I was struggling a bit about what to write about this week, the last real week of summer. But then I was dropping some wine off with Lyle, one of the members of my wine club, and we got to talking about the price of wine – and I had a topic!
But not just the price. I have done that before, and didn’t feel like just venting again. Instead, it is about what you expect to get…for the price you pay!
The conversation started around the release of a whole bunch of $60 BC wines, but it quickly expanded beyond that to all wine. And the key question was – what do you expect from an expensive wine, and how do you know you will get it?
Expectations are relative, of course, just like taste and style. But – in general – I think it is fair to say that the more money you pay for a bottle of wine (or anything, for that matter), the more you expect to get.
But with wine, what exactly is that?
Some people say “quality”. But what does that mean? And how do you judge the difference in quality between a $25, $60, or $600 bottle of wine?
Well, here are a few thoughts.
First of all, if it is a newly released vintage, I don’t think – personally – that “quality” should be about how good the wine is now. If the wine is made to drink right away, or over the next few years, there are way too many options to justify paying extravagant sums for it. The difference in quality just isn’t there.
So that brings us to a wine’s potential, which means what it will taste like after it ages. And that, I think, is a legitimate argument.
If you buy a wine that is, say, $50 now, but in 10 – 20 years will develop into something special, then I think that merits a higher price. Even if you just factor in inflation, the cost of that same wine will be more expensive then. And in restaurants – if they cellar it that long – the cost will be up to ten times more expensive.
But how do you know it will taste that much better in 10 – 20 years? Usually, for wine dweebs like me, that means the tannins (in red wines) will have softened, but the fruit will still be there, so there will be this wonderful mix of fruit, herbs, wood and other aromas and flavours. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, Barbaresco, Hermitage, Chateauneuf du Pape, Rioja…those are all wines that offer that promise. And that’s why you will pay $50+ a bottle when the wine is young…because it will hopefully taste like a thousand dollar wine when it is mature (which is probably what it will cost).
That still leaves the question, however, of how you will know what the wine you spend $50, $60 or even $100 now will taste like that 10 – 20 + years in the future?
That, my friends, is a skill that few people develop, and even fewer get a chance to try out (given how expensive it can be to taste many different $50 wines years before they are ready).
While I don’t claim to have the skill, I do know one piece to the puzzle – the wine must have enough fruit when it is young. Because if it doesn’t, it is not going to find anymore 10 – 20 + years from now.
That, frankly, is my problem with Bordeaux, and the blends from other countries like that. They can be searingly tannic when young, and the fruit very hard to find. So how do you know it will be there in the future?
But at least Bordeaux has a reputation to build on! My bigger peeve is BC wineries making that style of wine that have no track record to back it up. Why should I spend $60 or more on a BC wine when – as one winemaker I met said – “we don’t know what it will taste like in 10 to 15 years.”?
So where am I going with all of this?
Well, if you like old wine (another subject in its own right), then go slowly, and develop a taste based on experience. For me, I have been drinking certain Chateauneuf du Papes and Barbarescos for over 15 years now and know not just how they age, but what they taste like in 10 – 15 years. So if I am going to make a $50+ purchase (which is still rare), I am pretty confident of what I will be getting.
But I won’t take that chance with some new winemaker – in BC or elsewhere. What was the line from that movie…”show me the money”? Well, “show me the old wine”…then maybe I will pay for it when it is young!