Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Burgundy Price Sadness, Champagne as Consolation

I love Burgundy wine and would happily drink both the reds and the whites several times a week for the rest of my days. I do not like, however, paying for Burgundy wine. It's not that I refuse to spend money on wine - I splash out a bit here and there. Over the years, though, I like to think I've become smarter about how I spend my wine dollars. Now, when I spend $25 on a bottle of wine I want to buy something that represents the best wine I can get for that $25. When I spend $50, I want the best wine possible for $50. And it makes me sad to admit to myself that in the price range where I spend most of my time, I no longer think Burgundy represents the best I can get for my money.

Wine old timers will talk about the days when you could buy Roumier Bonnes Mares on the shelf for $100, and other sordid tales. I was not buying wine in those days. But even 5 or 6 years ago it was possible in NYC to buy truly top quality Burgundy wine for $75 - wines from great terroir that would improve over time and reveal great detail and nuance, and would be utterly delicious. The top Chevillon Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru wines were approximately that price. Fourrier 1er Crus from Gevrey, D'Angerville 1er Crus, and plenty of other wines that are truly exceptional. Those wines cost way, way more now. Today my favorite wine store in the world sent out an email advertising 2011 Burgundies and Chevillon 1er Cru Les Cailles costs $145. Les Cailles is a great vineyard and Chevillon is a wonderful producer - there is no question in my mind that this will be excellent wine. If money were no object, I would buy some.

For most of us, money is a limiting factor. There is no conceivable situation in which I could imagine buying 2011 Chevillon Les Cailles for $145, and this has nothing to do with the quality of that wine. It has everything to do with the other wines I could buy for that same money, if I were to spend that money on a bottle of wine. Some of you will now say "But if you want Chevillon you can still buy 2011 Chevillon 1er Cru Bousselots or Pruliers for $115." Same problem - there are other things I would buy for that same money, were I to spend that money on a bottle of wine. The villages wine, the 2011 Chevillon Nuits St. Georges Vieilles Vignes costs $75. $75!

All European wine has gone up in price in the past 5 or 6 years. The rate of increase in Burgundy seems to be more accelerated than most, however, and it means that I drink way less Burgundy wine, which makes me feel sad. That said, there are still places to spend that $75, should you spend that kind of money on a bottle of wine (and the holidays are coming up people), and to feel confident that you are getting the best wine for your money. For me, one of the very best places to spend up to $75 on a bottle of wine right now (NYC market prices) is Champagne. I know, that sounds weird - Champagne as a value. I don't mean it that way, exactly. I mean to say that I think that if you are spending $75 in a NYC wine store right now, Champagne in general is the place where you can get the finest wine, objectively speaking.

Here are a few of the producers whose wines can be purchased at or below that price point, and that I believe represent truly exceptional quality:

Roederer - yup, I'm leading with a big house. The vintage Blanc de Blancs is for me one of the reference standards for Chardonnay in the Côte des Blancs. The wine is delicious young but has the acidity and structure to age well. And this is why I'd rather spend my $75 here than on Chevillon VV - Roederer's vintage Blanc de Blancs is in the upper echelon of wines made of Chardonnay from that place. Chevillon VV is not. 

Bereche - The whole lineup is of very high quality, and vintage wines made entirely of Meunier or from Chardonnay that are entirely expressive of place can be had for under $75. The rose in the photo above costs a bit more, maybe $90. But that's less than 2011 Chevillon 1er Cru Bousselots. I'm not picking on Chevillon - I am in love with those wines. I resent the new pricing though.
Savart - Harder to find (check Chambers Street) but the wines are fantastic. The one in the photo is exceptional, and can be had for about $55. If this were Burgundy of similar quality it would cost $125.

Larmandier-Bernier - specifically the Terre de Vertus (in my book). One of the grand wines of Champagne, according to none other than Peter Liem, and the 2008 (but this is never a vintage wine) release is on the shelf now, for under $75.

Rene Geoffroy - I like the whole lineup and think it is vastly undervalued, even among Champagne lovers. Empriente, for example, the vintage (but not vintage dated) wine made mostly of Pinot Noir is exceptional and one of the finest of its type and can be had for under $70.

Diebolt-Vallois - the Prestige Brut Blanc de Blancs is always great - big and lusty, and entirey focused at the same time. This is tremendous wine for about $60.

There are many others - I just included the ones that I drank recently enough to still have photos (and aso Geoffroy and Roederer because I love them). Now, what can we do collectively to bring Burgundy prices back to a reasonable level? Or must we accept this, the indignity of no longer buying the wines?

15 comments:

AndrewR said...

red chassagne, white burg 1ers from matrot, pernot, bernard moreau, mikulski, white mercurey, boillot 1er mercurey.

bottom line though, italy is way undervalued. barolo, brunello, aglianico, (classic rioija) are the steals of the wine world.

vintage port and sauternes as well.

Anonymous said...

I share your feelings of sticker shock at Chevillon and I, too, am reluctantly done with it. But it seems like throughout their lists the geeky importers--KL, BW, NR--are raising their prices (maybe not quite so much LD) beyond what's justified by the European economy. For example, Montevertine's fairly modest base Chianti, Pian del Ciampolo, is now ~ $30, which, in Brooklyn Guy currency, is approaching the range of some grower Champagne....

ilbe said...

Ouch. My go to German online store sells that 11 Cailles for $90 so quite a lot it seems to cost to put it on the shelves of a NY store, Germany being still a bit more expensive than France of course. I reckon come the January discount sales it will be about $75. Nice Champagne picks btw, although I'm not familiar with the Savart. Need to check that out the next time in the region.

Anonymous said...

These Champagnes are exciting, but at the $75 level, isn't there a broader set of superlative wines from Piemonte? But for a few producers, many cru Barolo and Barbaresco can be had for that price or less.

Unknown said...

I was also surprised and saddened by that CSW email. The good news is that there are some bargains to be had today if you go back-vintage - I was able to stock up on some 08 Cailles for $75.

I wouldn't say the door is closing on Burgundy, but it is closing for many wines I love.

Thanks for the Champagne recommendations! I really enjoy the posts where you talk about what you're drinking and make recommendations.

Peter Hoyt said...

Pian is also like 14% now..
Barthod's Bons Batons and Felettig's Blanc are bonkers for sub $50. Pataille, Vincent, VV Chambolle from Virgile

Martin said...

Value is in Italy and even loire.
Don't get this 'beyond what's justified by the European economy.'... The stuff sells like hotcakes the world over what has the eu economy got to do with it?

Chris Geurkink said...

Thanks for shifting focus to a different region that I haven't given enough attention. I agree that some Premier Cru ('10 Clos des Ducs $250) has left me out and that is discouraging.

Anonymous said...

Replying to Martin's good question to my remark about the European economy....Here's how I, an economic doofus, think about it. European labor has to be very cheap and fuel prices are fairly stable. Just today, it was announced that inflation is effectively non-existent in the Eurozone and we all know what Bernanke fears here. So, costs should be pretty constant, and what then usually drives price would be, as you say, demand. Of course, with little inflation that just means higher profit margins for someone (producer, importer, distributor, seller?) and higher real costs for consumers, some of whom, like BG, loyally have bought and helped establish that market but are now being priced out of it. Moreover, I'm suspicious about demand across the board. Yes, Chevillon has international appeal, but when all the smaller geeky wine prices get raised more than the rate of inflation someone's cashing in at the expense of the folks who helped make that market. I know that's capitalism, but this is a lot more important: this is wine!

Cesar Lee said...

I am a big fan of the Spanish wines I think they do have value, so who knows cava becomes a more popular alternative?

William Myers said...

I agree with Cesar, Spanish wine shave the best value. Price and quality are both fair!

Anonymous said...

on the wine blog Wine Berserkers, under the thread Maison Ilan 2013, someone posted the cost of buying pinot noir grapes in Burgundy: prices are up between 50 and 100% over the past four vintages....

Tori B said...

I have been in the wine business for about five years now. The company I work for does not specialize in Burgundy. I have heard many people talk about their Burgundy experience with great awe like they are traveling back to the happiest sip in the world. Sadly, since the price of Burgundy is so high, I have not gotten my chance to dive into the category. Some day...

Anonymous said...

This thread is probably mordant at this point. But for the record, this link helps explain things. Note the amazing decline of wine production in France over the past dozen years.
http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/23c6cf00-4d3c-11e3-9f40-00144feabdc0.html#slide0

As well, of course, folks anticipate very small supplies coming out of the recent small, weather related, Burgundy harvests.

Gus said...

It's a pity to find great burgundy wines at that price now in new york. Even if prices are steadily growing up in France too, surely not in these proportions. one good example here of Nuits Saint Georges 2009 less than 30 € per bottle : http://www.le-bourguignon.fr/cote-nuits/239-nuits-saint-georges-2009.html
Cheers from France !
Gus