Where to Search for your Reasonable Cellar in 2019
In his January 7, 2019 blog post, Jeff reviewed the concept of the Reasonable Cellar and his approach to buying and cellaring wine. Today he offers some more specific suggestions as to how to apply this strategy.
While shopping for your Reasonable Cellar does not involve the painful process of chasing scarce allocations, it does allow for the fun of figuring out what exactly makes good, cellar-worthy values. It’s something that changes all the time, as vintages come and go, new producers emerge on the scene, and old producers retire, lose their holdings, change their style, or whatever. Here are a few ideas for 2019.
If I had to pick one single place on Earth to source wines for the Reasonable Cellar in 2019, it would be the Loire. This, of course, has not been a secret for long, as for many years people have been touting the exceptional values — both red and white — offered here from Muscadet all the way to Sancerre. But two things are a little different in 2019. Just a few years ago, the wines in the marketplace came from 2011, 2012 and 2013, all weak vintages. Now, virtually everything available comes from 2014, 2015, 2016 or 2017 — a string of four very strong vintages! You almost can’t go wrong, as long as you stick to artisanal producers and stay away from the industrial brands.
The other important thing to realize in 2019 is that the secret is finally starting to get out. We have now seen two Loire producers reach off-the-charts cult-popularity: Clos Rougeard and Vatan. Additionally, we have seen a small handful of Chenin Blanc producers earning unicorn-like reverence. It is inevitable that other producers will soon follow. It’s impossible to predict which — we recommend just buying wines and producers you like for as long as you can afford them. And watch this space for a thorough guide to Loire Valley wines later this year.
Beaujolais is another region that seems to perennially provide value. Yes, the region now has superstars, and wines that are allocated far too strictly — Metras and Foillard, for example — but even those wines are rarely above $50 and we were able to offer both wines in our newsletter in 2018 (we’ll see how much we can land in 2019!). Definitely keep buying your favorites, as the prices have barely budged over the years — producers like Clos de Roilette, Dutraive and Bouland. But, be careful not to miss out on new producers, as this is neighborhood where vineyard land remains affordable enough that talented and ambitious young folk can actually get their hands on excellent terroirs. Sunier and Mee Godard both come to mind.
Beaujolais is great in the Reasonable Cellar not just because it is inexpensive but also because it ages quickly — most hit their peak at age five or so — and offers a really interesting range of terroirs, all with their own nuances, and all very visible because the wines are all produced with the same grape. Check out our guide to the Crus of Beaujolais here — hopefully we’ll get to updating that this year.
This is a tough one, because Piedmont seems to be affected more by global warming than most of our other favorite regions, and yet, well, it really is one of our favorite regions and we can’t leave it off a list like this! 2015, 2017 and 2018 were probably all too warm to produce much in the way of classical Nebbiolo, sadly, although of course there will still be plenty of tasty wine. 2014 was also a poor vintage in Barolo because of rain.
So what to do? Two things. One is obvious: focus on the two monumentally great vintages that are on the market, 2013 and 2016. Most 2013s have come and gone, and unfortunately most of what’s left is outside of the Reasonable Cellar budget. But keep your eyes peeled, because we are going to do our best to uncover a few opportunities in the next few months. As for 2016, the trick is to look at non-Barolos. Barbera, Freisa, and Nebbiolo d’Alba from many great producers are all coming online now. We will start to see Barbarescos this year. Do not miss them!
The other opportunity is in the “off” vintage of 2014. People don’t realize yet that, despite the problems in Barolo, it is in fact pretty awesome in Barbaresco. We have at least two 2014 Barbaresco opportunities in stock now at Reasonable Cellar pricing and we hope to uncover more this year.
In Bordeaux, you finally have two great vintages after years of problems: 2015 and 2016. Find wines from small artisanal producers that don’t really change their prices from vintage to vintage like is true for the big guys that deal with negociants. If you want to stick to Grand Cru Classees, then sorry, those vintages are going to be very expensive. But vintages like 2014 and 2011 offer good value, and we continue to find opportunities in back vintages like 2008, 2006 and 2004. Meanwhile, there is a whole world of value from not-so-famous Right Bank terroirs like Fronsac and the Castillon. Do not make the mistake of lumping all of Bordeaux all in the “lux” category and missing out on the amazing values from those regions!
Despite global warming and terrible forest fires, California has pulled off a series of truly fantastic vintages. At the same time, the wines that are emblematic of “New California” have become so mainstream that I am probably considered silly by many observers just for using the term. Taken together, we are truly in a new Golden Era for California, not seen since the 1970s. The problem is prices, of course, but even here we are seeing break-throughs, as it is increasingly being recognized that artisans need to produce the lighter, drinkable wines that are so easy to find in Europe at the $20 price point.
But this is still a challenging area for folks who want to keep a Reasonable Cellar. Look for opportunities in less heralded grapes like Zinfandel or Valdiguié. Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Syrah are sadly really tough, though here and there we’re able to find something. Our big advice for 2019? Go for Chardonnay. Californians are increasingly producing this grape in a more restrained, reductive--even Chabli-like--style that holds well in a cellar, and the pricing is for the most part still reasonable. And I have still never come across a pre-moxed Californian Chardonnay!
Like Beaujolais, Tuscany — and for now I am focusing mostly on Chianti — is a region that seems to perennially earn a spot on this list. No matter how good the wines they produce,, no matter how great the vintages, the price of Chianti does not seem to increase that much. My absolute favorite purchase in 2018 was the regular Classico from Castell’in Villa. Under $30, and I am very confident that it will give me enormous pleasure over the next 15 years. I cellared a full case; I wish I had cellared two or even three. That’s gone now, but folks are releasing Chiantis from 2015 and 2016 right now, and they are also great vintages.
The wines may not quite have the easy drinkability of Beaujolais, but on average they hold better in the cellar. And they are just so…satisfying! Stock up while this opportunity lasts, though honestly the price has stayed so stable for so long that it’s hard to imagine the opportunity expiring any time soon.
It’s no fun just having all the usual obvious regions on this list every time I put it out, so every time I make sure to add something new. I can’t believe I haven’t talked more about Campania in the past. I drink it at home all the time. I have cases and cases of Aglianico in my Reasonable Cellar, plus a bit of Fiano. The signature wine of the region — Mastroberardino’s Taurasi — is still only about $50 on release, and there are plenty of equally great wines from lesser DOC’s that cost less. This is an area — like Saumur in the Loire or Sicily’s Mount Etna — where I sense something really special is happening and it frankly reminds me of where the Northern Rhone was five or ten years ago. Pay attention!
Galicia, like a few other regions on this list — the Loire mostly, but also California and Campania — succeeds at providing obvious candidates for the Reasonable Cellar that are both red and white. They are blessed with wonderful grape varieties like Mencia, Albarino, Treixadura and Godello. They have some pretty crazy terroir, with awfully steep vineyards, and a wide variety of minerals in the soils underneath. They have vines going back 60-70 years and even further. They have, like Saumur, a lot of newish producers who understand the specialness of all these assets, and are trying to show them off to the world with traditional, non-manipulative methods. Like Campania, I think this is a region that is sneaking up on us and could really break out in the next year or two.
The best Rieslings from Germany, Austria and Alsace are already beyond the Reasonable Cellar budget. But it is still shocking how much great Riesling is produced in these regions that costs less than $40, or even less than $25. We sold Kabinetts from J. J. Prum for less than $40 in 2018, and these were so obviously great wines that will improve for five years or more in the cellar. There are so many other producers out there like that. Maybe the GGs from Donnhoff are now a little out of reach, but he has a wide range of incredibly delicious wines that are easily obtainable for under $35. This is very different from the situation in, say, Burgundy, where a Donnhoff analogy — Mugnier? — has become totally impossible for regular wine buyers.
Germany, in particular, has had a very good string of vintages. You can’t go wrong with 2015s, 2016s or 2017s. I haven’t tasted yet, but I understand the 2018s are also likely to be very good. Prices are going up, and this does not seem to be a situation like Chianti where you can always count on the prices staying moderate. A lot of good wines have already gone north of $50 and we think this trend will continue, partly because the Germans themselves recognize how special their wines are and they buy most of then locally. Until they do, you should keep stocking up.
Edges of Burgundy
Burgundy epitomizes all that is good and all that is bad in the wine world. The bad? You can’t find or afford wines from the most famous producers. Sorry, that game ended over ten years ago when the 2005s were released. Top Burgundy officially became unReasonable.
So why is Burgundy on this list? Because of the good. Because of the Edges. The Edges of Burgundy are all the villages of Burgundy that produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that would be considered world-class were they in any part of the world other than Burgundy, but that happen to be in Burgundy and therefore are completely over-shadowed by villages like Vosne Romanee and Puligny Montrachet. I’m talking about places like St. Aubin, Fixin and Mercurey. There are plenty more — I wrote a whole series of blog posts about them!
But I bring this up now because finally Burgundy has a string of really good vintages including one — 2017 — that actually produced a good quantity of high quality wine in both red and white. Buy plenty of Chablis, Rully, and Auxey Duresses in 2019, and you won’t regret it.
We will kick off your Reasonable Cellar buying tomorrow with a special offering of 30+ wines that all make great candidates. Make sure you are signed up to our newsletter.