I am recovering from three days of birthday celebrations at my house in Tuscany. I celebrated my 50th. Yes, I am a half of a century old now. I drank a number of 1958s and I have to say that I think I am aging better than any of them, except for the 1958 Sandeman Vintage Port. (It is much better than what I rated in my book, Vintage Port, back in 1989. 90 points, non-blind, on Sunday night.)
But 1958 was never a great year for wine in general – much better for humans. There are exceptions in 1958. I still remember bottles of 1958 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Georges de Latour Private Reserve that I drank with my father about two decades ago. It was as good as many first growths from 1959 or 1961. My dad had bought a lot of the BV 1958 in the 1960s when he was in wine collecting mode in Los Angeles.
This weekend I had at dinner friends from all over the world including Canada, United States, China, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia and, of course Italy. I missed a number of friends from Mexico! But the 40 or so of us had some great food and wine including double magnums of 1990 Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric dël Fiasc, 1997 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli, 1998 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia, 1998 Château L'Église Clinet Pomerol, and 1978 Château Cheval-Blanc. Tuscany’s top chef Francesco Berardinelli, who has been working in Paris with super chef Alain Ducasse until recently, cooked the dinner.
Obviously, apart from all the kudos and kind words from my friends, we also spoke a lot about the current economic crisis in the United States and the world. Everyone agreed, including a handful of top wine merchants and wine producers in Italy and France who were there, that prices are going to come down, especially on high-end blue chip names such as first growths, California cults and super Tuscans. Prices just have to go down as stocks, currencies and real estate take a beating.
The problem is that a lot of people bought those wines without any intention of ever drinking them. So it’s hard to have a lot of sympathy for them. It’s like the speculators who lost their shorts in the sub-prime.
Moreover, a lot of the new vintages of blue chip wines were bought as some people’s diversification of investment portfolios. Lots of young vintages of top name Bordeaux are apparently coming on the market right now. Or at least, they are trying to sell them to wine merchants. I heard about hundreds of stock brokers a few years back in London and New York who took part of their six figure bonuses and bought “investment-grade wines.” I wonder what they are going to do now with their wines, since many of them no longer have jobs, or their stocks are worth very little? They're going to sell the wines.
This is a terrible situation at the moment with the global economy. I hope we are not badly hurt. But the value of wine, particularly collectible bottles, has to go down. I heard one highly regarded vintner in Bordeaux say he expected first growths to go down as much as 40 percent in value.
I am listening to CNBC as I write this. The economic drama continues and we are all going to be on edge for a while – perhaps a long time. But don’t be too upset if you invested in wine. The only thing I can say to any of you who have wine investments is that the worse-case scenario is investing in a good cork screw if things really go to hell.