“By making this wine vine known to the public, I have rendered my country as great a service as if I had enabled it to pay back the national debt.” – Thomas Jefferson
There are good news and bad news for the individual who is starting a wine cellar. The bad news is that the demand for famous wines has ramped up worldwide to unprecedented levels. Anyone familiar with fine-wine auctions will tell you that their clients want only the normal classed first growth and Grand Cru wines.
First Growth (French: Premier Cru) status refers to a classification of wines primarily from the Bordeaux region of France. The need for a classification of the best Bordeaux wines came about at the 1855 Exposition. The result was a list of the top-ranked wines, named the Grand Curs Classes. The best wines were assigned the highest rank of Premier Cru, and only four wines, Chateau Lafitte Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Haut-Brion received this classification. The list remained unchanged until Mouton Rothschild was promoted to Premier Cru status in 1973. Of the Bordeaux sweet wines only one wine Chateau d’Yquem was granted a Premier Cru Superior classification. Unfortunately, there are just so many of these wines to go around, and in today’s global free market they will go to the highest bidder. There was a time, 20 to30 years ago, when the great labels sold for a relatively affordable price.
The good news is that today we have a galaxy of wines of uncommon goodness that could not have been imagined even a few decades ago. One must include New World wines in any discussion of the Old World. While our wine cellar probably will have few, if any, traditional trophy wines. It should include the best reds from Spain like Priorat and Bierzo, and some of the excellent Malbecs from Argentina. Many excellent German wines are still produced, and some wonderful wines are coming from South Africa.
California is an obvious contender for the 21st cellar. Look for affordable wines of the Central Coast, especially for Syrah. One of my favorite wines is Old Vine Zinfandel from California’s Napa Valley. If you enjoy a bottle of Pinot Noir, you may want to stay away from California as they have become pricey, instead look to New Zealand. Southern Italy is a great area to add to your wine cellar with reds from Apulia, and Sicily and Verdicchio from the region along the Adriatic Sea. There are still many excellent and fair priced wine in both the Alsace and Bordeaux regions of France.
To add to the list, one must look at the wines of Virginia. Oenologists have noted Virginia’s colder climate places it closer to Bordeaux than California. Many wineries in Virginia produce a superior bottling. Virginia red wines came along more slowly than the whites, but are now producing excellent reds. These include Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot & Tannat, and Cabernet Sauvignon. White wine was the first to gain recognition for Virginia as a wine producing state. Viognier is Virginia’s official state grape since 2011, Viognier is well-suited to Virginia’s climate and provides some of the best Viognier in the world. Other whites include Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, Traminette, Petit Manseng and Pinot Grist/Grigio. Barboursville has made this its signature white wine for decades.
Virginia dessert wines have been improving and growing in popularity in the last few years. In a recent blind tasting at the Ashby Inn in Paris, Virginia, five Washington sommeliers compared Virginia sweet wines with some of the world’s great Sauternes. including a $350 bottle of the Premier Cru, Chateau d”Yquem. A 2001 bottle of Chateau Rieussec placed first while the Rockbridge vineyard’s 2009 Vd’Or an ice-wine style made from Riesling, Vignoles, Vidal Blanc and Traminitte placed second, selected over the Chateau d”Yquem.
A final note on Virginia wines. It would appear that the 2017 wines may well turn out to be one if not the best vintage since the classic 2010.