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Asking Questions about Piedmont in Tuscany

Posted: Sep 6, 2006 5:06pm ET

It’s really hot here in Tuscany. It’s still in the high 70s tonight, and it was in the mid-90s today. Thank God for the air-conditioning in my office. It’s really strange. It’s humid as well. My assistant Rosanne said it reminded her of Australia in the summer, and she grew up near the seaside. It could turn out to be an excellent harvest if people wait and pick for ripeness in the tannins and not just by potential alcohol levels. Let’s wait and see.

I tasted some more Barolos today. And I am a little surprised with a number of the 2002s I tasted. They were good quality on a whole, but nothing special. Most are drinkable now or in a year or two. They have nice perfumes, with plum and cedar character, but on the palate, they are only medium bodied with fine tannins and a short finish. The vintage was just too diluted, due to rain and cool weather that ran through most of the growing season and into the harvest.

What I can’t understand is why all Barolo producers did not drop their prices. It makes no sense. Wines from some producers, such as Massolino, are actually more expensive for 2002 compared to 2001 (an outstanding vintage!), according to prices supplied by their importers. Pio Cesare was only slightly less expensive.

What do you think about that? Don’t you think that lower quality wines from a lesser vintage in Piedmont should be less expensive than great vintages such as 2001 and 2000?

I say – yes!

Joseph Romualdi
Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada —  September 6, 2006 6:26pm ET
You would think that quality would dictate price. Only problem is that the cost of making wine goes up every year, for different reasons. And so does the greed. Since the wineries don't want to drop their GP (gross profit) percentages, they pass on the higher costs directly to the end user / consumer, regardless of quality.This is why I rely on scores, specifically from the Wine Spectator James brothers (JS, JL, JM). I rely on your expertise to help me decide what to buy and what to avoid. This blog tells me to avoid the '02 Barolos, or at least tread carefully. Thanx. I'm sure there will be a sale on some '02 Barolos in the near future.
Michael Desteffano
USA —  September 6, 2006 6:55pm ET
I agree they should reduce prices. Did you rate Pio Cesare's Barolo?
Jeremy Matouk
Port of Spain, Trinidad —  September 6, 2006 8:52pm ET
As I understand it a number of producers did not release any 2002 Barolo because they felt the quality was not up to scratch. For those that did, I suppose having established price points they are loathe to reduce them as that would send the "wrong message" to consumers who buy by name. They may also feel that bringing prices up again after a reduction for 2002 might take some time and doing.I do not agree with their philosphy and I feel for some it may backfire, i.e. consumers might feel the wine is bad value and stay away from the name in future. But you know, you can't tell someone how to run their business. To me those that refused to label their wines Barolo in a bad year were smart to do so and it will enhance their reputations in the long run.Incidentally, Aldo Vacca told me the rain really affected Barolo more than Barbaresco in 2002, yet I notice some Barbaresco makers (La Spinetta, for one) refused to put out their top labels and used the top grapes for their second labels, making them an unsually good value. I understand Frescobaldi did the same with their "Nippozano" Chianti Rufina, which grapes would normally have gone into their more expensive "Montesodi". As a result the Nippozano 2002 is better than usual and is a terrific wine for the price. To me that is smart thinking. What do you think James?
Colin Haggerty
La Jolla, California —  September 6, 2006 9:22pm ET
James-Free market...Let 'em go at it....I just won't be one of those who is buying.Colin
Tom Breneman
eau claire, WI —  September 6, 2006 9:26pm ET
Take a look at the Insider listings tonight,,, Insignia, rated 90 and at $150 ,12,000 cases produced. You'd think they might like to reduce their prices some just so more people would buy to try. Harlan didn't have their typical vintage in 2003 either, think their prices will come down????? HA!
Mark Mccullough
GA —  September 6, 2006 9:31pm ET
I noticed the other day some of the major on-line wine sellers have dropped prices on 2000 and 2001 Piedmont wines, I suppose to make room for the 2002's. How crazy is that? I'll be buying more of the 00-01, few to none of the 02's. The 2002 Piedmont vintage mirrors the premium 2003 CA Cabs, price went way up after 2002, scores are way down on a mediocre vintage. The cult names will sell out anyway but the second tier will likely suffer the most.
Scott O Neil
UT —  September 6, 2006 10:20pm ET
Considering that Barolo producers did not mark up outrageously for the '00 and '01 vintages (see Bordeaux in '03, '05), I'm not too bothered by it. All the same, I would be more encouraged to buy '02s if they reduced their prices or if they declassified the grapes into other, less expensive wines. I would think that after the run of vintages from 1996-2001 that Barolo producers would be in good financial shape and in a position to drop prices in an off year. Oh, well. This is a sign that I should buy more '01 BdM Riservas. Btw, Joseph, 'the James brothers': I like that. :)
Kace Ezzet
September 7, 2006 12:46am ET
As more and more consumers become fixated on vintages given the abundance of vintage charts on-line and everywhere you turn, producers will eventually have to adjust prices to reflect quality of the vintage. When wines were predominantly sold within their country of origin, there was no need to lower price on a bad vintage, since there was nothing else to choose from that particular year. Now with most countries offering abundant wines from around the world, consumers can be picky and stock up on Bordeaux one year, California the next, Piedmont the next, and so on.Yes, Barolo should reduce price, but California does not reduce prices in bad years either. The only region that offers substantal price differentials in bad years is Bordeaux, (and to a lesser extent Burgundy). Perhaps this is because those wines have been sold on a world-wide marketplace for decades, if not centuries.
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  September 7, 2006 2:59am ET
I have the feeling that we will be raising this same question when the 2006 Bordeaux vintage is released...
Ralph Michels
The Netherlands —  September 7, 2006 8:11am ET
James, turn it around:

Do you think producers should raise their price in 'better' vintages?

I would say no! Before you know, we have Bordeaux-pricing habits all over the world, which imho is a shame

Next to that, I don't believe in "good" or "bad" vintages. The style in every vintage is different. One vintage can be more terroir based with minerality, where other vintages are very extracted and alcholic. "Good" or "bad" should always be related to a feature like: "good for drinking young", "bad for aging", etc, etc.

Just my 5 cents

Marc Robillard
Montreal,Canada —  September 7, 2006 10:34am ET
Initial answer is yes, but what would happen to Barolo pricing in oustanding to classic quality vintages? Would this be Bordeaux II - Would great quality Barolo (which is already priced up there) become cost prohibitive in great vintages? On the other hand, I will not pay $70.00 to $100.00+ dollars a bottle for "diluted" Barolo either. Hell I'm not even sure that I would pay $20.00.
Rick Klotz
Lake —  September 7, 2006 10:48am ET
When the stuff sits in inventory long enough the prices will come down. It's no different than 'hot' wines going up in price. I've gone to restock several lately and have noticed that the price has jumped at least $5 per bottle. And these were sub-$20 bottles so that's a significant percentage. If retailers are putting sales prices on '00 & '01 Barolos to make room, that's a perfect time to stock up. I'll be on the look out.
William Newell
Buffalo, NY —  September 7, 2006 11:28am ET
It seems that Bordeaux Chateaux raise and lower there prices according to the quality of the vintage. The last "vinatge of the century", 2000 was up, 2001 was down, 2002 down even more, 2003 up, 2004 down, and now 2005, the latest "vintage of the century" is priced at extraordinary highs. So, why not Barolos, or for that matter California wines, which seem to go up every year, no matter what.
Guus Hateboer
Netherlands —  September 7, 2006 3:28pm ET
The question is really: are wineshops able to sell Barolo's from vintages that are considered of a lower quality than Barolo's from 'great' vintages? In other words, if the 2002 Barolo's are selling for the same price as the 2001 Barolo's and consumers buy both, no matter what critics say about its quality, who cares? If nobody is able to sell any 2002 Barolo's (which I doubt) then the price WILL go down, since even wineshops won't buy, or reorder that much. Or is with Piedmont the same as for Bordeaux: if you don't buy my wine in this crap year, you won't get any in the next (perhaps great) year? I don't know. The only thing I can do is read tasting notes very carefully...and then find out when two or even three new vintages alreay hit the market.
Peter Smit
Saint John, NB, Canada —  September 7, 2006 4:50pm ET
Peter Smit, Happinez Wine Bar, Saint John, NB, Canada2001 was certainly better than 2002 for Barolo in general. However, the efforts and costs in making the wine were probably pretty much the same, so why charge less?...because our customers are not willing to pay the same price for a lesser end product, eventhough it may have taken the same effort.
Greg Hedrick
Virginia —  September 7, 2006 5:05pm ET
I would agree the prices should drop. One producer (Aldo Conterno) is not producing any '02 Barolo. There may be others. Clerico declassified to a "2002 Barolo" instead of Pajana, Percristina, etc. It appears there are a few less greedy producers that will not sacrifice $ for quality.
Steven Balavender
Tampa, Fl —  September 7, 2006 10:10pm ET
When I was in Italy this summer touring wineries they were boasting how in Italy they do not raise their prices in good vintages like Bordeaux does. If this is the case then NO, I don't think they should lower their prices in lesser vintages. However, I did just get an e-mail the other day from my local telling me then are pre-selling Casanova de Neri Brunello 2000 at a discounted price. Now I do not know if they just got a great deal on it or they are lowering their own price margin to move the product. Either way for $34 I jumped on half a case. This is compared to the current pre-sell price of Casanova de Neri Tenuta 2001, that you rated 97 points that is now pre-selling at $69. Glad I locked in months ago and pre-ordered a case of it when they had it priced at only $49. I would think that even though you are not seeing a lower price off the bat on 02 Barolo, you probally will see specials running if it does not sell well in store.
Rodney Haden
Kentfield, CA —  September 8, 2006 12:00am ET
The 2002's, if priced too high, will sit in the distribution "channel", and not move through to consumer's cellars. This won't be the first, or last time this occurs.In due time, markdowns will take place, either at the winery, distributor, and/or retailer level, eventually settling at a market price that consumers are willing to pay. E-mail blasts from top merchants such as Zachys, featuring big names at "hot" markdown prices will fill our in boxes.....offer after offer, until we buy.History has shown that lesser and top vintage wine from Bordeaux, the Rhone, California, and (yes) the Piedmont almost always, in due course, adjusts to a fair market price, regardless of initial release retail prices.Case in point........the '98 and '99 Bruno Giacosa "village" Barbaresco's were offered two weeks ago by a leading Los Angeles area retailer at $49.99 per bottle!
Albert Jochems
The Netherlands —  September 8, 2006 3:26am ET

I always welcome lower prices..... as a buyer. For a winery, or more important an Appelation, pricing policy is a complicated sience (if not an art). An Appelation like Barolo has carefully build a tradition of high quality wines. Thats why we know them, and are prepared to consider them at their current prices. But a Barolo producer (like any other classic) has to 'create' this quality many years in advance.... in the vineyard. If he could not rely on certain price levels, he would not train his vines so drastically. And he would not reduce his production levels to such small amounts that deliver the concentrated, complex and rich wines that we love so much.

Add to that the (partial) free market....

But I do respect the ones that do not produce their first wine in bad years. Barolo has perhaps the handicap of not having a (well known) second wine, like Montalcino has its Rosso. I don't know about Barolo, but some BdM producers declassified their full 2002 harvest to RdM. And made some of their best RdM ever!

On the other hand, a lesser vintage has also its advantages. It underlines the unique character of wine, it can't be 'manufactured'. And they are ussually drinkable on a shorter notice. For starters in the treasures of Barolo (like me) the 2002 vintage will keep me from touching my 2001 stock. Every disadvantage has its advantage.....

Alessandra Soldi
ITALY —  September 8, 2006 9:46am ET
James....we at EMPSON always advocate vintage integrity, and in this specific case, we only released three of our Barolos with the 2002 vintage: Bongiovanni, Conterno Fantino and Einaudi. All were house blends from their top crus; these reputable growers REDUCED their prices 25%+ over 2001. Top growers are able to express their expertise and vineyard knowledge even in the more difficult vintages, thus making available to the consumer wines that are more forward and approachable in youth. Neil T. Empson
Dave And Eva Malone
Florida —  September 10, 2006 12:26am ET
I think that ultimately the prices of these wines will come way down, especially from the distributor to the retailer level. I say this because any smart buyer out there will know to avoid buying up a lot of 2002 Barolos because imho its a big waste of money that could be well spent buying other wines from different regions to offer guests in their respective wine shops. I happen to work in a wine shop and although I dont have direct buying power, I have not seen a any push to bring in anything from the 2002 vintage in this area; it just doesnt make sense financially. Why buy a wine from a poor vintage that your guests aren't going to want anyway, especially when there are plenty of nice 2000s and 2001s to be had at great prices? My prediction: retailers will lay off buying 2002 Barolos and it will be up to the distributors to slash prices. Bottom line: the producers will still get their money, retailers and consumers will possibly get a bargain or two and the distributors who bought too many will pay the price. Just my two cents. :)
Simone White
NY NY —  September 11, 2006 10:27am ET
Ciao James - I am the Italian Portfolio manager for Michael Skurnik Wines in NY. We represent the Marc de Grazia portfolio of Piedmont estates, and I'd like to say that of the few producers who did make a Barolo 2002, ours have dramatically reduced prices (some over 50%). These wines, including Scavino's new Bricco Ambrogio 2002, Clerico's Barolo 2002 (a blend of his three single-vineyard sites), Seghesio La Villa 2002, and E Pira "Cuvee Chiara" 2002, are all very worth buying and drinking at their reduced prices. In fact, many top restaurants in NY have purchased these wines and will be pouring them, because, after all, how often is it that you can afford to offer Barolo from great producers by the glass?
Chris Lavin
Long Beach, CA —  September 11, 2006 2:25pm ET
I too have seen prices reduced on the '02 - but I have not found anything worthy of buying as of yet, and I will probably sit around for a while on the vintages I carry ('95-'01). There is still a good amount of other vintages available in the market. 2003 is not looking like a typical year in Piedmont for Barolo or Barbaresco so we may be waiting for quite some time before we find a vintage worth talking about. I do believe that the "other" varietals in Piedmont will start coming to the forefront in consumers minds with some fabulous Dolcetto and Barbera being produced in both '03 and '04. The recent '05 Arneis I have tried have been lovely as well. SALUD!!!

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