Is Fine Wine only the Preserve of the Wealthy? Some Thoughts on Eric Asimov’s NYT Editorial

Yesterday New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov published a thought-provoking article titled How income inequality has erased your chance to drink the great wines. The central argument is simple enough – demand for the world’s most illustrious fine wines has soared due to globalisation, yet vineyards aren’t getting any bigger. Prices have accordingly exploded, in the case of Domaine Romanée Conti La Tâche by 17 times since the 90s, pushing it up to roughly £5,000 a bottle!

Price Inflation in Fine Wine vs Improved Winemaking

We definitely agree that price inflation is a problem and much grumbling in the trade has been levied against the relentless increases over the last two decades, particularly in Bordeaux and Burgundy (although the former surprised everyone by cutting prices by up to 30% during the 2019 En Primeur campaign this year).  But does that mean that only the rich can drink fine wine? Absolutely not! There are profound, terroir-defining wines to be found across the world at reasonable prices, if you look hard enough (or just trust our choices and buy our recommendations!).

The wines of Domaine Romanée Conti
The wines of Domaine Romanée Conti are some of the rarest in the world, with prices for La Tâche pushing £5,000

Across the world winemaking has improved over the last 20 years, with significant advances in vineyard management and technical production in wineries, as well as trends towards organic and biodynamic winemaking bringing great wines to a wider audience than ever before. Over the same period climate change has led to warmer European summers, reducing the number of under ripe vintages and bumping up quality across the board. As our Head Wine guru Tom declares, “a lot points towards Italy and other emerging fine wine regions, where quality can be equally as profound as the famous names names from Bordeaux and Burgundy but thankfully the market has been slower to catch on.  Is De Vogue Musigny really 10 times better or La Tâche 17 times better than they were 20 years ago? Clearly not”.

Nin-Ortiz in the vineyard
Ester Nin and husband Carles are working wonders in Priorat

Where are the up-and-coming Wine Regions?

Asimov acknowledges this too, putting forward Priorat, German Riesling, Loire Chenin and Chianti Classico as good examples of affordable wines that are cerebral, complex and totally delicious to drink. He’s spot on here. We love these regions and work with some of the best growers in each: Clos I Terasses and Nin-Ortiz from Priorat are perennial favourites with new vintages landing shortly, whilst in the Mosel we particularly champion Clemens Busch and Pinot lovers should check out Rainer Schnaitmann’s Spätburgunder, described by jancisrobinson.com’s Michael Schmitt as taking "on Grand Cru Burgundy”. In the Loire we’re huge fans of Vouvray stalwarts Huet, an old, much-loved producer whose prices remain eminently sensible, and we currently have two top-notch Chianti Classicos available from Tuscan trailblazers Querciabella and Antinori, both from the fabulous 2016 vintage.

Our Favourite Estates in Bordeaux & Burgundy

Of course we offer the bluechip fine wine releases throughout the calendar year because they form the bedrock of our Club Members cellars, but Tom and co-founder Nathan are equally as excited by finding stunning wines from off the beaten track, even if they are hiding in well-travelled regions like Burgundy and Bordeaux. With Tom’s extensive network of relationships among growers and Nathan’s unflinching eye for value (a physicist and technology investor by trade), our approach to buying is much like how we collect ourselves.  

Tom Burgundy 2018 En Primeur 2
Tom on the ground in Burgundy scoping out new prospects

In Bordeaux Tom champions chateaux like Lafon Rochet, Gloria, Haut Bages Liberal, Malescot Saint Exupery, Malartic Lagraviere, Teyssier and Clinet as evidenced by his own cellar.  Meanwhile Nathan says of Burgundy, “I’ve always gone for Premier Crus that taste like Grand Crus, Lieu Dits that taste like Premier Crus and over-performing Villages wines.” Tom points to wines like Ballot-Millot’s Meursault ‘Narvaux’, Pierre Duroché’s Gevrey Chambertin ‘Jeune Rois’, and Jean Tardy’s Nuit Saint Georges ‘Bas de Combe’ as under the radar lieu dits, and de Montille’s Beaune ‘Greves’, Taupenot-Merme’s Morey Saint Denis ‘La Riotte’, and Philippe Colin’s Chassagne Montrachet ‘En Remilly’ as undervalued Premier Crus. Even at the £100 a bottle mark we’ll champion something like Clos Frantin’s brilliant Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru ‘Malconsorts’ (the last vintage of which – 2018 – was a Decanter Wine Awards Platinum winner), a vineyard that literally borders La Tâche but is 2% of the price.  

So whilst it’s a bit depressing that the prices of first growths and top grand crus have made them inaccessible, there are equivalent quality wines out there if you know where to look and are excited to own bottles of future history rather than mourn the loss of the icons of the past.