2001: A glass odyssey
A new millennium of wine
by Thor Iverson
Predictions are tricky things. Usually, I prefer to make them late in the
evening, after a few too many glasses of wine. But although that might make for
entertaining reading, the spelling would be atrocious. And so, herewith, a
sober look at the year ahead in wine. Feel free to drink along at home, if you
Retailers know that there has been a lot of vintage hype recently. Whether it's
the big and fruity '98 Rhônes, the big and fruity '97 California
cabernets, or the big and fruity '97s from Tuscany and the Piedmont (sense a
pattern here?), Americans seem to be unable to resist chasing what critics tell
them is the Next Big Thing. What's missing, of course, is a sense of balance;
vintages on either side of these supposedly great years are often more
structured, more elegant, more traditional and typical. Some Piedmontese
producers are quick to point out that though their '97s are indeed lush and
fruity, they consider them almost freakishly atypical, while their beautiful
and balanced '96s sit on the shelves, unwanted and unsold. And, incidentally,
at quite a discount compared to the overpriced '97s.
So what's the next victim of the herd mentality? It's difficult to say. Few of
the already-famous areas have truly unbelievable wines coming down the pipe.
Look for the hype over the 2000 Bordeaux to start building, as retailers start
offering futures on these wines (opportunities to reserve in advance), from a
region that hasn't had a truly spectacular year since 1990. It will be more
hype than substance, unfortunately, and as much about the number on the label
as the wine in the bottle.
Bargain hunters should look to the '98s from Alsace. More balanced than the
sometimes overwrought '97s, these wines are delicious now, and have the
requisite acid balance to age wonderfully. Regions that have difficult vintages
coming include the Loire ('98), Bordeaux ('97 and '98), and, thanks to El
Niño, California ('98), which hasn't had to deal with anything less than
a super-ripe vintage since 1989. But, as usual, buying by vintage is a poor way
to buy wine. Good producers made good wines nearly every year -- wines that are
perfect for drinking while waiting for the "big years" to mature -- and the
lack of press-induced fever helps keep prices down.
Ah, prices. Did they go up last year? Definitely. Will they go up again this
year? Absolutely. This despite a slowing economy, "grape gluts" caused by
overproduction in many of the world's wine regions, and a wine world becoming
overrun with luxury cuvées of cabernet and cabernet-based blends from
just about everywhere. A thousand identical wines, at a thousand identical
($100-plus) price points, wines that could come from anywhere, but that are
desirable simply because others desire them. One would think that there were
too many of these wines, and that the incredible demand would be unsustainable.
But recent history teaches one singular lesson: the price of wine never, ever
goes down. And while dot-com money might be drying up a bit, worldwide demand
for all wine is increasing. Basic supply and demand, folks. Get used to
spending more than $10 for everyday bottles, and at least $15 for somewhat
special bottles. But don't get too used to it, because those numbers are
going to go up.
Boston's maturation as a food-and-wine town is proceeding apace. New
restaurants are opening with better and better wine lists, and better wine
service, as Boston's wine drinkers become more savvy and more demanding. What
was good enough last year -- assembling a novel-length tome of big names at
indescribably high prices -- is no longer good enough; restaurants actually
have to try to do something interesting to compete in the increasingly
overheated marketplace. There will be more lists like that at Prezza -- long
and comprehensive -- but there will also be more lists like those at
Silvertone, Taranta, Truc, and Torch -- shorter ones built around a theme, an
idea, a search for interesting wines to go with interesting food. Wine lovers
should look forward to new openings from Charles Draghi (ex-Marcuccio's) and,
perhaps, Chris Campbell (ex-Uva).
Finally, and as if wine weren't already bewildering enough, more and more
places are going to try to sell you their wine. The price of high-end stuff
from the well-known regions of France, Italy, Spain, and the West Coast has
spiraled out of control. And so importers and adventurous winemakers are trying
hard to start taking advantage of little-known wines from unheralded places.
Look for wines from the Jura, Pic St-Loup, and the Côtes du Thongue in
France; Jumilla and Toro in Spain; the Pfalz and the Saar in Germany;
everywhere in Italy but the Piedmont and Tuscany; and Mendocino and Santa Cruz
To get an early jump on all these wine trends, absolutely do not miss the
upcoming Boston Wine Expo, January 20 and 21, at the World Trade Center. Call
(877) 946-3976, or visit www.wine-
for details. Tickets are limited this year, so act quickly.
And finally, a few wines to start off the new year:
Domaine de l'Ameillaud 1998 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Cairanne
($9.99). A terrific, rich, fruity example of the typical '98 style in the
Rhône Valley. Huge, succulent blackberry and black cherry, bacon fat, and
herbs, both balanced and long on the finish.
Boscaini 1997 Valpolicella Classico Superiore Marano ($13.99). A
single-vineyard Valpolicella with a delicious, fruit-forward character that
makes it wonderful for near-term drinking. Black cherry, with a hint of
licorice (a characteristic of the principal grape, corvina), balanced and
Thor Iverson can be reached at email@example.com.
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