(Robert Whitley is the publisher and managing partner of wine website Wine Review Online www.winereviewonline.com and the host of an online radio show "Whitley on Wine." He also oversees several international wine competition. The opinions expressed are his own.)
By Robert Whitley
NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - As the prices trickled out for the first tranche of the 2009 Bordeaux vintage being sold en primeurs, there was shock and awe.
They had doubled and, in some cases, tripled what had been asked for the vintages of 2007 and 2008. They were higher, in fact, than the great vintage of 2005. It was enough to make grown men weep.
Of course the speculators swept in (these are the folks who buy now, regardless of price, with the expectation they will someday sell the stars of the vintage at auction for a handsome profit) while ordinary wine collectors (these are the folks who buy Bordeaux to slowly age it in their cellars with the expectation they will someday drink something positively exquisite) were left to pound sand and ponder the high cost of a passion for the grape.
I am so over the 2009 vintage of Bordeaux, and I have a plan, which I am more than happy to share.
Much as I love Bordeaux and recognize that it is the foundation of many a spectacular wine cellar, including my own, I also know it is not the only wine worthy of such devotion.
There are other wines, many others, that mature to greatness when cellared properly, and cost a fraction of the asking price for top-tier 2009 Bordeaux.
Let the tour begin! ITALY
Barolo & Barbaresco are the twin icons of northern Italy’s Piedmont region. They are both 100 percent Nebbiolo and renowned for their longevity. At maturity they are among the most elegant and complex red wines in the world.
In a good vintage, a decade or more in the cellar is optimum. They are generally light in color and tannic when young, making them unattractive and difficult to assess upon release. With time, however, the top wines from the best vintages are nothing short of glorious.
Brunello di Montalcino, from southern Tuscany’s Montalcino district, rivals Barolo and Barbaresco for supremacy among the noble red wines of Italy. Produced from 100 percent Sangiovese, Brunello devastates the conventional wisdom that Sangiovese won’t age.
The finest are in remarkably good condition even after 20 or 30 years. Most never last that long because they are infinitely more drinkable when young than Piedmont’s Nebbiolo-based reds. Though the riservas are clearly the better wines, in good vintages “normale” Brunellos can be equally rewarding.
Southern Italy’s Aglianico is a tricky collectible. While the great Aglianico del Vulture wines of Basilicata and the legendary Aglianico-based wines of Campania are among the finest reds produced in all of Italy, they can be rustic and take years to come around, if at all. Buy only from the top producers, or the producers you know.
Super Tuscans are Italy’s answer to Bordeaux, for many of the best are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, only occasionally with a bit of Sangiovese for spice. If Tuscany weren’t the finest terroir in the world for Sangiovese, there would be much more Cabernet and Merlot planted than there is because both grapes thrive in the warm, dry, hilly conditions of central Italy. The greatest Super Tuscans are as good as any wine made anywhere and, though expensive, cheap by the standards of collectible Bordeaux.
Champagne isn’t often thought of as a collector’s wine, and that’s truly a shame. Good vintage Champagne, and certainly tetes de cuvee Champagne, is capable of great longevity. Not long ago I enjoyed a perfectly sound bottle of the 1964 Dom Perignon. All of the top Champagne houses produce bubbles that won’t disappoint after a decade or more in the cellar.
Premier Cru Burgundy, both red and white, also make solid wine investments. Though much less expensive than the Grand Crus, Premier Cru whites from Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet are stellar wines that can improve for up to 15 to 20 years in a temperature-controlled cellar. Premier Cru reds from less well-regarded villages such as Monthelie and Volnay can achieve greatness as well as the more famous villages, but at a fraction of the cost.
Hermitage, Cote-Rotie and Cornas in the northern Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhone are famous for their long-lived reds, and rightly so. It has only been over the past 20 years that the world has come to notice and respect the wines of the Rhone Valley, but they are now revered.
The wines of the north are Syrah-based and take longer to come around, while the wines of the south tend to be blends that reflect the sunshine of the Mediterranean, meaning they are rounder and riper and easier to consume when young.
Ribera del Duero & Rioja are, at this point, the most collectible of Spanish reds, though Toro may soon join that group. I am skeptical about Priorat because I doubt the Garnacha-based reds of the region, which are now all the rage, will stand the test of time. I am open to that possibility, but today would focus on the tried and true icons of Ribera del Duero and Rioja.
Before you do a big yawn on the idea of collecting Rioja, consider the new energy that permeates the region and the steady string of remarkable vintages pouring forth from a new generation of Rioja winemakers committed to modernity.
Although any collector’s focus would naturally be on the Cabernet Sauvignons of the Napa Valley and possibly Pinot Noirs from Oregon and the California coast (primarily the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations), Australia’s Barossa Valley and Margaret River regions no doubt deserve attention for their Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, respectively.
Though Argentina and Chile are coming on strong with a number of very elegant, refined reds, neither country has yet attained the status that would titillate most collectors. But that’s probably only a matter of time.
Vintage Port remains a staple of many collections and the wines are a bargain relative to the price of a comparable Bordeaux. It’s not cheap, but it’s not insane, either.
Reporting by Robert Whitley at email@example.com, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith