Bordeaux dominates my cellar inventory of wines preceding the 1995 vintage. That is nothing more than a happy fact of life for collectors with the advantage of early access to these wines prior to mind numbing price escalation. Last week at a 2000 Bordeaux tasting dinner I attended, one of the younger participants who works in the wine trade as Burgundy buyer for a Massachusetts retailer declared 2000 as the vintage that changed the Bordeaux affordability game forever. If you ask me 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1998, and then 2000 followed by 2003 and 2005 all contributed handsomely to the problem with today’s Bordeaux prices. It was a steady increase.
If you bought a case each of Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Cos D’Estournel, Haut Brion, Lafite, Margaux, Mouton, Latour, Pichon Lalande, Rauzan Segla, and Vieux Chateau Certan in 1982, 1990, and then 2005, this is what the investment comparison looks like if you purchased them in the futures market in 1983, 1991, and 2006 (see earlier post on Bordeaux Sucker Punch):
Vintage 11 Case Futures Price
Prices increased about 4.5X between 1982 and 1990 (eight years time) and then again 4.5X between 1990 and 2005 (fifteen years time). So on an inflation basis, the young Burgundy buyer was wrong and one single vintage like 2000 could not have possibly had a singularly meaningful impact on 23 years of Bordeaux price escalation. It is an excusable miscalculation though since he is reflecting on his own perceptions based on the shorter length he has been active in the wine market. The perceived timespan of price pain is in direct proportion to the length of personal Bordeaux immersion.
He is also frustrated by winos my age coming into his shop and telling him about the ridiculously low price points they paid for 1961 this or 1982 that. Having been in the market earlier and longer than the local Burgundy buyer allowed me to acquire these Bordeaux wines (that in my humble opinion age better than anything else in the world of wine) with less financial strain than him, and to couch the mounting cost of ownership in a more revealing historical context. The punchline, though, is that based on performance over time, today is better than tomorrow for buying Bordeaux.
Knowing that no single vintage makes a giant difference in a lifetime of wine investment and that now has been better than later for buying Bordeaux since 1982, begs the additional question of whether Bordeaux is the right wine to lay away in cellars at all. Last week’s 2000 vintage Bordeaux dinner and a post by Brooklynguy on guesswork in the cellar had me recounting the tenets I rely on for cellaring decisions. Holding the answers to the Bordeaux cost/cellaring proposition, I say these following things to myself repeatedly:
- If you like the wine today, go ahead and bet on liking it even more at or beyond maturity
- Avoid cellaring fat, extracted wines without abiding structure. They age without advancing flavors and aromas. Their progress gets stuck and often lack balance and excitement later in life. Think about the disappointments you have experienced, for this reason, with certain Spanish and Australian wines.
- If you don’t enjoy the wine young, then it will generally suffer from imbalance at maturity. Aggressively tannic wines without enough underlying fruit never seems to self correct with age. Admit it, half the time you say it needs some time in the cellar you really mean the wine is not something you want to drink…ever.
- Buy a minimum of three bottles of the same wine for the cellar. One for now, one for when you calculate it might be mature, and one more in case you made a mistake on optimal maturity date. One bottle is worthless in a cellaring proposition.
- Buy and cellar Bordeaux fearlessly. These wines tend to hold their personalities through various stages of maturation. They are indefatigable prizes you want for your cellar. Wines you have followed for 25 years still manage to remind you of their youthful versions that originally caught your fancy. If you liked it young, you will probably like it old. Bordeaux is built for cellaring and you have never had an experience yet where you felt you waited too long to open a bottle of decent vintage, decent producer claret.
- Whatever you paid, no matter how much for a bottle of wine, you think it is a steal when you drink it 15-25 years later. Upward financial mobility and advanced flavors makes the original purchase price seem like a point of celebration; never remorse.
- You can not make a big mistake cellaring wines of any kind. Even if the second two bottles are not as good as the more youthful rendition you tasted on release, you will have paid very little for them on an inflation basis. Chalk it up to research and education. Cellar wine with gusto!
- Cellar Chateauneuf du Pape. The secondary aromatics are amazing. You love these wines almost as much as Bordeaux. They are generally cheaper than Bordeaux and hang in over time while showing off their sexy developed character just like working girls do wearing their overdone make up in Times Square.
- Never be discouraged if it ends up that you would have preferred to drink a wine earlier than the aged version. By the time you get to your older bottles you will have aged, your memory will be deteriorating, and you won’t remember exactly how it tasted on release. (Yes, that even means all you 35 year old wine geeks who remember every palate experience in excruciating detail. I was there once too!)
- It is not critical to cellar only venerable producers or classic regions. You have laid away $12 Cotes du Rhone for twenty years and were overcome with surprise by the favorable progress. If you like Chenin Blanc, lay away Chenin Blanc. If you enjoy Frappato, hide it away. If it has bubbles, cellar it!
- California Cabernet ages well and poorly, with greater variability than any French wine you have aged over the years. There is no rhyme or reason to it. Some dry out and some age fearlessly. You have plenty of Cabernet from 1984-1992 from great and average producers. You have yet to figure out a pattern of any sort for more reliable cellaring strategies of California wine. Beware.
- Buy wine for the cellar often, but only very good wine you have tasted. If you are thinking of buying one bottle, buy three. If you are thinking of buying three bottles, buy six or a dozen. Your cellar can not be too big. You can always sell it on WineBid effortlessly. Just don’t buy bad wine. Like people, wines don’t change their primary underlying values and character as they age. Don’t sweat too many details, just keep laying away balanced wines you like to drink now.
If you have any inclination towards older wines like I do, it is worth stretching wine budgets to acquire them since your wines will feel like a steal after 20 years. While it appears more common for younger drinkers to boycott the region because of current pricing, staying focused on Bordeaux through annual release price inflation will only increases the odds of overall cellaring success twenty years down the line. A single year’s price increase never discouraged my appetite for the region, and I am glad for that today. Good cellaring!