Dan Berger: Reliable high-production wines can be great bargains
Published: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 11:37 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 11:37 a.m.
Some weeks ago, I discovered a wine, an Australian shiraz, that was closed out. I bought a bottle ($2.99), tried it, and was absolutely floored by its high quality.
So I bought two cases of it.
There are many reasons why a wine of this high a caliber would be discounted so deeply, some of which are so esoteric that they aren't relevant for this discussion — although a graduate seminar on wine marketing might find it fascinating.
Last week's column talked about the huge percentage of truly mediocre wine on the market these days, and I noted that “price doesn't enter the equation.” A lot of expensive wine can be pretty dull stuff, and some lower-priced wines are exceptional, regardless of price.
And often lower-priced lines of wine are trapped at a low level for various reasons, one of which is volume. If a lot of a particular wine is made, some people automatically assume it's pretty ordinary. But a few wines made in larger amounts are superb, and can be fairly priced.
Others are made in large amounts and are still great because of high standards. What comes immediately to mind is Dom Perignon, a superb wine from Champagne that sells for well over $100 a bottle and rarely disappoints.
The reasons for the few great wines that sell for lower prices than they probably ought to is that they started life at a low price, and to radically increase the price “after the fact” could kill sales.
Wineries that make such wines must keep their prices moderate to sell all the production in a year. That's because next year's production will be out, and if any of the prior-year wine is still around, it becomes harder to sell.
And many high-priced wines started out as small-production items; as the image gained luster, the price for them and production both rose. As a result, some of these wines are but a shell of what they once were, and are selling on image alone.
So are there any higher-production wines that are so reliable they represent great value? Sure, and two are listed here:
Kenwood Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: This delightful lighter red wine is ideally flavored to show the strawberry-ish regional and varietal character. Even though the company made some 34,000 cases of this wine in 2009, it retains the superb fruit and balance that has made it the best value pinot noir I have tasted in years. If the wine didn't start out at such a reasonable price, I suspect that it would still sell if it were $30 or more.
Wine of the Week: 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley ($9) — There is simply no connection between the (ludicrously low) price and the quality. Made by superb wine maker Wendy Stuckey, a former Australian riesling specialist, this wine was made in a pretty large amount (40,000 cases). Yet its dramatic lime/citrus, and tropical fruit aroma is a perfect reflection of the varietal. The Washington-based winery also makes literally hundreds of thousands of cases of a similarly priced “regular” riesling that is superb, and often discounted to about $7(!). But that wine is a bit sweeter than is this food-friendly dry version. I have tasted wines that sell for three times this price that aren't as good, or as reliable. And earlier vintages of this may well be better than they were; this wine ages handsomely. Could this be America's greatest wine value?
Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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