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Crazy Thoughts in the Hills of Florence

Posted: Jul 7, 2006 1:03pm ET

I went to visit winemaker Bibi Graetz of Testamatta yesterday in the hills above Florence near the town of Fiesole. Bibi, 38, is a cool winemaker and is producing some exciting reds from classic Tuscan varietals such as Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo. He makes handmade wines with great depth of fruit and structure. It all comes from precision in the vineyard (low yields) as well as in the cellar (no-nonsense clean winemaking). I regularly score his wines in the 90s. And his 2004s that will be on the market soon are really excellent – his best ever. Stay tuned.

However, I was a little concerned when old Bibi started talking about the price of his 2004 Colore, which is a blend of Canaiolo and Colorino. It is a fantastic wine, and I can't tell you just yet how many points I gave it in a blind tasting in my office – but I gave plenty! Anyway, he said that he was going to sell the wine (he only made about 1,000 bottles) for 250 euros ex-cellar – one-third was already sold for 300 euros to his importer in Japan. The wine used to be only available in the mega-buck Florentine restaurant Enoteca Pinchiorri. I think it went for 80 Euros a bottle.

“If Colore is like the Pétrus of Tuscany, then it should cost the same price,” he said with a grin. “It is a provocation. It may be crazy but I feel it is necessary to do…the best Tuscan wines are as good as the best of Bordeaux.”

I told him that I didn’t think it was a very good idea. And I hoped he was simply making a bad joke, or something.

Anyway, I hope that this is not a trend in the wine world as vintners look at the “success” of Bordeaux in selling the most expensive young vintage on earth.

Will winemakers in Burgundy, Tuscany, Napa, Barossa, Priorato, and other areas also double and triple their prices with new vintages? That’s a scary thought, but it’s possible.

Mark Bata
Canada —  July 7, 2006 1:35pm ET
James,It's always interesting to me that some Italian producers would like to compare their wines to the top wines from Bordeaux. But what I feel is amazing about these Tuscan gems is that often the wines from Tuscany reminds you of the place where the wine originates. Tuscan Merlot often speaks with a bit of Italian accent, but it is the market that will be the barometer for pricing. But I certainly wouldn't want to have to sell Tuscan wines at the Petrus price in our market. Thanks for responding to my Chianti blog!
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  July 7, 2006 1:49pm ET
Adding to that James, is that I think it's a critical time not to start jacking up the prices. With a growing group of younger wine drinkers, if wines get too excessive you'll end up just alienating alot of your future core drinkers.
Alan J Kamen
Altamonte Springs, FL —  July 7, 2006 2:04pm ET
Unfortunately you are probably correct. "If you build it they will come"
Riccardo Campinoti
July 7, 2006 3:49pm ET
If Colore is like the Petrus of Tuscany I walk to Bordeaux barefooted. After he has made excellent wines year in year out for the next 150 years maybe he can start asking for this kind of money. Let's keep it real.
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  July 7, 2006 4:22pm ET
I tend to agree with Jeffrey Ghi in that the younger generation of wine drinkers are not going to stay with it if prices skyrocket. Most of them are consuming bottles under $10 right now. My friends think I'm insane for buying bottles over $20. Drinking and collecting wine is trendy right now but who knows in a few years....will the price increase be it's downfall? There's a reason why so many Americans buy wine from Australia and California....price.
Gianandrea Facchini
rome, italy —  July 7, 2006 4:42pm ET
you may be probably right about an upward trend in price, most of the time driven by reason not linked to the wine in itself. on the other side, i recently had a great experience of great wine from tuscany at 14 euros at the restaurant. a vermentino from the bolgheri area. i think that this is the way producers should follow. let bordeaux fix in some way ridicolous price. by the way as it it is the first time i wrote a comment, i do not make mention of the restaurant and of the wine name. if you are curious about, let me know and i would be very happy to share it.
Yaron Zakai Or
Israel —  July 7, 2006 5:34pm ET
If this will become a trend, the ones that will be mostly heart are the wineries that will jump on this trend. The reason is simple, this is just wine and most people will just switch to cheaper options. There is a limited space for luxury wines and the wineries jumping on the trend will loose their current fans - and without any assurance that the new prices will catch. What will he do if Colore will not sell that well with the new prices? In the normal world one pays more money for the same product only if there is additional value from one "release" to the next "release". As this is not the case here - these new prices will not sustain.Wineries that will maintain sanity in their pricing will be the ones that will win on the mid to long term. There are and will be enough of those.
Mark Mccullough
GA —  July 7, 2006 9:44pm ET
James, I was going to ask you in a previous blog on Bordeaux futures if you thought this would carry over into Piedmont and Tuscany, and you are way ahead of me! Gaja must be having similar thoughts. I have considered premium Italian wines as better values than premium Bordeaux for the past ten years (and have increased my purchase share accordingly). I'd hate to see the Italian winemakers lose the fans they've built over a short-term bubble. Maybe time to buy up some of the better earlier vintages and sit out for a while (this is sounding like the Bordeaux discussion again!). Or maybe Bebi was just testing your reaction!
Guus Hateboer
Netherlands —  July 8, 2006 7:03am ET
I just started a winery in the Netherlands. The wine is as good as Petrus, so I'm selling for 295 euro a bottle. Anyone?
Guus Hateboer
Netherlands —  July 8, 2006 7:19am ET
Testamatta? Doesn't that mean 'crazy brain'? Good one, James.
Dale Harrison
Toronto —  July 8, 2006 12:14pm ET
I don't know what everyone is complaining about with regard to '05 Bordeaux prices and the echo effects. I think it's just great that a whole group of speculators is willing to buy this superbe wine, store it properly for the next decade, and then sell it to me 10 years hence after having incurred an abysmal return on their investment. In the meantime, my money can compound away while I create some room in my cellar. Ditto overpriced Tuscans etc. What's the fuss?
Michael Culley
July 8, 2006 12:24pm ET
I don't think anyone else could get away with tripling prices in one vintage on the level(cases produced)that many Bordeaux estates have with the 2005 vintage. However, on a small scale(with Testamatta we are talking only 80 cases or so)it would seem that just about anyone could pull it off if they didn't mind alienating(and possibly losing) current and/or long time customers. I agree with Riccardo that two or three vintages isn't in the 'proven track record' category. Does cannaiolo/colorino taste like merlot? Where would the price of Masseto go to? Mammamia! I always cringed when someone mentioned buying a case of brunello instead of 2 or 3 bottles of bordeaux. Let's hope no one in Montalcino reads your blog. And Riccardo, pick me up on your way to Bordeaux.
David A Zajac
July 8, 2006 3:23pm ET
It is actually not surprising that small producers of high quality wine are having those feelings, if your the producer, wouldn't you want to maximize your return? I don't blame them, but is an extremely short sighted philosophy in going for the short term return in lieu of long term profitability and they are rolling the proverbial dice. I wouldn't pay that price, but some others might. What do you think the release price of Screaming Eagle is going to be now that it has changed hands? Anyone want to bet nobody will be seing release prices of $300/bottle on that wine ever again? By the way, I will join in the walk to Bordeaux once I swim the Atlantic first.
Michael Twelftree
Barossa, Australia —  July 8, 2006 5:49pm ET
James,This is a really interesting topic with a really easy answer, thank you Bored'o for making it so easy for the rest of us. At the end of the day every brand, big or small, good or bad, is about knowing their consumer base and making sure their production pull through the market place, Bordeaux does not know or support its end-user and does not pull through the market in every vintage. I ask where is the entry level to growth Bordeaux these days? $USD100+ and above. My image is that the best from Bordeaux will be held like rare jewels in display cabinets, where the rest of the world better priced to quality wines will be sold, talk about and most importantly drunk. You just have to decided whether you want to be the tortoise or the hare.I personally love it because Bordeaux has just left the building and the saddest part is the terrible effect that the pricing of the 50 or so 'RockStar' labels has on the rest of Bordeaux's image.Michael Twelftree, Two Hands Wines, Australia
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  July 9, 2006 3:20am ET
Imagine this scenario-As the sea of reasonably priced good wines rises, guys like Fred Franzia move in to fill the void. Yikes-What a thought!!!
Steve Lenzo
PHX, AZ —  July 9, 2006 2:40pm ET
James - There's only so much money to go around. Only the fascination of Bordeaux could get away with the craziness we see now. Could you imagine paying $700 for Gaja? Since your blog last week I went ahead and laid down my money, $8,000 so far, on the 2005's. This only means I'll buy fewer other wines.
Marchello Chacchia
Connecticut —  July 9, 2006 7:12pm ET
Viva Italia! Viva Italia!! Viva Italia!!!
Marchello Chacchia
Connecticut —  July 9, 2006 7:20pm ET
P.S. Thank you too Mr. Twelftree for your delicious wines. I am currently trying to corner the Winecommune market for your tremendous creations- wish I could find them more regionally. Your 2002 Deer in the Headlights is (currently) my favorite wine of the year- can't wait to taste the Lily's and Bella's I have shipping soon. Folks, there is so much more out there than Bordeaux- enjoy it all!
Alex Cobb
Fort Worth, TX —  July 10, 2006 10:59am ET
The 04 Lily's Garden was superb. I went back and bought a case after finishing the first bottle. I found the 04 Bella's Garden last week and bought two bottles. I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but am looking forward to it! Keep up the great work Mr. Twelftree. -Alex

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