Wines get rated blind
DRC, Petrus or a brand new find
And not ‘a’ wine score but a range
So when ratings change, it’s a little less strange
Tasting notes say what you actually smell
What you can taste and unambiguously tell
Wine awards that remain far and few
Where wine judges could all fit on a pew
Riedel glasses that you can actually buy
And enjoy that wine without sweating joy
House pour that’s more wine than water
And a premium bottle for less than kidney barter
Wine searcher listings that you can buy near home
Where the outlet next door doesn’t ship via Rome
Tweets that auto hide, when it’s ‘having a Petrus tonight’
And Groupon that pops up, when it has a ‘Lafite’ in sight
All about wine storage, drinking, allowing the wine to breathe and appropriate serving temperature
Wine and Oxygen are to each other what two people attracted to each other (and to anyone for that matter), for the first time are. As the eyes interlock, awkwardness gives way to years of pent up emotions finally bursting out, the lovers throw caution to the wind, letting the slow smoldering turn to sparks that fly all over the place-the fervor reaching a boil in minutes, passion its zenith; settling down with happiness and contentment from the first rush before coming back with even greater intensity before the dawn breaks.
Well, if wine could speak, it would narrate a similar and probably a more passionate love story. A love story of a single day of passion and of rebirth, to live in the hope of that one day where, it will be consumed by that same passion again somewhere, and then die and start over and over again.
As soon as it is opened up and starts to come in contact with Oxygen, it starts to change itself. A wine bottle opened for just 20 mins can sometimes taste nothing like its 20 min earlier self. It's to do with the release of aromas and flavors as the oxygen interacts with the wine. And the one that has been allowed to breathe and live for a couple of hrs, will blow her more expensive and illustrious siblings (and near and distant cousins, who may have just been opened), out of the water.
However, much like too much of a lover, too soon can sometimes be not too palatable, too much of oxygen is bad for the wine. It's rare to see the same sparks fly again the next day and almost impossible to see any kind of passion left the day after that. It's too dull to caress, not worth the kiss on the lips, and if left open and in contact with air for a couple of days, should be dutifully immersed in the kitchen sink.
A big culprit that 'tips us over' these days, is the generous use of gimmicky gadgets that sometime provide false sense of comfort, to pour out or preserve any type and age of bottle (wine aerators, was one; I actually had to look that up when someone mentioned a few months back!) to a vigorous auto wine swirler and electronic wine preservers (most of these more gadgetry than preservers). Not so well known is that an unchecked and rampant use of decanters for old, aged, trophy bottles can also do the same damage.
While using a decanter can be great for a young wine to bring her around faster for that rendezvous with oxygen, for that sparkling chemistry, we would strongly discourage, no, entreat, earnestly plead you to the last breath in our lungs, to spare that beloved decades aged bottle this shock. Let the beauty that has waited all these years, come around on her own, little by little, glass by glass. Decanting her, would be an extreme, instant shock, and no one likes shocks; the more delicate ones, may even die in that instant leaving only an iota of themselves behind. As you pour every glass, both the bottle and the glass get a bit of that love of oxygen, and the wine will shine, till it has nothing more to give and you, nothing more to drink.
If there's time at your hand, lots and lots of it, you would be surprised to see how the slow meeting to let the bottle breathe as you enjoy your drink glass by glass instead, even for the young ones, will bring more joy to you and to the wine and retain that freshness that much longer. If you can keep the bottle (especially relevant for Asian houses, warmer countries), near a direct burst of air conditioning, it would pleasantly shock you to see how well that bottle comes into its own.
(There's a general notion, from some self proclaimed experts that opening a bottle without pouring it out in a glass or decanting does little to the wine since there's only so much wine that's in the bottle neck that is in contact with oxygen. In our humble opinion and personal experience, this is not accurate. The next time someone makes that suggestion, we suggest you ask them to open a bottle in the night and leave it out in the open or in the cellar and drink it after a night or recork it and store. It's a simple and easy way to screw the bottle. If oxygen can't get in, the wine should be fine the next day, most of it at least right? Wrong. Wine absorbs oxygen and it dissolves in it, intertwined like lovers. The end result is obviously, not very different from a half drunk bottle.)
But then, what you do you if you so want to open that bottle tonight and there's no one to share? You know, you would be too spent to come back again for a third round of passion or a fourth and you obviously would hate to see all that passion die out tomorrow and send it to the kitchen sink.
Like us, if you have been there many times, tried all sorts of electronic and manual stoppers and gadgets and remedies and still not found the answer, here's something that actually works. After about three years of experimenting with all sorts of stoppers, the one that finally earned its money, was this one, available for about $15 from Amazon.
Gift from a dear friend which we took with great skepticism considering we had just blown three times the money on an electronic wizardry. Two years later and this one is still going strong while the electronic one died after 3 months, having sputtered, struggled and failed a number of times during that period.
This one also works irrespective of how much wine's left (most electronic ones kind of go bonkers, finding it difficult to separate the wine with oxygen in the bottle, especially if the two have been together for a while or there's too much of it, meaning the bottle is near or less than half full- exactly when you need them most).
(Just be aware, when we say, it works, we are not suggesting, vacuuming it brings it back for storage so that Lafite you are thinking of opening after 10 yrs can go back again for another ten, but merely that it will last a few days with little loss of aroma or taste per our experience).
The other lover
But the stopper alone won't do the trick. You also need to keep the wine away from the other jealous lover, Temperature. This one is always lurking in the background, tugging at her emotions, her feelings, all the while as the wine cozies up to her other lover, Oxygen. And mind you, she is tempted, because when the temperature plays its card well, it can be very attractive, and in a very small window, make the combination irresistible. I would be tempted to call them (Wine, Oxygen and Temperature) a truple or something like that, but, they are not. From where the wine looks, however, it's more like a couple and a forbidden fruit. A perfect serving temperature though will undoubtedly however, make the wine feel a lot more fresh.
Temperature though still a lover, it's mostly a one sided (and zealous) love affair so you do need to keep it at bay, and, also not make this one mad. It is fickle, with a short fuse that can go off except for a very thin band of 12C-16C for long term storage or transit and 18-28 degrees for serving (bubbly should be served at much lower). Move out of this range for storage and bring that wine in cold containers at 4C like other frozen food and the wine will arrive barely alive, bring it at 30C and above, and you can practically use that great bottle as a vinegar replacement for your food preparations.
Red wine at room temperature?
Because of the cooler climates in Europe and many other traditional wine drinking countries, wines can survive comfortably in the open, on a kitchen top for e.g. with that stopper for a few days. The danger is when an Asian house in warm climates such as Singapore reads the literature and assumes (and we know a lot of people who do) that red wine will do o.k. at room temperature forgetting the 'room temperature' in that literature that one reads is the indoor room temperature in summer of the colder climate countries.
Although, 1970s was the first time when distributor pioneers such as Kermit Lynch in the US experimented with wine shipping in reefers (temperature controlled containers) after finding the first shipment in non reefer totally messed up, life for a large majority of these wines across the world hasn't changed much since. Four decades later, hardly a leaf has moved, with a large bulk of wine from almost every part of the world, exported like bulk, in large, non temperature controlled metal containers, baking at sea sometimes for upto four weeks. A number of distributors believe the privilege of reefer shipping should only be accorded to the prized $100+ wines and it's fine to peddle the fruit from less illustrious terroir in non reefers.
Obviously, we don't agree and neither should you. The test is rather an easy one for this. Leave a bottle of wine in the hot Singapore Sun for an afternoon or two in the blazing heat and then cool it off and drink. Now imagine what would it taste like if you kept in a metal container with Sun shining nicely for four weeks? Or alternatively, take our word for it and drink that bottle instead and, promise to never buy a bottle that didn't make its way to Singapore in a temperature controlled container!
That's why from our cheapest to the most expensive bottle, we import in reefers, the wines are delivered from the port to our specialty cold room in temperature controlled carriers by people who specialize and we withdraw the wines for delivery from the cold room as near to the time of delivery/consumption as possible. Where we source locally, we insist on distributors confirming they ship their wines in reefers like us.
(There have been times when great bottles have been offered to us at great prices but we have had to decline because we were unsure about the shipping and storage.)
Some tips to enhance the pleasure, enjoy the tryst
So for the greatest of pleasure, for merry making, this festival and beyond, here are a few things you can do to make the wine drinking experience more enjoyable:
1. Buy from suppliers, who are as passionate about your wine as you are and, who refuse to cut corners on shipping (at the upper end of volume, the additional cost, actually only truly comes down to a few dollars per bottle). Alternatively, ask the tough question on shipping.
2. Store the wine in wine cellars preferably below 16C (Champagne, sparkling wine or Proseco should actually be stored much lower, American scientists actually found storing bubbly at refrigerated temperature is better. An ideal temperature in our opinion is 6C/8C)
3. Open the bottle 15-20 mins before you drink. if you stored it in the refrigerator after you bought it from the supermarket, give it atleast 30 mins to 45 mins or more.
4. If it's a young wine, decanting is fine. Do it slowly and please be mindful of the sediments. Apart from aerating the wine, another important reason the wine is decanted is to avoid the sediments going into the glass (remember all those old photos of wine being decanted over a candlelight? Wasn't just for lack of electricity!). So please, no bottoms up!
5. Consider placing the opened bottle near where the air conditioner vents are. It's amazing what that constant blast of cold air at 24C/26C does to the wine as you drink that good stuff
6. Consider buying the cheap manual vacuum pump like above (there are lots of options) for your left overs and try to consume within a few days. Good dessert wines can last much longer after vacuum sealing, sometimes weeks because sugar acts as a preservative. Our longest successful test for the dessert wines has been two weeks. It likely could have lasted much longer were it not for us giving into temptation.
7. Never store an opened/half drunk bottle lying down even with the vacuum stopper (different from standard storage where wine bottles should always be stored lying on the side or lying down)
8. If you don't have wine cellar put that vacuum stopper and store it in the refrigerator. The flavor or aroma will be a little more muted, but the wine will survive for a few days quite nicely (and as I said above, not lying down please!)
Lastly, the same bottle can taste much better when it is shared in the company of friends. You have worked hard all year round. Take a break and invite that friend over. It's December! Ask us for recommendations and we would love to help.
We currently offer the option to our best customers to store the wines they buy with us, with us for upto 3 months. And we deliver as long as the delivery at the minimum is $100 or about two bottles. We are exploring extending the option to all our customers but that would need a bigger storage. Please leave us a comment here or drop us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for your view on what you think of this service.
If you have ever bought wine even once, chances are you would have heard of two things at least:
1 90/90+ point wines
2. Robert Parker
If you have never bought wine, there's still more than 50% chance you would have heard of Parker.
When the lawyer turned wine critic, Parker, first started the wine rating system in the late 1970s, no one (likely including him) had the faintest idea, he was starting a movement that will turn into a juggernaut, giving birth to hundreds and thousands of glamorous jobs in the wine world. Before he came along, while there were a handful of people (e.g. Robert Finigan, Clive Coates*) who were willing to stick their neck out, the world of wine assessment, simply put, wasn't standardized, wasn't being cut with the same knife over and over again across producers across locations to provide a consistent picture through the vintages of a style of wine and quality. There's still a lot of debate if it was being cut equitably even after the point system from Parker came into existence but there's a degree of acceptance, that it was being consciously attempted.
(Sorry, to say a cookie-cutter approach was being applied wouldn't do full justice to this phenomenon although some critics would like to argue that a decade down the line it did lead to standardized tastes ('Parkarization') across wine styles. This before a late nineties renaissance turned things around, especially for the wines from the traditional wine growing regions of Italy)
The 100 point system seemed simple to comprehend to the common man, to make sense of the extremely complex world of wine (remember there was no internet, and some of the big wine critics were still to be born or make their money writing (or both) and hadn't written books that you could find in your neighbourhood library or bookstore).
While as the years and decades have progressed, the 100 point rating system and many of the ratings and, the lawyer turned wine critic's wine memory have been called into question, what remains is the fact that Parker, did change the wine industry in more than one ways. The most important was establishing the status of independent wine critics as a benchmark, a standard that wine distributors, retailers and consumers could look up to and trust (and wine producers could court), especially when tasting everything was either not practical, or a very expensive option.
While Parker had a head start in establishing himself as the authority, it wasn't long before the world found other independent and equally well respected voices from across the Atlantic/Pacific such as those of the great Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson, James Halliday (literally on the other end of the world) and others that could be trusted (in some cases a lot more than Parker). These were then followed by other prominent names in the late 1990s such as Allen Meadows, Stephen Tanzer, Antonio Galloni, Neal Martin, Jesper Morris (more researcher, great author than a critic), Walter Speller, Kerin O'Keefe, Tim Atkin and off late, the likes of Richard Hemming and many others.
While the advent of wine writing has provided sustainable careers to the critics, and easily 'assessable' literature that an average wine consumer can use to arrive at a reasonable basis for judging a wine, it has also left the more well read consumer, especially the one who has taken some effort to dig deep spending some time and resources a bit confused. A real bane of this writing and multiple numbering systems is to the average wine consumer the rating now means everything and (sadly) all ratings from all sources mean the same.
Some of the questions that majority of the literature and rating point systems (whether out of 20 or 100) doesn't (still) really answer include:
1. While the rating may signify quality, what does it mean when two wines at two different ends of pricing spectrum are rated the same? Is the wine critic telling us that both are of the same quality? Or is he/she telling us, that compared to the best this particular terroir/specific winemaker can produce, the tasted wine is of this quality? Or is it that the wine critic is telling us that compared to the finest one can see from a certain geographic region for a certain grape for a certain wine style, this is how the wine stands up?
E.g. How a single vineyard Monfortino Barolo Riserva made from the fickle Nebbiolo grape from say Giacomo Conterno or a Cannubi Boschis Barolo from Luciano Sandrone, differs from a straight Barolo from an average producer in Piemonte ?
2. The rating system doesn't specify, the premium a point difference should command. So when a wine is rated a 90 vs a 92 or a 94 vs a 95, what does it mean in terms of the pricing to the average consumer? Would a 20% premium justify a 2 point difference or for e.g. is the consumer better off if a 92 point wine from an average producer is available for the same price or less as a 88 point or a 90 point wine from a star Chateau?
3. Which point system to trust? How do these stack up? Is the one by erobertparker.com to be trusted above vinous.com or the one from Burghound by Allen Meadows more reliable than the verdict from Jancisrobinson.com?
4. How the vintage stacks up against the best vintage for the producer? Though some wine critics bring this out in terms of drinking window (a great vintage from a great producer would need at least 10 yrs of cellaring for e.g. for a good red) and reflecting the same in the tasting notes, not many would go too far in comparing the vintage (although to be fair most great critics do provide a generic vintage report on their website). In fact, it is quite common to see star Chateau wines consistently rated in high 90s even for mediocre vintages.
While at the top end of the wine buying, this information on quality of the Vintage will be sort of available (and consistent most of the time between respected critics) and/or provided to the buyer voluntarily, for most value wines, this information will have to be scoured from the internet or sourced 'involuntarily' from the respective distributor or retailer.
So, why do we need these critics? Especially in the age of internet and social media and information overload, where almost all of that you could possible need including, the history, the geography, the math and the science of it (pun intended) is available at your fingertips?
The answer actually is quite simple. We need them precisely because of this information overload.
We need them to help us sift through the mountains of literature to tell us what's worth a read and what's a cheap regurgitation of established writing overly simplified to serve a hidden agenda-A very critical component in developing your own understanding and benchmarks
We need them because no one (including big retailers and distributors, except perhaps the likes of Berry Bros) have the financial wherewithal to taste the multitude of wines and styles and famed producers with their own money. The privilege accorded by the producers to a select few who are unafraid to use the pen to say like it is, can sometimes help you save some pretty big dollars (especially if you are a small time retailer)
We need them because there are too many 'wine experts' out there, some still pretty wet behind their ears (and a large majority aren't willing to admit this).
We need them because we sometimes need an authoritative figure to pass the verdict authoritatively!
We need them to help us sift through the zillion regional and international wine awards now in circulation for every category of wine pricing and every wine producing region (to tell us a large majority of these is basically junk).
We need them because we need someone to stand up and (rap on the knuckles if needed) to the financial might of some of the largest producers to put the truth bluntly.
We need them to strike up a debate, or question the governments for questionable practices to bring about the change in laws, viticultural practices or plainly driving sanity on pricing!
We also need them to help the industry grow, to help identify the new passionate producers who have willingly chosen the long grind through endurance, took nature's rude jokes on the chin to emerge on the other side of the tunnel with high quality fruit and pioneering wine practices.
And as you make use of the great reads from the likes of Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson, Tim Atkin, Antonio Galloni, Kerin O'Keefe, Richard Hemmings and others into your wine journey, here are a few practices you can consider adopting in your wine journey:
1. Acquiring this knowledge is a journey where you are bound to stumble even when the path is fully lit and absolutely clear. So be humble and accept (unless you are a MS (Master Sommelier) or a MW (Master of Wine) most of the time what you don't know is a lot more than what you do know
2. Spend a few minutes tasting and assessing the wine (every time). There's no one in the world who can taste it better than you for the wine style you like. If you are in the company of good friends who share a good drink, ask the price (or if you want to be discreet, look up wine-searcher.com)
3. Try different wine styles. Different countries, regions and different grapes (please stick to the native grapes for each of the regions if you are still in early stages of your wine journey)
4. Consider spending a bit more and pick up a $50 bottle every now and then (do ensure you pick up from a value supplier or check the prices on wine-searcher.com). For people in Singapore make that $70
5. Buy from the retailer, who isn't afraid to share the knowledge or admit his ignorance. They are also probably on a similar journey and hopefully further ahead.
6. Follow the big names in wine writing on social media such as twitter. You would be absolutely amazed the amount of great free literature that becomes accessible and right there on your mobile.
7. Learn to slowly build your producer dictionary. I would always recommend starting with the producer, then the wine style/vintage. Have faith, there are a lot of great producers who are still as passionate about wines as their great grandfathers. (I personally would always chose a small time producer over a big negociant- (wine merchants, bulk buyers of fruit/large growers) even if I have to pay a slight premium.)
8. Take time to understand the wine critics. It won't be long before you will start forming an opinion on who you can rely on. (The ones I rely on or my guidance are part of this blog)
Wishing you a happy week. Wine is best enjoyed in company of good friends. Drink responsibly. Share the glass, share the love.
If I have mixed up the history on which wine critic came first and who later, then my apologies it was unintentional. If I have skipped some very prominent names who are prominent wine critics in today's wine world, I must admit it is either ignorance or purely intentional :) !
*added post publishing. Clive Coates was a genuine miss.
Although this question has been posed to me multiple times in the last couple of years, what really triggered this post was a short piece done by Bloomberg on the back of a wine auction in which the presenters debated the prices of a wine auction where wines worth $2.8m from Chateau Margaux were sold. First to just clear the misconception of the presenters- no the $2.8m was not the price of a single bottle of a 2009 vintage from Bordeaux or a case but that of a total of 238 lots of Chateau Margaux from 1900-2010. The highest price fetched was by a balthazar (that's equivalent to 16 bottles) of a 2009 Chateau Margaux of $98,000. While extraordinary, one must remember the price reflects rarity of a balthazar of a top Chateau (Margaux is one of the top 5 as per 1855 classification of Bordeaux) for an extraordinary vintage (2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010 are Vintage of the century). This translates to roughly $6k equivalent for a standard bottle. While high compared to the wine pricing in the market, it certainly isn't very far out of the ordinary.
In most years, a bottle of Chateau Margaux will still sell for $300-$500 irrespective of a vintage while the price can be three to four times in case of a great vintage.
In terms of price of a wine, the bigger the bottle size, the more is the price relatively speaking (It's to do with the amount of oxygen compared to the volume of wine in the bottle). Thus a bigger bottle ages better and can last much longer. So a magnum (1.5L) would be more expensive than a standard Bordeaux bottle and a Jeroboam (3L-Burgundy, 4.5L Bordeaux) would be more expensive than a magnum). Also, wines sold directly from the cellar of the producer would always fetch a better price than those sold by a wine merchant (it is to do with how little the wine has moved from its natural ageing environment in that time).
Looking at the number of lots sold and the vintage on offer, the total net price for the auction was hardly one that would raise eye brows to a significant stretch. The problem in that news piece stemmed from asking someone who rarely buys and drinks an expensive bottle (at least not with their own money). It is no different from the perception of a normal flyer who flies budget or economy on why fly a first class suite when a business class offers you flat beds or buy a Patek Philippe when it just shows the time or why a Jason Pollock fetches millions when he/she thinks even a child can paint like that.
To understand why someone would be happy to spend a $6k on a bottle one needs to get the person who regularly buys that kind of wine or getting someone who charters a flight when a business class ticket could offer the same utility so much more cheaply. It's to do with exclusivity and experience and a personal preference or willingness to enjoy the experience. Not to mention the bragging rights of having owned such rare masterpieces.
Investing in fine wines is thus, first and foremost to do with exclusivity and uniqueness. Producers who make a tiny amount and who are well rated obviously sell for multiples compared to someone who is not equally rated.
It's to do with the terroir or the location. So a Grand Cru from Burgundy or a higher rated Chateau (a First growth or second growth from Bordeaux) in general would fetch more than a premier cru which will fetch more than a village wine. And while a Grand Cru could age for decades, the premier cru may not have the lasting power.
It's to do with the producer. Great producers who own great, exclusive vineyards and who have a reputation of a severe, conscientious selection, reputed wine makers, cellar practices, etc could be rated much higher than their next door neighbour, with their wines out selling and out pricing their neighbours in multiples of five or ten.
It's to do with Vintage. The better rated the vintage, the better rated the wine. So a 2005 or a 2009 or 2010 from Bordeaux would sell in multiples of what a 2011 or 2012 would fetch for the same producer.
It's do with storage. So a wine that has been stored at the cellars of the producer would sell for more compared to the same wine stored in a recognized commercial storage. This in turn would sell for a lot more compared to a wine stored in average commercial storage or stored at home.
It's do with age. An older aged bottle of a great vintage obviously with life left will sell for a lot more than a recent great vintage. Not to mention the fact, over the years, as that vintage is drunk, there would be less and less peers of the same wine and vintage.
A degree of luck. If a region has had a bad run of vintages, then the last great vintage would obviously continue climbing up in pricing. E.g. a 2009 or 2010 from Bordeaux. However, if a region has had a string of fantastic vintages, then until mother nature establishes the rarity of a great vintage, the price of the recent great vintage may not truly reflect the potential.
Investment horizon: While I am convinced over a longer term (10-20 year period) the great 2000, 2009 or 2010 from Bordeaux would offer significant upside compared to today's pricing, one must be prepared to hold the wine for that much longer and in case of an adverse scenario longer than that. It's like holding a blue chip stock. While the short term equity markets may offer some returns, the markets may also be choppy which, by the way is no reflection of the underlying quality of the equity.
In summary, if you want to invest in fine wines, here are some thoughts for you to consider:
1. Look to invest in underlying asset than investing in the index- worst case scenario you an actually drink that amazing stuff someday (and you have a choice to hold only the very best not all the components of an index)
2. invest in high quality bottles that have ageing potential of a few decades. This would mean extraordinary vintages of wines which are either first growth, second growth or super seconds from Bordeaux, some extraordinary Grand Crus from Burgundy from named producers or outstanding premier crus or other similar traditional (in some cases a bit eccentric but passionate) producers from regions such as Tuscany, Piedmont, California, etc.
(I am personally, also a big believer in the second wines of these great names. It would amaze you to know how fast the prices of their second wine shoots up (most of the time these remain under the radar although for a number of big Chateau, these second wines are a big driver of the yearly cash flows))
3. Be prepared to hold these wines for a minimum of 10-15 yr horizon
4. Ensure proper, recognized commercial storage. The cost of recognized commercial storage over the investment horizon is a fraction of the overall cost.
4.Like any other asset class, take time to educate yourself. This learning journey, I guarantee is an absolute joy.
You see, unlike blue chip stocks that, in rare instances, can go bankrupt and disappoint, a fine wine properly sourced, and cellared, will always be there to please.