Destroying Wine Privilege
Wine Collections aren’t for the 1%
Sotheby's New York auctioned off 20,000 bottles of fine and rare wines from the cellar of billionaire collector Bill Koch in 2016. The auction brought in $21.9 million. A Sommelier friend of mine tried to convince me the case of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet 1978 in the collection, which sold for $171,500, was a good bargain.
Under the Silo will remain an “emoji-free” zone, but, insert eye roll here…
As Rage Against the Machine told us, “we gotta take the power back!” Here Under the Silo, we fight the presumption that outstanding wine remains solely for the uber-rich. I’m going to give you a guide to starting a one-case, age-worthy wine collection to impress anyone from your oenophile father-in-law who still thinks you’re not good enough for his son/daughter, to your former college roommate who still drinks Franzia.
The more of us that collect good wine at reasonable values for the middle class, the more impact the average citizen will have on the wine market. Many around the globe are making fantastic wine at mid-range pricing, yet the wine marketing machine, through all its various media outlets, dominates at either end of the price spectrum; from Yellowtail billboards to the auction houses. But they need a market. It’s time we gave them a new one.
The recommendations that follow are purposefully general. The world has enough pundits reviewing specific bottles of wine; their hot takes the click bait we swallow like trout in a stream. Instead, consider this a helpful way to get the right tools in your proverbial toolbelt to be a really good wine consumer. Since I don’t give specific bottles, do a small amount of research on those you find in your local wine shop that fit the descriptions. Some of these wines you may not be familiar with, but Under the Silo is as much a place for education as it is for revolution.
None of these are meant to be wines you hand down to your descendants in your will; no 2013 Barolo you shouldn’t touch until 2038 lest you want to commit wine infanticide! These styles/types of wine below transform well with a few years of aging and a joyous occasion for which to pop the cork.
Be on the lookout for a follow-up on how to properly care for your wine collection in the absence of a temperature-controlled wine cellar in your house.
1 ) A single-variety red or red blend, preferably Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, or other similar red variety, from the Monticello AVA in Virginia. Also consider Viognier, which ages very nicely if it’s seen time in oak barrel. Yes, I can sense you wanting to insert your own eye-rolling emoji at me for making this recommendation. “Of course you’re going to taut your own product,” you say. Well, I have the benefit of being right. Central Virginia wines combine fruit-forwardness with good structure, and, when done right, they have the right levels of acid and tannin to keep. Most are great at about five years post-vintage. Best recent vintages include 2015 and 2017.
2) Madiran. If you read the previous post, you were undoubtedly sucked into the allure of Tannat. The region of Madiran birthed this outstanding grape variety most people overlook. I always look for Madiran on wine lists because it’s always undervalued, and the waiter/somm will always give a “great choice” nod of approval. Full of plum, cocoa, and blackcurrant, Madiran maintains its fruit as the tannin mellows over a decade in bottle. The 2012 and 2015 vintages are beautiful, and you’ll only spend $25-$35 on a bottle.
3) Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County, California. Napa Cab is as overplayed as Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” Reds from Lake County just to the north are fascinating. The soil is mostly volcanic in origin, so the ground is shallow, producing vineyards low in vigor and high in flavor! The tannin-rich red varieties that thrive here require a few years to mellow out, but the wines don’t have the same astringency as those to the south. The 2012 through 2016 vintages are all fantastic.
4) Pinot Gris from Alsace, France. If you’re expecting a run-of-the-mill Pinot Grigio, look elsewhere. Pinot Gris (the same grape) has a revered history in Alsace. Like they do with their Rieslings, Alsatians produce dry, complex, and big white wines out of Pinot Gris. While not all are oak-aged, I recommend those that are oaked for your collection. The additional oxygenation during production has a stabilizing effect on the wine and thus can last decades in the bottle. But, also, in general, drink anything from Alsace; it’s phenomenal. Best recent vintages include 2012 and 2016.
5) Xinomavro from Naoussa, Greece. A small lurch into wine snobbery for a second, but humor me with my recommendation of a wine you’ve likely not seen on too many wine lists. While Greece has a well-documented ancient history of winemaking, much of its modern wine industry is overlooked. The 19th century was particularly hard for Greek wine as a mixture of political instability and vine disease proved a one-two punch that sent the industry reeling. But in the last 30 years, quality wine regions such as Naoussa have soared. Naoussa wines are 100% Xinomavro, a flagship red grape variety in Greece that mirrors its pricier counterpart in Italy, Nebbiolo, with sturdy acidity and firm tannin that make it taste more expensive than it is, and age-able. Enjoy the 2012 vintage, in particular.
6) Morellino di Scansano (Tuscany). The mass market knows Chianti and Chianti Classico from Tuscany, and us winos cover Brunello di Montalcino, Montepulciano, and Bolgheri in our privileged circles. In the opinion of your humble correspondent, the quality of your average Chianti off the wine shop shelf has declined dramatically as international demand has increased. And the high-end regions within Tuscany are moving unjustifiably higher in price. Wines from Morellino di Scansano represent classic Sangiovese under $30 a bottle. Because Morellino di Scansano sits toward the southern edge of Tuscany, grapes achieve a higher level of ripeness, yielding a fuller, earthier, and more savory wine. In a good year, these wines age well 5-10 years post-vintage. Consider the 2010, 2015, and 2017 vintages.
7) Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Catch Stellenbosch Cabs while you can before their price to quality ratio goes the way of Napa. Stellenbosch sits perfectly between the dry inlands of the African continent and the ocean. These wines are leathery, smoky, rich, and enjoyable 10 years post-vintage. The cheap stuff from Stellenbosch isn’t worthy of your collection, so spend a solid $25-$30 on this one. Collect wines from the 2011, 2012, and 2015 vintages.
8) GSM Blend from McLaren Vale, Australia. “GSM” in wine-speak stands for Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre. Blending these three grape varieties together makeup the renowned wine of the Rhone region in France. But these three varieties are also very impressive when grown in Australia. Single-varietal Syrah/Shiraz from Australia has also suffered a depletion in quality with increased mass scale production. But GSM blends from this area show greater care and sensibility, and high-quality bottles are below their French counterparts.
9 ) Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley, Australia. Sticking with Australian wines, the Yarra Valley in Victoria holds similar natural qualities to Burgundy, the home of the world’s best Chardonnay. While quality white Burgundy comes at a price, Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley mirrors the balance of acid, fruit, and cream at a fraction of the price. And Victoria has been on a streak of good wine vintages, 2013 through 2017.
10) Pinot Noir from Ribbon Ridge, Oregon. Continuing the theme of finding cheaper alternatives to expensive French wines, Oregon has made a name for itself based on its Pinot Noir prowess. Most of what’s produced there are vibrant and jammy Pinots in the drink-now category. But Ribbon Ridge is different. Located within the famed Willamette Valley in the also acclaimed Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge is this particular section completely sheltered from the adverse conditions sometimes faced on all sides of it, whether it’s the extreme swings of the Columbia Valley, or the persistent dampness found west toward Portland. Its consistent temperature and lower moisture yield very rich Pinot Noir with stable levels of acidity good for aging. Those from the 2014, 2015, and 2016 vintages can last a decade. While some bottles go for $100, there’s nothing wrong with those $30-$40.
11) Fronsac. A Bordeaux must be in any respected wine collection. But the challenge can be price. The Fronsac region delivers great wines cheaper than its more expensive neighbors of Pomerol and St. Emilion. These Merlot-dominated wines with a blend of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, or Cabernet Sauvignon include great black fruit, tannin, and earth. Aging mellows the tannins and brings forth a savory mushroom note. The 2015 and 2016 vintages are particularly amazing.
12) Cabernet Sauvignon from the Maipo Valley, Chile. Chilean wine has seen a spike in popularity as quality winemaking has steadily increased over the past 20 years. Tucked between the Andes on one side and coastal mountains on the other, Chile has an amazing array of microclimates producing a diversity of different wines. The Cabernet Sauvignon from the Maipo Valley shows particular balance of acid, fruit, earth, and tannin. They are not as age-able as Left Bank Bordeauxs or some California Cabs, but peak nicely at about five years in bottle. Enjoy the 2015 vintage in particular.