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Wine Advice that Nobody Asked For: Drinking Then and Now

As an elder millennial I have mixed feelings about coming of wine-age in the mid-2000s. On the one hand, I cut my teeth on the introductory level classics to start: Bordeaux, Burgundy, German Riesling, Piedmont, Rioja, Chianti, to name a few. This helped instill a sense of what makes the classics classic.

However, this puts me in the position of the old man yelling at younger millennials, and now (gasp) gen Z, to get off my lawn and start drinking real wine! Enough of these cloudy, unintentionally sparkling, mousy, compost wines that don’t make any damn sense! These kids today don’t even know what makes for a sound wine!

Though I poke fun at the embrace of the natural wine movement (and all of its evolutions), I consider myself fortunate that I was able to start with the classics, but didn’t spend so much time immured in them that I can’t find appreciation in the more avant garde, challenging wines of the new natural movement. As a wine drinker this gives me the opportunity to find appreciation in what some younger wine drinkers would consider stodgy, and what some older wine drinkers would just regard as weird.

As a wine drinker is one thing, from the lens of a wine merchant it leaves me in a curious position. Even though I was able to try wines from classic regions, by the mid-2000s the pinnacles of those regions were already outside of my grasp. First growth (or really any classed growth) Bordeaux, the grand crus of Burgundy, the sought after Crus of Barolo, right bank Bordeaux like Cheval Blanc or Ausone, the top flight wines of the Northern Rhone we’re either so highly priced or so highly allocated that I will likely never be able to taste in my life, let alone taste them enough times to form a sense memory of these highly regarded wines.

If you like to have a little fun with inflation calculators online, it won’t take too long to see why these wines are outside the grasp of most mere mortals. Looking in a wine catalog from 1976 that I was fortunate enough to come across, I found that a bottle of 1970 Lafite Rothschild (1st Growth Bordeaux) would have cost $27. Go ahead and adjust for inflation, and the wine should clock in around $141 a bottle. Not cheap, but if I wanted to go in on a bottle with two or three friends to understand what Ch. Lafite is all about then it wouldn’t be prohibitive. If that was what the wine actually cost, instead that same wine today goes for somewhere between $600 and $1500 a bottle if you can find it.

Same story with Jadot’s Grand Cru Chambertin Clos de Beze. 1976 would have me paying $22.55, or $118 in today’s dollars. Current asking price is about $500 a bottle. Not as bad, but still not ideal. If you think this trend extends to all wines, then I point to Pieropan’s Soave Classico from that same catalog, $3.50 in 1976 money which would be about $18.50 today. That wine today is found for between $17.99 and $22.99, pretty much in line with inflation.

What gives? Well in the 1970’s America was THE export market for European wines, but now we’re contending with wine markets in east Asia and the southern hemisphere that weren’t as active in the 70’s. And they say, whatever the market will bear.

There is a silver lining to losing the classics though. Because of improved education, shared knowledge, and just better wine making techniques, there are more soundly made wines coming from all over the world that weren’t available to the US market in the 1970s or ‘80s. I can’t taste every grand cru Burgundy without incurring huge cost, but I can taste old vine Pais from Chile, Savatiano from Greece, Saperavi from Georgia, Gruner Veltliner from Austria, and world class wines from South Africa, Australia, Argentina, and Chile.

It might mean that in ten or fifteen years, Burgundy could be a practically irrelevant category in terms of what I sell, while our Portuguese selection may triple. I don’t know what the future will hold for everyday wine drinkers, but at least there will be options.

-Joe Buchter, Import Wine Buyer

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