Expensive wine surrounds us all year-long but in the 30 plus days leading up to Christmas the concentration multiplies. As the shopping days tick down, it seems as though we are inundated by an omnipresent $50-plus crowd. Do these wines have any effect on your life? Do you consider forking out half a yard or two, on yourself or for someone you (sort of) love? Are the jet-setting, usual suspects really worth considering?
In certain cases the answer is yes, but just because some wines are expensive, for a complex variety of reasons, does not make them either good or bad in a decidedly black or white sense. Many outrageously expensive wines are simply awesome bottles of fermented grapes while others are nothing special. High prices can be a reflection of designer labelling and marketing, while others are the summation of genius created by greatness and art. Sometimes it’s just a matter of economics.
I’m going to borrow a hypothesis from my WineAlign colleague John Szabo to illustrate the point. You go to a juice bar. The smoothie or vegan fruit and grass concoction cost not much more than a few dimes to produce. The expertise required came as a result of a half hour’s worth of learning and training. The machine costs a few hundred bucks. And you paid $8.95 for the beverage.
Wine grapes grow on vines that might be as old as 100 years, tended by a farmer far away who was paid a dollar or two for a kilo of his fruit. The vigneron spent perhaps the first 30 days slaving over the initial maceration and fermentation of that fruit and followed that up with at least a year (and in some cases five) to nurture the wine into becoming something special. The bottle and the cork cost another dollar or two and the shipping charges add at least another two again. Then there were the middle men involved; negociants, wholesalers, distributors, agents, retailers and monopolies. That wine might sell for anywhere from $9 to $20 in the Canadian market. And you don’t want to pay $20 for a decent bottle of wine?
Now imagine the fruit coming from some of the most expensive real estate on the planet and processed by the best equipment that money can buy for making wine. Then it is handled by experts in the transportation, selling and marketing fields. You can see how $20 quickly becomes $50 and so on. Don’t misunderstand me. Many wines are ridiculously overpriced. Many are the by-products of marketing juggernauts. It is important to understand, however, that many high-priced wines are deserving of their tags. The margins are not as inflated as you might want to believe.
Iconic wines are always a good buy for someone, but vintages determine when their purchase is the way to go for others. Varied and direct opinion of conceit is rarely witnessed with such certainty as there is found in the world of wine. “I speak therefore it is,” or “I think therefore I am” are two truisms that ring with pomp and circumstance in the world of winemakers, sommeliers and writers. Being sure about everything goes a long way towards determining careers and fortunes.
So, for the first time in this sketch of wine stuff I am offering up a list of high-priced wines that I may or may not be recommending. They are all household names in the world of iconic wine. Some are “best of” vintages while others are head scratches as to why anyone would spend such money on their wood or their contrivance. You are the one to judge. Here are 10 expensive releases from VINTAGES for November 28th, as usual, prodigal in their return in time for the holidays.
Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2010, Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy (431718, $56.95, WineAlign)
The fruit in 2010 is jam-packed, sealed in freshness and blessed with the unmistakeable Colombini soil funk. I first tasted this ’10 alongside 2007 and 2008. The dew, bloom and vigor hangs on a line threaded through each vintage. The 2010 stands alone for its poetic perfume. The flowers of Montalcino, along with the burst buds of herbs on the hills. This vintage pours a generous cup of Montalcino mountain tea. Smoky, opaque and of a proprietary liqueur thick and distilled, the level of animale is right there too. With so much aromatic potpourri the wine’s trotters scramble and ascend with a juggernaut of complexity. Beautiful Brunello with so much tradition running through its fast forward veins. It must of course be laid aside for a few years to really get it. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted April and November 2015 @ @ @
Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013, Ac Rhone, France (711317, $89.95, WineAlign)
Kistler Les Noisetiers Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, California (251223, $99.95, WineAlign)
A tremendous vintage for Les Noisetiers, cared for, tendered and placated by a clarity in hands-off winemaking. Deeply ingrained from juice maximized out of overloaded sensory sunshine and the choice to let sleeping fruit dogs lie. Possessive of an almond bitter bar not bitten into before and overlaid by lacy organza, a mild sheath overtop of purposed, wild fermented fruit, a lightly toasted barrel slumber and richness beyond the horizon. All in style of west coast Chardonnay, though simply prepared with the freshest local ingredients, with stony lactic lees texture and subtle spice. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted November 2015 @ @
Antinori Guado Al Tasso 2012, Doc Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (986380, $104.95, WineAlign)
Deep, dark, rich and handsome, a thick red duke of aggressive, conceited, unctuous behaviour. Such tannin and aggression is not so much rarely seen as not always a factor provided by expatriate Cabernet Sauvignon. The dense and massive ferric monster exercises in many, thorough magnanimous machinations. Such a beast. It’s big and it’s good. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted November 2015 @ @
Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2007, Doc Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy (986117, $104.95, WineAlign)
Here Quintarelli takes it to a new level, away from rusticity and into modernity, though it remembers every step along the historical way. Liquid caramel and red fruit meld into such sweet earth it feels as though the vineyard is right here and now. Some tobacco but just a puff, so much impression, cure without aridity and natural feel without an orange juicing. Intensity and acidity to take it 30 years. Amongst the best ever? No question it must be considered. Impossible to know. Drink 2015-2047. Tasted November 2015 @
Luce Della Vite Luce 2012, Igt Toscana, Italy (685263, $114.95, WineAlign)
There can be no denying the density and wealth of flavour. Equally so the solid foundation and unwavering structure is the result of a winemaker’s ability to construct such a formidable pillar of strength. It can be imagined that this Luce will go ten years before budging into evolution even a single iota. It is a beast of fruit, barrel and tannin but more than anything else, oak. As shaken as a creamy, milky, anglaise cappuccino as there ever was or will be. Lots of spice from that oak. A designer label wine made with the finest materials. It really doesn’t matter when it is opened, now or in 15 years. It will take that long before it will begin to change. That is because the sum of its parts happen to be over the top. Drink 2015-2030. Tasted November 2015 @ @ @
Sassicaia 2012, Doc Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy (480533, $199.95, WineAlign)
Every once in a while an iconic leader of Tuscan wine feudalism takes a step back from its military rule and offers to feed both the army and its people. In 2012 Sassicaia is restrained, giving, generous and empathetic. The fruit is certainly ripe, as are the tannins and structurally speaking this has the layers, the soft libido and the desire to please like never before. Sassicaia for the people, like it may have once been, a king of the classes and for the masses. Not in price mind you, but you can’t have everything. Drink 2018-2038. Tasted November 2015 @
Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 2012, Doc Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (722470, $195.50, WineAlign)
Takes the purity of 2011, furthers the integration and mimics the precision, then pumps up the volume. Takes a breath and then, with soluble efficiency it refines the intricately woven lines a few steps furtrher, if that is even possible. I will say that the tannins are a bit tougher in ’12, with a tight string wound depressively around the fruit’s long and elegant tendrils. Fruit is the determinate factor, pure, blossoming and fragrant. It adds up to a consensus of one thought, that this vintage is yet another legend in the making, a fine and linear Ornellaia that should travel 30 plus years, perhaps longer. What liqueur, such botanicals and endless valleys passing through fertile hills. Drink 2019-2045. Tasted November 2015 @ @ @
Antinori Solaia 2011, Igt Toscana, Italy (987586, $249.95, WineAlign)
Shows off the typically cured and seemingly advanced notes that Solaia always seems to display, whether the vintage purposed days of heat or nights of cold. A wine that seems immune from vintage variation, with fresh and dried fruit shacking up together. In 2011 Solaia is extremely rich, aggressive with acidity and yet with moderate tannins for five years of development, but not much more. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted November 2015 @ @
Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012, Napa Valley, California (710400, $299.95, WineAlign)
The 2012 Insignia had me at first whiff. At first sip I could not be reached. Massive aromatics blast from this formidable Insignia, clearly noted with immediate clarity as a proprietary blend for the ages. The current torrent is so plugged in and highly climatic, like a visibly sparking conduit, storm and fire all wrapped into one electric happening. The peaks, valleys, waves and intonations are bred of perfectly ripe fruit sets traveling as one in perfect syncopation. The ripe, chain-link tannins will take this very, very far. This is as fine a California wine as I have ever tasted. Drink 2018-2045. Tasted November 2015 @ @ @
Good to go!
WineAlign: Michael Godel