Private Preview 2003: The World of Wine: 2003 Uncorked

  • Paul Wasserman

After enjoying a wealth of remarkable wines from around the world, the wine trade is about to suffer something of a hangover. This is not to say that the industry lacks exciting wine. France’s highly acclaimed 2000 Bordeaux are here. Italy continues its run of stellar vintages with releases from Piedmont. Australia is about to release not one but two sequels to the incredible 1998 vintage. And in 2001, California has produced nothing short of a landmark vintage.

But this coming year, wine watchers may note the absence of the big game that traditionally brings out serious wine collectors: no exciting Bordeaux futures campaign, a difficult 2001 vintage in both Burgundy and the southern Rhône, and more than a year’s wait before seeing the first 2001 California Cabernets. This, in combination with the current wine glut—brought about by the explosion of new vineyards around the world—has dropped the prices of all but the scarcest new releases as the trade takes mea-sures to reduce inventory. The result: 2003 may be a tense year for the trade but full of great opportunities for the consumer. We examine the wine world by region in search of the top prospects for your personal cellar.

French Encore
By the time you read this, the first of thousands of cases of Bordeaux will have hit America’s shores. Where the importers and retailers are going to store this abundance no one knows, but one fact is certain: The 2000 Bordeaux vintage is about to make headlines again.

You may consider this old news, given that many of these wines have already been purchased as futures. But while the trade has sampled the wines for months, 2003 will offer consumers their first chance to sip 2000 for themselves. And the wines—unless they are completely fatigued by their journey—should make a lasting impression.

The vintage is a great one for Bordeaux, and contrary to rumor, quite a bit of wine remains available. Prices have momentarily stabilized, but as soon as the first corks pop, prepare for casual drinkers and collectors alike to rush to acquire what’s left, driving the cost of many well-rated wines currently priced below $100 to dizzying sums. A narrow window exists for purchasing these wines before market madness takes hold. Carruades de Lafite, Chauvin, La Fleur de Bouard, Lagrange, Lanessan, Reignac, and Sociando Mallet are just a few of the many values still available.

As for investment-grade bottlings, we suggest you stick to time-honored classics with excellent track records both in the cellar and on the resale market. Grand Puy Lacoste, Léoville Poyferré, Lynch Bages, Montrose, and Pichon Baron are some of the blue chips still found for between $50 and $90.

At $100 to $600 a bottle, superstars such as Château Cheval Blanc and Château Latour have little room to increase in value; thus, these purchases should be more of a mariage d’amour than a mariage de convenance. Alas, love is the best motivation: I last sampled La Mission Haut-Brion about a year and a half ago, and I can still taste every bit of its extraordinary structure.

Out of Italy
Of late, among all the big, full-bodied red wines, I find myself most often pining for those of Piedmont, perhaps because the region’s Nebbiolo grape is the great moderator. This varietal delivers the power of Cabernet or Syrah and the complexity of Pinot Noir. Barolo, the most famous and full-bodied of the Piedmontese wines, has had such a run of great vintages since 1996 that it’s difficult not to trip over them in any serious wine store. The best of the 1999 vintage are considered better than the highly acclaimed 1997s, but fewer great wines have been produced. For this reason, you may want to take a look at another wine made with Nebbiolo, Barbaresco—especially the 1999 and 2000 vintages. For rich, lavishly styled modern wines, try La Spinetta’s 1999 Gallina and Albino Rocca’s 2000 Bric Ronchi. If you seek less obvious oak and purer, more traditionally styled wines, consider the offerings from one of the greatest estates on the planet, Bruno Giacosa.

Down Under Back on Top
On the subject of big flavors, with the 1998 vintage, Australia became the next best thing and ripped through the wine world like a tidal wave. Unfortunately, two rather average vintages followed. With 2001 and 2002, Dan Philips (whose company, The Grateful Palate, imports some of Australia’s finest) confirms that we have not one but two outstanding vintages to anticipate.

The summer of 2001 was one of the hottest ever in South Australia and produced big, ripe, and full-bodied wines. Since Australia’s wines tend toward these characteristics even under milder conditions, one should really describe this vintage as huge, super-ripe, and incredibly full-bodied. Because there is nothing quite like the wealth of fruit delivered by an Australian wine, prepare to be, quite literally, stunned. Highlights will undoubtedly include the wines of d’Arenberg, Henry’s Drive, Noon, Burge, Cape d’Estaing, Clarendon Hills, and Elderton.

California Strikes Gold
The news is out: In 2001, California has been blessed with an incredible vintage. Robert Parker, the nation’s most influential wine critic, has proclaimed the vintage a “home run for just about all varietals.” Given the number of varietals that thrive in California, consumers will be enjoying a lot of good wine in the coming year.

The 2001 Chardonnays are the richest and most powerful since 1997, especially up north. Look for the usual suspects, such as Kistler, Marcassin, and Peter Michael. If, on the other hand, you’re frustrated that they’re unavailable from your local merchant, try Paul Hobbs, Landmark, Littorai, Neyers, Patz & Hall, or Ramey.

For Syrah and other Rhône varietals, catch the current late releases of the 2000 vintage from Santa Barbara County and the central coast; this exceptional vintage is better than 2001. Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non says his 2000s are beautiful and complete. They are fleshy and impressive from beginning to finish and all through the mid-palate. His 2000 Syrah, In Flagrante, and Grenache, Incognito—as well as his Roussanne, dubbed The Hussy—will be released in the spring. If these prove impossible to find, look for Ojai’s 2000 Syrahs from the Thompson or Stolpman vineyards, Alban’s 2000 Reva, Seymour, or Lorraine.

While you are waiting for the releases of Cabernet Sauvignons, Pinot Noir is emerging as the richest spoil of California’s 2001 vintage. According to Greg Brewer, the 2001 Brewer Clifton Pinots are the best wines he has ever made. Brewer Clifton, a winery based in Lompoc, was one of the best-kept secrets for the last few vintages. Unfor-tunately, it is a secret no more, and its 2001s will prove as difficult to find as the Dehlinger, Marcassin, Kistler, and Rochioli wines. If your search is unsuccessful, look instead for wines from Arcadian, Bonaccorsi, Capiaux, Hartford Court, Siduri, and Talley.

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