Somm In The City – A Lament for my Vintage



I was born in the wrong vintage. Not for drinking, but rather for collecting.

Wines have never been more clean, stable and abundant than they are now. But the fundamentals, the classics, the benchmark wines are simply way out of my price range these days. That was not always the case.

With the official inclusion of the BYOB (corkage) in the BC restaurant world last year, I have had the opportunity to taste some of the world’s finest wines, properly cellared by our guests. And time and time again I am told that they cost a fraction of what they do now.

Krug Non Vintage for $5 a bottle? Apparently the bottle I opened last week was purchased in Alberta for that price in the 70’s.

Piper-Heidsieck Rare for $50? No problem.

Bordeaux and Burgundy? Lets just say that Rousseau Pere et Fils Chambertin Clos-de-Beze Grand Cru was at one time actually affordable and available!

Yes, it’s certainly not as easy or affordable to buy these wines today; wines that have the advantage of science and technology and benefit from winemakers that have been around the world a few times. The wines being made today are certainly different from the wines made even 10 or 15 years ago.

I once heard that in order to fully know a wine, you must drink a case of it. Who can afford case of 2010 Chateau Palmer, with the current BC price of $580 a bottle!?  Is the wine better? Will the wine taste as great in 15 years as the 1995 does now? Considering the changes that have happened in the winery and the advances in viticulture, I expect it will. But in 1997, that bottle I opened last month in the restaurant was purchased for $65!

OK sure, there are little things like inflation and supply and demand to help the Chateaus justify their price increase, but I will never have the authority to say for sure what a bottle of 2010 Palmer tastes like when I might only be able to purchase a single bottle – maybe. And the people that have bought cases of wines from their favourite chateaus in Bordeaux and domaines in Burgundy are are becoming few and far between. Who will be the new authority in wine tasting? Sure, Robert Parker has an impressive catalogue of tasting notes, but what will happen in 20 years time when I, or my children, want to know what a wine tastes like? Who will buy these wines and share their notes and experiences with the new wine drinker?

Wine used to be bought for an intended purpose – for pleasure and for sharing. Now wine is bought more and more as an investment. Some reports suggest it should be at least 10% of your portfolio. With a return of more than 100% in less than 20 years who can blame anyone for wanting to stock up the cellar? Will the prices continue to go up? It certainly appears that way. Emerging markets such as China and Russia are used as explanations for the rising price of wine, while India and Brazil’s middle classes will soon have the wherewithal to buy wine for investments or pleasure, or both.

As a passionate wine lover, I have to hope that they collect the wines for pleasure, to share and learn and experience. I also hope that they hold on to them for 10 or more years as many of the wines that end up in the growing markets are drunk too young and are not fully understood or drunk at the right time. These are benchmark wines for a reason, and great wines from all around the world have tried to emulate them. I would like my vintage, and future vintages to have the opportunity to experience them as well.

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