The Best versus…

My father collected antiques. His advice was always go the very best you can afford, and sometimes go even higher, you will never regret it. And for the most part he was right, except collecting wine has so many exceptions that just going for the best tends to make for a very limiting experience.

There are obvious vintages you should avoid. For Bordeaux I have kept clear of 2013 and 2003, and limited my 2015 purchases as I don’t like the style much. But 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2012 are often excellent. I would add 2008 and 2014, but both are like Yogi Berra says, everybody agrees are underrated. But overall, they are all medium vintages, which are lighter maybe, early maturing and offer many really good wines. A different expression of Bordeaux, and if I were choosing a wine from the 21st century to drink tonight, it would probably be from one of those vintages.

Drinking the best means waiting. Two recent tastings, Magdelaine and VCC demonstrated that perfectly. In both cases for instance, the great 1998 wines were brilliant, but needed time, while 1985s were just coming into their own. The 2002 Magdelaine I drank a week before the tasting was beautiful.

That is Bordeaux, but I find the same in a lot of Burgundy. Only now am I drinking premier cru 1999s, and even then, having to choose carefully. Chevillon needs time, Trapets are good, and my latest, a Lafon Santenots was fine, but needed time. Expensive vintage when today, the less renowned ‘07 seems to be drinking better.

And lesser vintages are lighter and easier to drink. The better ones may lack intensity but most of the complexity is there. I drank my last Dujac CSD 1986, but God, they were beautiful wines.

And within most “off” vintages, there those wonderful exceptions. 1999 Palmer, 2001 Right Bank, 2006 Cheval Blanc, 1994 Mouton, and going back 1980 Margaux.

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Great post Mark. I 100% agree. I’ve had a lot of brilliant bottles from medium vintages, and a lot of good but not great from the “amazing” vintages.

I’ll take 89 Burgundy over 90 every day, and my last great Burgundy experience was an 07 Dujac Echezeaux that was just beautiful. In Oregon 2001 gets little recognition but it’s provided me with some of the best experiences.

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This is generally very true. The best of the best are almost always better than the rest.

For me, the difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy is availability for backfilling, which affects the decision making around specific vintages. This is where I tend to put more faith in my favorite producers.
I found many of the wines from 2011 (burgundy) to be very pleasant, albeit not suitable for long-term aging. This vintage was considered to be the second worst since 2000. 2018 is still broadly treated as an inferior overall vintage due to heat. I am now seeing some of the 2018 wines to be developing very nicely. And while 2019 are commanding a significant price premium over 2018, I am not so sure (and I could be wrong) that years from now 2019 will be much better than 2018. I am not generalizing; this argument applies to the best producers.

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Here is another dimension to consider: Collecting (and retaining/increasing value) vs. Consuming. For the former, the best of the best in the best vintages would always win. For the latter, it gets complicated.

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Your father’s advice, if followed over the the last 3-4 decades, would undoubtedly have been very profitable advice.

The catch now, is whether that will still hold true into the future, or whether the price escalation has been so great, that the most prestigious wines are now overpriced. The answer to that is both wine related and also socio-economically related, and I’ll skip commenting on the latter, as it would run the risk of skirting into politics.

I’m guessing if money is no object , then that advice is sound. For many young people starting out on the path of wine, when it comes to rent, student loans, food, car bills, and entertainment, I am guessing ‘the best of the best’ might be a $15 bottle. So like so much in life, social status and wealth will decide where that line is.

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I’ve had some pretty amazing ‘best of the best’ wines, many from people who had heen purchasing those wines for decades.

A few have been head ad nshoulders above the rest, 90 Krug Clos du Mesnil comes to mind, but most have been just very, very good. I’m pretty sure that my list of profound bottles is about 50/50 elite wines from grand names and less well known wines that have over performed. To be fair, some of those less well known producers are now in the best of the best category, Clos Rougeard in the early 90’s was not at all the heralded place it is today even though the wines were tremendous.

And in the Willamette Valley, I would drink McKinlay over Domaine Serene every time.

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Very good call.

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