Vintage Wisdom: Tips on Filling the Stellar Cellar
At Drink Better Wine, we’re in the business of helping clients obtain wines and spirits that will blow them away. We specialize in labels that represent the fruit of a time and a place, created by artisans blending tradition and technique. But every day we deal in a reality straight out of Dickens – it’s the best of times and the worst of times for the wine collector. The wine press (paper and cyber) brings every corner of the wine world to our consciousness: on the acquisition front, websites abound, wine retailers are everywhere, and – at least in our corner of the universe – even grocery stores have an obligatory wine department. But the frustrating irony of the new wine world is that just as we have so much information, and so many possibilities tempt us, the same forces affecting nearly every industry have permeated our quest for new beverage experiences.
Even the seasoned wine lover has to look bewilderingly at the hundreds of racked bottles at the wine superstore, or the dozens of pages on the corporate online shopping cart. As international conglomerates snap up every successful label, state wholesalers tighten their stranglehold on what can be legally sold in each state, and they will choose what can most easily be mass-marketed and resupplied. The result: just about every bottle you see on the supermarket shelf represents hundreds of thousands of cases in production.
If you want to enjoy wine and spirits the way the best artisans make them in miniscule quantities, loyal to their home soil and climate and crafted to bring out the finest nuances over many years, devoid of shortcut chemicals and processes, getting your hands on them can be pretty tricky. That’s what Drink Better Wine, and this blog, is all about. We use only suppliers that purchase directly from independent producers making tiny batches (from a few dozen to a couple thousand cases) of craft wines and spirits using safe and natural components and methodologies.
Occupy Napa Valley? I guess consolidation and corporatization can be expected throughout the hills of California, but these days it’s hard to find an old line independent family producer of Bordeaux or Burgundy, Rioja or the Rheinhessen. You can’t blame a struggling winemaker for selling his fermented soul for economic security and the promise of great prosperity, but it means that those who persevere making wines the way they are called to do – instead of what corporate marketing teams dictate – should be supported and rewarded for their dedication, their courage and their risk.
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2005 Bordeaux – Right Bank (extreme) Rarities The 2005 vintage was terrific all over France, but some very famous wine writers were late to the party. Vintage number ratings (and some individual label ratings) are often adjusted over time by the more conscientious wine experts, and 2005s have been maturing much better than anticipated. Bordeaux in particular can be subject to revisiting, as many breathless initial reports are based on barrel samples that can be quite different from the bottle you open many years later. Unfortunately, commodity pricing of prominent Bordeaux upon release can result in overcharging at the bottle, often measured in hundreds of dollars. This is an argument for the virtues of buying older vintages where hopefully the market has wielded some pricing justice, but the market can quickly be empty of those vintages.
Likewise you can find serious bargains in underrated labels, and downright steals in little-known ones. As it happens, our dedication to limited-production, artisan wines puts us in the enviable position to frequently obtain tremendous deals on wines unavailable anywhere else, at prices contracted before the hype. As the 2005s are nearly gone in many categories, we are fortunate to offer two 2005 Right Bank Bordeaux, the ones that traditionally take so long to mature they tell you to buy them for your kids. The ideal conditions of 2005 has made these treasures far more accessible much earlier than usual, as reflected in constant upgrades in popular Vintage Ratings.
Wine Guru Robert Parker now rates 2005 Pomerol a “95,” and St Emilion a “99.” Our two 2005 Bordeaux offerings aren’t famous, partly because the estate names are nearly unpronounceable even for French wines, and partly because the Pomerol has a production of only 2000 cases, the St Emilion under 1000 cases. Here are the thumbnail specs: 2005 Chateau Petit Frombrauge Pomerol ($70) a 17th Century estate originally a monastery, one of the oldest properties in the oldest district of Bordeaux. Oddly, it’s considered an up-and-coming operation! Merlot with some Cabernet Franc in different amounts each vintage.
2005 Vieux Chateau Ferron St Emilion ($53), named for the iron content in the soil. To the usual Merlot, It adds 5% each Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, both mostly for aromatics, all from minimum 40-year-old vines. This is old-time winemaking at its best, including fining with egg whites, aged 18 months in oak, based on constant monitoring of each individual barrel as it matures.
Both of these wines should have at this point 1-2 hours of decanting, and honestly exact flavors are difficult to predict. Both are big, powerful, tannic wines that let loose many flavors as they open – the St Emilion more red cassis, the Pomerol more vanilla, but it’s so much more. We suggest taking this rare opportunity to compare two hand-made masterpieces from a great year in the most famous wine region on earth, and enough to cellar for tasting a bit of local Bordeaux history years from now!
Drink Better Wine Team