Friday, February 11, 2011

Welcome to the good old days!

Things change. You always hear stories about how great things were in the past. First Growth Bordeaux was $15 a bottle, Cotes du Rhones were $6, great Chianti was $10.... some of that is true. At a wine shop in which I worked in the mid-80's, we sold a nice Petit Chateau Bordeaux for $3.99, this for a classified, respectable everyday bottle of red, not some bulk jug wine. Of course Burgundy always seems to be the holy grail, and prices for good Burgundy have always been on the higher part of the curve at any time in the market. I'm looking at a wine catalog from 1997 and the prices for village Gevrey-Chambertin are in the $40 dollar range, a Premier Cru at that time would cost you around $60. Given that context, 14 years ago, that's a pricey bottle of wine. Even so, look closely and prices have increased, but not all that much.

What has changed, for the better, is quality and consistency. Shopping for affordable red Burgundy in the past was like rollerblading in a minefield. Yet, the experience of having superb pinot noir was so thrilling that for most wine lovers it was worth the risk. If gymnastics can be an apt analogy for wine, then red Burgundy is like trying to walk on a balance beam. The beam is so narrow, the aromas and flavors of pinot noir having to be so precise as to deliver expression and true varietal character that it's hard to stay on the beam. Wobble and fall of one side and you're in "overpriced, austere stingyland", fall off the other side and you're in "juicy, flabby, jammy I-don't-taste-like-pinotland". Only red Burgundy could accomplish this, and even today it's much the same. The wine world knows this, wine merchants are always advising customers that you have to be very picky and that there's a lot more bang for the buck if you look elsewhere. These conditions not only keep prices high, but a lot of winemakers rest on their laurels, making mediocre wine and knowing that there are customers who will still pay for it. Typically if you found a wine that had the "goods", you'd run around the city purchasing bottles at various wine shops, trying to relive the elusive experience.

In the last few years of buying wine for the store, we would jump for joy when we found a quality red Burgundy that we could sell for under $20 . We would excitedly show these wines to our customers and they responded with the wines selling very well. These wines are often a basic wine from a good producer with the vines being near a famous village, categorized "Bourgogne", or a wine from a lesser known area like "Givry", "Irancy", or "Auxerre". These wines have always been hard to find.

What has seemingly changed is that recently we are finding a lot more of these affordable Burgundies. I don't know the reasons why, I can only speculate the possibilities of better winemaking in reaction to the global marketplace, more competition and choice from importers here in NYC, or maybe even global warming has something to do with it. What I do know is that we should enjoy this and take advantage of the opportunity to drink and explore these wines. Will the trend continue? I don't know except to say..

Welcome to the good old days!


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