Sensible collecting and drinking

AT dinner a few evenings ago I drank an inexpensive wine, one that retails at just above S$60. It was such a nice wine to drink, with good ripeness and density of fruit, well balanced and very fresh. You could not ask for more from a wine. It was the third wine of a well-known winery in Spain. (More about Spanish wines later.)

I had not drunk it for some time since opening the first bottle of the batch that arrived two years ago, to see where the wine stood in the way of development.

That wine reminded me that many of us, (myself included), often overlook or even forget the second or third wines of famous wineries, as well as other inexpensive but good-value wines. Perhaps a very Asian trait?

All too often we tend to equate price with intrinsic worth, and status - not the wine's status but ours. When I started drinking wine and building up a collection, I received good advice: DO NOT ignore the second, or even the third wine from well-known or famous vignerons.

This is especially important in good vintages, when the en primeur prices of the top wines tend to shoot through the roof. It is an advice that has become part of my (wine) DNA and has been the source of great pleasure. It is a joy to drink a very pleasurable wine knowing that it did not cost an arm and a leg. Blow the status!

Talking about the economics of wine collecting, the en primeur prices of First Growth Bordeaux wines are now more than a few hundred euros. Chateau Margaux 2010 en primeur was 600 euros, that of its second wine Pavillon Rouge du Chateau Margaux 130 euros (S$198).

Second Growth Chateau Pichon Lalande en primeur was 138 euros, its second wine, Reserve de la Comtesse, 30 euros. Less than one-fourth. It does not take a genius to figure out the common sense of this example.

Other examples of collectible second labels: Carruades de Chateau Lafite, Les Forts de Latour, Clarence de Haut Brion (used to be named Bahans Haut Brion), Pagodes de Cos (Estournel), Penses de (Chateau) Lafleur.

In Burgundy, look at the Village level of famous Domaines. The Grands Crus and Premiers Crus of Domaines such as Comtes de Vogue, Dujac, and Armand Rousseau are out of reach for most of us.

But their Village level wines are often reasonably priced AND also likely to be more readily available as productions at this level are always larger than the Premiers and Grands Crus.

Prices of the latest vintage of Burgundies are released usually in the third Spring after the vintage. Thus for 2015 Burgundies, the price release from the Domaines will be made in the spring of 2018.

There being no en primeur system as in Bordeaux, this price release will be made when the first tranche (allocation) is released to their designated local and country representatives.

The Italian equivalent classification is the DOCG, (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Guarantita), enacted in 1963, and which applies to their highest quality wines. Making the lives of wine enthusiasts more difficult is the fact that Bordeaux, Burgundy and Italian classifications have no corresponding equivalents in other wine-producing countries.

For Germany, the keys to quality are the name of the wine producer (grower) and the name of the vineyard or wine region, such as Mosel, Saar-Ruwer, et al. For Spain, and the New World regions, name of producer is the key. Price level is not very reliable as it is often influenced by the "points" rating.

What this means is that where there is no classification laid down by law, quality depends on the wine producer's honesty, integrity and his vineyards. Thus for Germany, names such as Egon Muller-Scharzhofberger in the Saar-Ruwer region, Joh Jos Prum, Wilhelm (Fritz) Haag in the Mosel, Donnhof, Diel, are the guarantees of quality.

For German wines, it is also important to know which regions (such as Mosel, Saar-Ruwer) to look for. For Napa Valley, one has to keep up with the times, as old names such as Mondavi do not mean the same now as they used to.

In fact, Mondavi is now no longer owned by the family but by a big corporation. There are also new names which hit the headlines as 100-pointers, a label which has become fashionable to collect IF you can afford the astronomical prices!

Spanish wines have now found their rightful place on the world stage. The wine region of long-neglected Priorat has been revived since the arrival of the small band of vintners led by French vintner, Rene Barbier, and which included Alvaro Palacios of l'Ermita fame.

Cims de Porrera, the wine from the cooperative in Porrera, pioneered by Sarah Perez from Clos Martinet, and Finca Dofi from Alvaro Palacios led the way. They are both priced at the comfortable level of around 60 euros retail; lovely wines, ripe fruit, good complexity and freshness.

The revival of Vega Sicilia by the Alvarez family and the creation of Pingus by Peter Sisseck kick-started the gold rush in the Ribera del Duero as new wineries sprang up like mushrooms.

To get to the point, and it is the old and familiar one: for value-for-money wines, look hard at the lower tier wines from famous names. And today, one has to look also at the OTHER wine regions in the Old World and those in the New World.

New wine regions and new names have sprung up in Chile and Argentina in South America, in South Africa where new regions such as Swaartland are now beginning to rival Stellenbosch in value-for-money wines, in New Zealand where Pinot Noir from the Central Otago region have begun to make their mark.

The list goes on. The rapidity of emergence of new wineries and new wine names makes it very difficult to keep pace!

The lesson that does emerge reminds me of this wise advice: "You have to try every wine, new as well as old names, BUT, you do not have to finish it."

And last but not least, don't forget China. A topic for another week!

This article was first published on November 13, 2015.
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