Sunday, May 02, 2021

What is wine worth to you?

Now that many of us are getting back up, not quite running yet, but moving forward, some are looking at the value of things. Keeping in mind that health and sanity are paramount above all material objects, the idea of a wine's merit is something that is as varied as our genetic makeup. I cannot speak for all, but I will lay out what I think it means if asked to me - What is wine worth to you?

In my experience, some of the unlikeliest of wines have been most memorable. Over a period of 50 years, 40 of which I have been accumulating wine to store and age (and bring out when the moment calls for it), I have to say I’ve been going through a metamorphosis in regards to my thinking about the value of wine.

Once upon a time, it seemed important to gather wines to age, some for many years, in order to savor them at their peak of enjoyment. About 75% of all the wines in my closet are over 10 years old, 30% over 20 years, and 20% are over 30 years old. Clearly, I implemented a plan to age wines. And time made sure that it would play its part and move swiftly to that end.

I’ve remarked before on these pages, that I’m reacting differently to aged wines, now that they are aged (as I am), than I did when I drank aged wines when I was younger, much younger. I’ve also noted that I’m enjoying lately, much more, wine 10 years and younger. Some of that is easy to explain, with white and rosé wines taking up a large part when looking to match with the foods we are eating. Along with that, some sparkling wines, as well as red wines that just were never meant for the long haul. Some Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines, Nebbiolo, Chianti, even Nerello Mascalese wines, along with the occasional lighter French and California wines (et al.) which I encounter, just call for a more youthful palate taste. So, that’s my current take on drinking wine in its due time.

But the idea of what it’s worth? That’s another angle. 

What I have been finding lately, in the wines I have been buying, is that I have been drawn to wines in the $20-25 retail range, especially whites and reds. There are plenty of good rosé wines that fit my tastes in the $13-20 range.

So, what happens when I drink a wine that costs $40-50? Often, not always, I like them. Generally, they have a quality level that shows their loftier derivation. Is there a tremendous difference (to me?) from the ones on the $20-25 range? I am not finding a huge difference. There seems to be a greater variety of wines, though, that one can find in the higher ($40-50) range. The Chardonnays have a little more exotic pedigree. The Sauvignon Blancs too.

I have not found a lot of wines, unless they are on close-out, under $10, that I gravitate towards. But I was spoiled, after so many years in the trade, with the endless availability of whatever it was I wanted to try. I know that was not a scenario most people have though, but it did inform my tastes and set up certain expectations. Not that I didn’t (or wouldn’t) try anything and everything. But I do have a good amount of wine (backing up?) in the closet, so it isn’t a pressing issue for me.

When one gets to the really expensive wines (over $100) is when I notice, especially in the aged wines, that the difference between a $100 wine and a $500 wine depends so much on the proper storage, provenance and the vineyard where the wine was born. A 30-year-old Hermitage from La Chapelle can be found, these days, in the range of $200-400 dollars. When I bought mine, I might have paid $25 for it. I sometimes shudder when I drink a bottle of wine (like a 2000 Gaja Sori Tilden) and think about what it is worth today. I do enjoy it though. But I’m not all that entranced with stratospherically priced wines, even if I can have regular access to them through friends' collections or my own. I’m over it. And I have been most fortunate to have ongoing access to wines routinely costing thousands of dollars for a single bottle. It just doesn’t make the wine experience better. Like I said earlier, some of those unlikely wines, at the right time, in the right place, and with the right people, some maybe costing $12, have been just as rewarding.

I was at a late lunch/early dinner the other day, at one of the new high-toned Italian spots in town, where things are opening up again. And to my left a trio of friends were enjoying some Barolo and pasta. One in the group was an incessant talker, so it was impossible to miss the conversation, which was all about prestige and money and status, and money, and the stock market, and all the things one hears in boom times in a boom town, which Dallas seems to be becoming again. The food was great, but the conversation nailed exactly what it is I dislike about wine appreciation – and that is this constant stretching and reaching to a higher level, as if that will make things all right. So, the fellow to the table next to us has a better financial advisor than his friends, so what? And he has more Sassicaia in his cellar than I do. Again, so what? Not gonna make one bit of difference in the happy department.

And that’s at the crux with how I am making my peace, with all this swirling and whirling about in the present topsy-turviness, when it comes to focusing on what is really important upon opening a bottle of wine and enjoying a glass. I have no problem uncorking the ’89 La Chapelle, and have done so over the last 30 years. But I am equally fond of the ’15 Nebbiolo from Rocche Costamagna that I recently popped.

So, this will be no help for people who want to know about the great under $10 wines one can find. And equally disappointed will be the folks who want to have their trophy cellars validated. Although if there are any of those reading this, they really don’t need my approval (they might want to talk to a therapist, though). What I am trying to say, in too many words, is that I have found a way to debunk all the hocus-pocus and pomposity about wine with which folks have tried to intimidate many of us. I’m at peace with wine being a part of my life, but not taking too big of a part of it. From where I stand, there are other factors worth my immediate attention, namely the time I have left on this wonderful little planet and the people worth spending that time with.

And I can thank the world-wide pandemic for that epiphany, it has definitely lightened my load.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

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