Saturday, June 28, 2014

The price trap

In April I visited Champagne again. I couldn’t help noticing that prices on grower Champagne are on the rise. Yet the increasing price curve on the most innovative growers in Champagne are not a singular phenomenon. Prices on quality wines are in general increasing and it rarely helps when the production is low. Just think of Burgundy, where some of the most prestigious names are separating themselves to an exclusive club of consumers.  

Overall I don’t like to talk about prices on wines. “Numbers” is what I do for a living and wine has always acted as a contrast to my work life. I like to keep it that way. Money is a weird thing really – we know it matters, but to start a debate about what’s the right way to use them is more about moralizing. What people do with their own money is their choice. Wine is good example. All passionate wine lovers, knows it’s a form of madness to spend a ridiculous amount money on fermented grape juice. You might have done a great investment, but at the end of the day you are willing to  “destroy” that investment by drinking it. Yet we (us wine geeks) know that there is more to it than just grape juice with alcohol.

I often see people complain about price developments on wine. I am no different and guilty as sinned. In fact it happened in Champagne. Some of my favourite producers are starting to be in a price range, where I have to think twice. If I decide to buy expensive wine I just don’t buy a six-pack without blinking. But owing just one or two bottles of a very expensive wine is actually another dilemma. You just don’t serve these wines on a Tuesday evening with a Spaghetti Bolognese. No! You save them for a special occasion. This is okay to some degree, as we have always split wines into different categories and somehow we find wines that suit that Tuesday evening. However when you put the wine on an exclusive price pedestal you build high expectations. You even make sure it’s served with the right people, as you rarely drink such expensive wines alone – or do you? I think most want to share a potential big experience with other people and this is one of the beauties with wines; friendship and the social element. Yet it’s also a bit weird, because you will probably only get one or two glasses. You even make sure the wine is matched with the right food, chose the right day - where “equivalent” wines are present. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking forward to taste a special wine. Not at all – I embrace this myself. However I have never felt comfortable of tasting wines, where I somehow beforehand are almost nervous on the outcome. Tasting wines naked, being relaxed and just interact with the wine and having a good natural flow appeals far more to me.  

Yet the spike in prices also have a positive flip side for me. When a wine breaches your own price limits the initial thought is: DAMN! Now I can’t buy Soldera or Jacques Selosse anymore and this is not so easy to digest. For me it helps thinking that if I die tomorrow I won’t die thirsty of either Soldera or Selosse. Yet somehow I just forget about them. They kind of slip my mind and the reason is simple. Wine-Life goes on. It’s like my consumer behaviour automatically guides me in a different direction and my curiosity likes that. It says something about how many talented winemakers there are out there and how many I haven’t even tasted yet.  I live for curiosity and taking a stance on prices helps me stay alert.

You might already have guessed this introduction is leading up to a wine, where I will touch upon its price tag. This wine is the result of being curious and of course having good wine dealers, who buys the good stuff and knows your palate. The price here is low – but the quality is outrageous. I couldn’t help to speculate if this wine was served blind to me. I would have compared it with some of the best white wines I have tasted from Burgundy, which are easily +150€. But this one is roughly €23…if you can find it that is.

2012 Jean-Marie Berrux “La Petite Têtu”

Grape: 100% Chardonnay
Location: Burgundy, Corpeau, Slightly south of Puligny.
Vineyard: 1,5 ha
Vinification: Oak (20% new) + only indigenous yeats.
Viticulture: Biodynamic
Other: No sulphur during vinification – only at bottling (approx 18mg/l)
Production: 7-8.000 bottles
Glass: Tasted two times – One time from Zalto Burgundy and second time from a Spiegelau Burgundy glass in a restaurant). Zalto was miles better (no surprise) and lifted the wines freshness and minerality, whereas in Spiegelau it was a bit oilier and heavier in style.
I didn’t write any notes on it…I never do that anymore, but I remember it very well. I also remember my wife and I drank if faster than we normally do. My wife even said, that she was tired and not so much into wine this evening. She changed her mind. The wine is utterly sensual. It has a mind-blowing elastic feel as soon as you stick your nose into the glass. On one hand its oily and buttery, which sometimes can go deadly wrong with these white Burgundy and not something I favour. Yet it has a combo of wild yeast flavours, honey, brioche and  lots of fresh tickly fruit with sensual apple cider associations, which creates the most divine balance. The touch of oak is also there, yet only secondary with sensuality and so well balanced. The taste is round and lush – just like the nose, yet filled with enormous minerality, life and bite. What a wine. Hunt it if you can find it.