~ Vineyards in Barolo ~

Monforte; Serralunga.  They’re world famous names that wine lovers recognize instantly.  Giacosa, Conterno, Gaja, Scavino, Mascarello, Clerico, Sandrone,  and many others are equally recognizable.  They have built a foundation of greatness in Piedmont that is unmistakeable.   However,  it is often said that success breeds contempt.  And I’m starting to get antsy about the trend I’m seeing emerge from Barolo.  

Generalizations are just that. They can always be refuted with debate.  There are always exceptions that can seemingly disprove the assertion.  That being said, trends are obvious and this article highlights a troublesome trend.  Barolo prices are on the rise.  Big time.  And I’m wondering whether the producers realize that the golden egg laying goose is about to be slaughtered.  

From 1990 to 1996,  there were two “outstanding” vintages in Piedmont.  However in that same time span, there were 3 or 4  mediocre vintages.  Rising prices in excellent vintages were expected and almost accepted given the difficulty many producers had selling vintages like 1991, 1992, and 1994.  That all changed with the 1997 vintage.  In the ensuing 14 years,  Piedmont has realized a string of outstanding vintages;  12 in 14 years as a matter of fact!  (source: Wine Spectator vintage charts)  With all this amazing wine,  with increased acreage, with better vinification practices leading to an increase in quality yields and with a worldwide economic slump,  it would seem logical that prices would stabilize at a minimum or even drop.  Am I crazy?   Yet the opposite has occurred.  Prices have soared exponentially to the point where many lovers of Barolo have been priced out of the market.

~ Iconic Monprivato:  Now approaching $140-$150 per bottle ~

The retort you’ll hear is that demand has increased for these wines, so naturally, the price will rise.  That may be so – but the production is hardly miniscule.  Since 1992 plantings in the DOCG zone have increased 57%  (source: Oxford Companion to Wine)  and average annual bottle production exceeds 10.25 million bottles.  By comparison,  average annual Brunello production isn’t even half that; at just under 4 million bottles.  In the end, the true lovers of Barolo suffer.  And as I speak to more and more winemakers, each and every one repeats to me that they want their wines to be enjoyed.  They want them to be appreciated for what they are; integral parts of a meal – not traded and cherished like commodities, stocks or bonds.  

Here in the New York – New Jersey market,  we’re very fortunate to see a wide variety of labels, vintages and selection in the market place. As such, often times we see very competitive pricing at points that are often some of the best in the country.  

Yet recently,  when I was in a very reputable shop known for fair pricing and abundant selection,  I was astounded at the prices on the Barolo.  $50 was the clear starting point, with nary a wine less than that and although I didn’t stop to calculate it,  I’m betting the average bottle price was about $75.  That means many were also near $100.  These prices were mostly on wines from 2008 and 2009.  The 2010’s are slowly being released and their prices are even higher. Dozens will be $100+.   How can a wine lover stock his cellar with Barolo when a case – one case – is likely to cost him $1,000-$1,300 or more?

Who is to blame here?  The producers?  The importers?  The wholesalers?  Distributors?  Retailers?  Politicians? All of the above?  
I suppose there is no easy answer,  but an answer there must be.  I can only postulate that if someone as loyal as I am to Italian wine, and Barolo in particular, is disenchanted then surely the producers are not winning over any converts at $75+ per bottle.  
It’s time to re-cork the genie before it kills the goose that laid this profitable golden egg.  It will happen.  Hogs always get slaughtered.  I’d hate to be in the shoes of the aforementioned the next time a vintage as stormy and lousy as 2002 hits.

 2014 for sale anyone??  

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