Bargains and Values: In the wallet, and palate, of the beholder
2019 Alma Mora Red Blend “Chic & Wild”And about my velvet painting, that hails from San Juan in Argentina. You won’t find it on the wine list at the Little Nell. But it was inexpensive, ready to drink now, juicy with a bit of barrel infused tannins and went perfectly on my patio with my mixed grill as I watched the sun go down over the Rockies. In short, a wine that helped provide an experience. Muchas gracias.
This past weekend I drank two bottles of wine — a red blend from Argentina called Alma Mora and an Old Vine zinfandel, or “OVZ,” from Lodi, California — that cost less than $20 before tax. Combined. They were not revelatory wines but they met an expectation of value. They were in a word, a bargain.
Value in wine has different definitions. If you are a connoisseur, a collector or a person who has the means to buy the best of everything, then value may mean getting a price break on a wine that is extremely hard to come by. It may mean just being able to find and access a wine that is very rare — no matter what the cost. On the other hand, value for the everyday drinker who is living in the 99% world may be simply coming across a wine that provides quality for the least amount of money. A wine that “drinks better than its price,” as they say. Both definitions of value are valid. It simply depends on who you are.
As one of the most legendary wine programs in America, Element 47 in the Little Nell hotel must meet the needs of a broad range of guests. Wine Director Chris Dunaway is challenged nightly to provide value for diners looking to spend less than $100 on a bottle, while also offering up the world’s finest wines to those who are a little more, shall we say, spendy. I asked Dunaway for two wines on the Element 47 list that would fit the different demands of his upscale clientele.
For a diner looking for a value on a Rhone wine Dunaway suggested a Julien Cecillon, Les Marguerites, Crozes-Hermitage 2016 that comes in at $93, or just less than a Benjamin. “One of the most brilliant up-and-coming producers in the Rhone Valley, the Cecillon family has been in the area for 14 generations, but the label has existed for less than 10 years,” Dunaway explained. “It is one of the very few holdings in Crozes-Hermitage on the hill of Hermitage itself and the vines are 80 years old. This wine is an explosion of savory/meaty syrah with seductive floral and spicy aromatics and an insanely long finish,” he concludes with relish Now, $93 may be a lot for a bottle of wine to some, but when one considers the location and dining experience, coupled with the pedigree of the wine, one can understand when he says, “This is an insane deal on our list!”
And for the guest looking for the best? Dunaway pulls no punches in his recommendation of a Coche-Dury, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2001, coming in at a cool $7,822, noting “Without question the most perfect expression of not only the greatest white burgundy but I’d say the nec plus ultra of white wine in the world.” High praise indeed.
So why is this wine worth the price? Well, start with the premise that, like any product, this bottle of wine is worth what someone will pay for it. And if this bottle did not have demand commensurate with the price, then, like any other product, the price would be different. Then there is the availability, or lack of it. If you are obsessed with the wines of Jean-François Coche and his son Raphael (and there are those who are) the opportunity to sit at the Little Nell and not just taste, but examine a wine like this is worth what it costs. And wine is, for many who can afford it, all about the experience.
“These wines, regardless of vintage, are the most soul-stirring and inspiring wines I’ve ever tasted in my life,” raved Dunaway, who in his position has the opportunity to taste many of the world’s most prized wines. “Most will only taste them less than a handful of times in their lifetimes. I’ve tasted Coche Corton-Charlemagne four times and every single time I have the highest expectation,” he exclaimed, “and every single time they over deliver.”
Like art, like automobiles, like real estate, there are differences in price and differences in quality. One man’s velvet painting is another woman’s Ed Ruscha.