner tonight at that French maitre d's home with the Canadian friend, both whom I've mentioned before. We were scheduled to do Bordeaux tonight, but I'm thinking the subject of this thread has put me so much off my feed regarding it that instead we'll do sherry and rioja. Or maybe riesling, even though the Canadian only drinks reds and champers. Will decide as I trudge down to another wineshop to get some replacements. Wish they had a bunch of good Cornas or Barbaresco to challenge me in my choices....

Greg, apparently the Stanford faculty felt so, though they've usually tended in conservative directions:

"In 1906, he moved to Stanford University. He soon left, perhaps because of adultery, or because the faculty and administration distrusted a man they saw as a poor teacher, a nasty colleague and a political radical.[10]"

(from Wikipedia)

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Reply by JonDerry, Mar 3, 2012.

As I mentioned I didn't care for the SHL much at the UGC, but I understand Bordeaux isn't your favorite place these days. I'd recently spent a bunch of time learning the region (by book so to speak), and stocked up on a good 08' horizontal, and have found some good and cheap 09's, so it's a bit fresh for me, but as you allude, the wine world is huge.

Not sure about the Berserkers, but the CT forum seems fine. Leve of course started the thread over there on the Parker wines and is comically standing by Bob's scores.

Would love to travel there and taste the wines, but it will likely be a while with a little one on the way.

Have fun with the Rioja's tonight. Had a pretty good one last night, a CVNE 2001 Reserva...tannins were very fine, but still tightly wound, gave some nice sipping pleasure showing plums and roasted red peppers, but wished i'd waited another decade or so.

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Reply by gregt, Mar 3, 2012.

Hey good luck with the little one!  Congrats Jon!

And just in time to put away something from a good vintage!!!!

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 3, 2012.

Like them fine, Jon, that's the problem. In terms of larger-world wine education I teethed on them and still sit back with a sigh of satisfaction when I swallow a sip of an aged Latour, and many other wines from there with lesser cachet. That's why it's so annoying that what I used to drink fairly frequently have now become positional goods.

And definitely congratulations! Welcome to the biggest change in your life you're likely to encounter!! I took my daughters around to all sorts of places with me, even to wine country, when they were under five so you don't need to wait that long.  ;-)

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 4, 2012.

Boy, that's the first time anyone ever hijacked a thread AWAY from "What has Parker done to wine?"  And well deserved. JD.  I'll spring for a glass of well-priced bubbly (J Schram okay?) next time we get together.  I'll also give you my unsolicited advice on parenting.

Yeah, Veblen was a curmudgeon. Somehow anyone who gets human nature right turns out that way, at least in part. His views have, even at this date, proven much more valuable than those of his erstwhile Stanford colleagues--can you name one of them?  (Hint:  Kenneth Arrow wasn't even born when they ran Veblen out of Palo Alto.)  The accusations of adultery?  The guy was a slob and known for his disdain for conventional piety, not even paying lip service to it. It's kind of laughable that he would have been a magnet for women, but you never know. Dos Passos wrote about all that, too.

He and Bierce would have been  great additions here, but I think we have plenty of skeptics and curmudgeons and no shortage of good laughs.  Funny thing is that those piercers of ego had connections to Baltimore, just like Parker.  Now that would make for a funny parking lot meet-up.

Parker won't have a comeuppance--that blind tasting should have done it, IMO, and there have been books flailing away at him, but the markets need him.  Producers need him to move product, collectors and the noveau riche (or even vielle riche) to vindicate their choices. All of them operate in an area where simple enjoyers have wine no longer have a place.  Lament away, then buy some Rioja or Dunn or that Chappellet Mountain Cuvee.

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Reply by EMark, Mar 4, 2012.

Congratulations, Jon.

On the "Utterly Absurd" wine prices topic, I stumbled onto this List of 50 Most Expensive Wines at a site called Wine Searcher.   Following is their explanation of how the list was generated:

This page is a list of the top 50 most expensive wines of the world, based on the average prices across all vintages and all countries for a standard 750ml bottle. These prices are as at mid-2011.

To understand the factors which drive the prices of these fine wines, we recommend that you view our page explaining the dynamics behind wine prices and/or our wine investment pages.

The information on this page was extracted from our database of 5,062,809 wine offers from 32,682 wine store price lists.

 

  • The list is sorted by "Average Price" but the "Maximum Price" of each example is also listed.  They say that auction prices are ignored in their calculations, but some of these are truly unbelievable.

The list is POSITIVELY DOMINATED by samples from Burgundy.  Here are the exceptions to the Burgundys by my count:

  • 8 Bordeaux
  • 2 Napa Valley
  • 2 Barossa Valley
  • 3 Champagne
  • 1 Portugal -- Port
  • 1 Rheingau -- TBA

I don't know what this list proves, if anything.  Unfortunately, I will never be a source of usable  information on any of these wines.  Way above my pay scale.

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Reply by gregt, Mar 4, 2012.

All from Baltimore eh?  The things you learn. . .

I agree. The markets need someone to fill that space.  There's a lot of speculation as to what's going to happen post-RP, but I don't think there's going to be another, just like there's not going to be another Johnny Carson. They arrived at particular moments in time that aren't likely to be repeated. At this point, there are many many many consumers who are as knowlegable about various regions as many, or even most, wine writers. That was largely the problem with Mr. Miller and Spain. So instead of the dozen or so writers who used to attend the Bordeaux premier campaign, there are now hundreds from all over the world. In addition, the market has fragmented a lot because there are so many more choices than there were.  So I suspect that what's going to happen is what has happened, which is the "name" Bordeaux producers will command top-tier pricing, very much as things were before RP.

Giac - you asked about Galloni.  Parker said he would be the one to take over the publication when the day comes that he can't handle it any longer himself.  Can't get more highly recommended than that I guess, but that's what I was talking about above.  He has no real credibility in CA and there are many people who know the wines better and who've been drinking them longer.  Greg DP for example. That does NOT mean Antonio can't become a very good critic because he certainly can. He works hard and he's dedicated.  It just means that he won't likely wield the same influence.  In 1980, very few Americans were drinking wine and they were looking for general guidance. Today, Napa is so popular it's a tourist destination. So unlike say, the Wine Spectator, where people who care know the name of the critics but for the general public, it's a faceless publication, the Wine Advocate is really identified closely with a single man.  That's why the market moved when he released his scores, but it's also why I don't believe the publication has an independent life at the same level once he departs.

But then, if you were doing what you loved and you had thousands of fans around the world, would you even be thinking about retiring?

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Reply by JonDerry, Mar 4, 2012.

Thanks Guys,

Fox - J Schram sounds a-ok, how's that early April date looking for you to visit us in LA?

Mark, that was a good idea to check wine-searcher for the most expensive wines. I'm sure Masseto from Italy was up there somewhere in the top 15 or so.

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Reply by Giacomo Pevere, Mar 4, 2012.

I don't think Galloni can replace Parker and his reputation about CA (but Galloni is right now the WA responsible of California, Burgundry, Champagne and Italy) and Bordeaux Greg but if he will become the chief probably, like every chief editor do, he will put his hands on, show the line to follow for his collaborators and probably (i hope) we will see some changes, never hidden his love for a much more "old style" wines (give 100pts to Monfortino 2004). Probably that will not change so much prices but just ratings, in any case it will be interesting to see what happens...

 

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Reply by shsim, Mar 4, 2012.

Congratulations Jon!

Emark, I went to check out the top 50 list and did you see the maximum price on Chateau Lafite-Rothchild?  11k for a one ounce pour anyone?

 

 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 5, 2012.

shsim, that's a great way to put it.  $11k for a one oz pour, indeed--if you have to limit yourself to a 1 oz pour, I guess you can't really afford it.

I should have mentioned that I agree with GregT wholeheartedly that there's lakes of crap going around as Bordeaux and, from what I've tasted from Burgundy, same holds true there, albeit from a smaller pond.  I'm probably never going to buy a lot of wines from either place because I no longer will buy them without tasting them first.  I do take the occasional flyer when I'm at a restaurant with a good BTG program, because even if I have a crappy $15+ glass of wine, I don't feel quite as abused--I just switch with the next glass. But a younger version of me without the resources I have now wouldn't take the same chances.  (Not that I have a ton of resources, certainly not enough for even a pour of $2k wine, but I'm long done paying for my own schooling, at least.) It's hard to hook young people when the wines in their price range are unexciting and sometimes just kind of bad.  And that's where it's got with Bord and Burg, I fear.

Veblen's connection to Baltimore is that he attended Hopkins--but he also bounced around a bit even while getting his degrees.  I'll claim him for his Cornell roots.  By birth, a Wisconsonite--over near GregT's home state, or part of it.

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Reply by BrugmanRose, Mar 5, 2012.

I was in the business when the Japanese came into France and bought every older vintage of Bordeaux and Burgundy they could buy this was in the early 70’s and prices went crazy. If I could take all of you back to that time, I think many of you would be sharing the same thoughts ( root wise ).

I can tell you the Bubble in China is exactly that. If any one remembers the history of trading railroad stock in the 1880 to 1914 you will understand my meaning. For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about lets simply say that various money men purchased and sold railroads like flipping houses. Rumors were all over the place and the rich just kept getting richer while the railroad stock itself ( the freight and passenger cars fell apart and the rail beds and rails themselves were severely ignored.)

 

Finally individual railroads became so decrepit that repairing them to bring them back to a sense of safety and any form of profitability  made no sense and so many spurs and short runs  were basically abandoned. This happened because there were no rules against rumors and false stories to enforce and speculators ran amuck.  I have a good bit of history trading with China going back to the late 70’s and so when I say that what is going on in china is nothing more than a river in flood stage. Either the government gets control of speculation and pricing or you will see civil war within the difference provinces. When either case happens the money for Bordeaux from China will be hard to find and if you were in Shanghais or Honk Kong today, I would advise you to make connections with the collectors of Bordeaux and assure them that if they sell to you early enough they can unload their stock before the bottom falls out and the government or civil authorizes at the time, take control of the inventory with little consideration given.

Honestly people, many of you posted good comments but I think your concern is off base. I am not a speculator in wines and find little reason to do so given the nature of the people in the trade. I am a drinker of wine and I find drinking well balanced wines of around $10 to $15 quite nice thank you. I have been drinking French wines since 1954 in grammar school and find nothing in the mix that would encourage me to drink a four year old Cabernet Sauvignon from California at a price of $50.00. The flavor is just not worth the experience.  I feel the same about all over prices wines. Let them roll on, I always manage to find an enjoyable bottle somewhere and the label has little to do with my experience with the wine. Bon Appétit

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Reply by JonDerry, Mar 5, 2012.

Fox, i'm still a believer in cheaper bordeaux bought in good vintages, of course it helps to be judicious and maybe stock up to ride out some not so good years. As for burgs, I have no idea but can feel your pain in not finding much on the low end.

Interesting post Brugman, I may find myself looking back on my life and wishing I'd stuck to your exclusive $10-15 method of drinking/enjoying wine. It's funny, the first wine that got me started on this kick was in that price range (1999 Rodney Strong, Cabernet Sauvignon). I'm sure it had plenty of tasty fruit, but I remember it having some explosiveness to it also. Then, as I read more about the great wines out there, the more I was motivated to taste some of the best and see what was out there. Then, the 2nd epiphany happened, ironically when tasting one of the many Parker 100's. Now I try to find a mix of wines I can enjoy with un-initiated company or by myself on the lower price range, and then plot those higher end bottles to collect and look forward to on appropriate occasions.



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