Paying the Cost to be the Boss

In the world of wine there is something for everyone. The shelves of wine stores are generally chalk full of great values for the everyday wine buyer (or blog writer) who doesn’t want to break the bank for their Thursday night Pizza wine. And while there is plenty of choice on the affordable end of the scale there also exists the other end of the scale where affluent buyers can spend more on a bottle of wine than my first car (a 1991 Pontiac Grand Prix…not pretty but it did the trick). People are often blown away when I recount some of the sales I have seen to wine collectors in the tens of thousands of dollars. Our most expensive bottle of wine at Bin 905 Wine & Spirits is a double magnum (3 litres) of 1998 Dal Forno Amarone with a shelf price of $2800.00 and the price tag never fails to turn the heads of those passing by.

The skyrocketing price tags on so-called “cult wines” in recent years has sparked quite the debate in the wine world. Although many of the top wines in the world are made in extremely small quantities with a great deal of care and attention, at what point on the scale is the price of a wine driven not simply by the quality of the juice in the bottle but by media, marketing and hype?

There are several factors that can rocket a wine into the monetary stratosphere, but by far the most common is a high rating from a wine critic. The two most influential sources in terms of wine ratings and reviews are Wine Spectator magazine and Robert Parkers Wine Advocate. Both of these publications have critics who score wines on a hundred point scale. If a wine scores a perfect 100 points from either source you can bet your pet dog that the price will go crazy. I have seen wines double or even triple from one vintage to the next when the new release receives a perfect score. Robert Parker is so powerful that historically when the new wines from Bordeaux are released each year they wait for his reviews to set the price…madness.

This whole debate came to a head last week at a tasting I was conducting at Bin 905 Wine & Spirits entitled “Iconic Italian Merlot”. In the past twenty years or so a new wave of wines has emerged from Italy under the Super-Tuscan label. These are wines that use international grape varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah instead of the traditional Italian grapes. Many of these new wave Tuscan wines almost immediately garnered cult status. Names such as Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Tignanello, etc. were commanding higher prices than wines from long-established areas such as Brunello di Montalcino. Of all these Super Tuscan wines however, it was a small wave of 100% Merlot wines that made the biggest splash. The tasting featured many of the most iconic of these, including Le Macchiole Messorio, Ornellaia Masseto and Tua Rita Redigaffi most have which have scored a perfect 100 points at least once. These are very small production, true cult wines that are almost impossible to find, even in Italy! The tasting featured 7 wines ranging in price from $155 to $400. I squirreled away wines for a whole year to make this tasting happen for the good of the wine community…and for the chance to taste these wines myself. Why am I so selfless?

Anyway as it turns out the tasting garnered so much attention we had Paolo de Marchi, proprietor and winemaker at the great Tuscan winery Isole e Olena, sit in on the tasting. Needless to say I was sweating a bit conducting the tasting, but it keeps me on my toes. The price debate started as soon as we got to the second wine, the 2003 Tua Rita Redigaffi (retail price $260.00). The wine was showing a bit closed and was fiercely tannic causing many in the group to voice their discontent with the wine.  There were some in the group that felt any time you were paying over $50 for a bottle of wine you were simply paying for hype. There were others in the group that had rather large wine collections including many of the “cult” wines included in the tasting and obviously felt the high prices were justified. Oh boy!

Ultimately none of this really concerns me as much because I couldn’t afford those wines even if I wanted too. I will admit that the wines in the tasting were delicious, especially the 2004 Messorio (scored a perfect 100 points from Wine Spectator) which was my favourite. The wine was breathtaking, with a complexity that was seemingly impossible and notes ranging from blackberry, cinnamon, olive, fresh earth, grilled meat, vanilla, clove and much more that could have kept me captivated for hours. But, if I was given $400 to spend on wine would I rather have one bottle of Messorio or Ten outstanding $40.00 bottles…we’ll have to wait until someone gives me 400 bucks to find out!

It was great having Paolo de Marchi at the tasting and after we had tasted through all of the Merlot we grabbed one of his wines off the shelf, the 2004 Isole e Olena Syrah. This was mind blowing and a truly unique expression of Syrah. At $66.00 this was almost a third of the price of the least expensive wine at the tasting and as such sparked even more debate about price. My head was spinning at this point to say the least (and not because I was wasted…) and I was content to tune out the discussion and just enjoy the amazing wines in front of me.

In the end the argument of price isn’t going away any time soon. I guess ultimately like any commodity in a free market a bottle of wine is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. There will be those who continue to pay exorbitant prices for wines because they love them and those who pay the prices to have a trophy sitting on their dinner table or in their cellar. In the end we should all just continue to drink what we like, in a price point that’s comfortable…whatever that might be.

Cheers,

Jesse

PS. For those interested here was the line-up of wines from the tasting:

2002 Feudi di San Gregorio Patrimo – $153.00

2003 Tua Rita Redigaffi – $260.00

2006 Fattoria Petrolo Galatrona – $163.00

2001 Le Macchiole Messorio – $260.00

2004 Le Macchiole Messorio – $400.00

2002 Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia Masseto – $200.00

2005 Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia Masseto – $380.00

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  1. Pingback: 2009 Year in Review « Vine Arts: Wine made simple

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