Rusty Sly asks, “Does Vintage Really Matter?”

The love and passion of wines and the various nuances that exist in them lead people on different paths.Some enjoy the fruit forward wines of California, others like the high alcohol flavors of Australia and yet others enjoy the old world wines.Along with this topic, wine selection is often the result of the present economy as to which wines people purchase.Many times in the circle of people that I run with I am told that some wines are just too expensive and they would never buy them.Maybe this article will provide a path to try some of those wines.

I learned something many years ago about old world wines, especially those from Bordeaux France.Over the past few years, we have seenthe Bordeaux wine prices climb through the ceiling.Many that I have purchased over the years are now well beyond the $100 mark at release.This makes it a huge commitment to buy a case of these wines and sometimes even just a few bottles.

There is however a way to enjoy these wines and not break the bank.I learned many years ago a method of purchasing 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th or even 5th growth Bordeaux wines at a reasonable cost.I am talking about wines like Château Léoville-Las Cases, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Château Lynch-Bages, etc. These wines, as you know, are very expensive in today’s market.

Now I will tell you how you can try them without breaking your bank account.We all know that vineyards have great years and they have bad years based on environmental conditions.For example, look at the price of Bordeaux wines from 1982, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1996, 2000, 2005 which were great years.Now, look at years in between, off years as I call them.The price is like night and day, almost resembling the stock market and its year to year trends.Take a bottle of 2005 Château Léoville-Las Cases, it can run from $300 – $400 a bottle or more.Now look at the 1997 vintage, it runs around $150 which is a 100% difference.Is the 2005 twice as good as the 1997?I bet most of us would not be able to taste that much difference between the two wines.

I selected the 1997 Château Léoville-Las Cases for a reason.Yes, I have this wine in my cellar and just popped a bottle last week with some close friends.I bought this wine in Florida from an ABC liquor store which is a chain.Most of these stores have their $50 and below wines on racks where you can pick them up and put them in your cart.Wines above $50 are kept in their cellar that you need to ask to gain access.From time to time, they do a cellar cleaning to get rid of wines that are not moving.This was the case for me in about 2005.I purchased this wine as well as some other Bordeaux wines for about $60 a bottle.The bottle vintages were 1997 – 1999 and 2001.I even found a liquor store in Florida that was getting rid of a Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande for $75.

Another way to try fantastic Bordeaux wines from the top Chateaus is to buy their 2nd labels.These wines are made using the grapes from their vineyards that did not meet the level of quality for their top label.Château Léoville-Las Cases, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande and Château Lynch-Bages 2nd label are Le Petit Lion de Marquis de las Cases, La Croix de Beaucaillou, Reserve de la Comtesse and Echo de Lynch-Bages, respectively.Many of these 2nd labels are around $50 per bottle versus $150+ per bottle for their primary label.They also can be cellared and will provide the experience and quality of these great Chateaus.

So don’t feel that there is no hope in ever having an opportunity to try these spectacular wines.The 1997Château Léoville-Las Cases that I opened last weekend was absolutely superb.The last time I opened one was 8 years ago.It is holding up beautifully with fantastic color, flavor and complexity that is expected from fine French Bordeaux wines.According to sommelier George Skorka, who I shared this wine with, it could be cellared for another 20 years.The top Chateau houses did not get their classification or ratings by making mediocre wines.Great houses will always produce great wines consistently even in the worse years compared to other houses.So go do some homework and wine picking.It is exciting to find these gems buried in closeout sections of liquor stores or wine shops, you will not be disappointed.So don’t shy away from these great houses and happy hunting.


Rusty Sly

2 thoughts on “Rusty Sly asks, “Does Vintage Really Matter?”

  1. I sometimes like to refer to those years as not the best rather than off years but that is just semantics. As far as being able to cellar them for long periods of time, I found the 1997 above holding its own with probabilities of aging even longer. Bottom line is we can enjoy these gems from top wineries and not go broke doing it.

    Rusty Sly

  2. Agreed–off yrs are often still good with good chateaus. Recall a story where the vineyards were threatened due to moisture. One of the first growths (Lafite i think) brought in helicopters to hover for a few hrs. The big hitters have money to burn, and can move mountains if need be. Bottom line: I say, in good vintages, buy down–everyone makes great wine; but in poor years, stick with big chateaus.

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