Risk & Reward

09/10/2014

 
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I think the most exciting part of buying (and collecting) wine is the risk. If money weren't an object, there wouldn't be much risk right? Imagine a billionaire version of yourself coming up from your cellar, popping the cork on a sixty year-old DRC to find that its past it's prime, or worse, corked! Too bad, you'll just have to go back downstairs and grab one from a different vintage. 

I imagine even a billionaire could be disappointed in a wine, but I think the sting is worse for the rest of us. Parting with hard-earned money on a liquid that will be immediately consumed leaves little room for error. Consequently, we don't often like to take risk when it comes to drinking wine. "I like Cab... I see Cab on the menu... I'll have a glass of Cab please..." Over and over and over again.

As a retailer I have to take lots of risk on wine. You may see me swirling a glass of juice around with a distributor when you come in the shop, but the reality is I've acquired most of our wines without even trying them first. How do I make a choice? Well when you deal primarily with European wine, there is literally centuries of legacy for many of these regions, and generations of legacy behind many of the producers. Otherwise, I have to do what anyone else does and take the best of my knowledge, apply it and hope for the best.

Ioppa's 2007 Vespolina is one of those truly rewarding finds that confirms the joy of taking a risk. This is wine that is not stocked locally by a distributor and I can only get a crack at each vintage once a year. Vespolina is pretty obscure to most American wine drinkers. It's is a variant of Nebbiolo that is less tannic, more spicy and floral. Like all the great wines of Piedmont, they are built to age for decades, but this particular one is cellared for several years prior to release in the market. This release, already seven years-old, is ready to start drinking and maintains a long life ahead of it.

If you've had any experience with Nebbiolo (the varietal in Barola, Barbaresco & Gattinara) you know that this can be an illusive grape. Greatly crafted Nebbiolos of Piedmont can be stunning and I find them some of the most pleasurable and romantic of all wines. I'll never forget a twenty-year-old Barolo whose finish lingered on my mind for at least a week afterwards. Everything else I tasted seemed boring in comparison. On the other hand, this grape can often need decades to unwind, and trying to drink value-driven young Nebbiolos can be very disappointing: full of tongue-wrapping tannin and lacking any identifiable fruit.  

Fortunately, this Vespolina was unforgettable for all the right reasons. I knew what was in my glass, a $28 bottle of wine and not the usual $40+ for Barolo, but I couldn't believe what I was tasting. When I placed the order, the fear was in the back of my mind, "Great, another Nebbiolo that will fall flat for my customers..." Instead, however, I found a real jewel possessing all of the elements of a great wine. Best yet, not only could you enjoy it the day you bought it, but it was only $28!

Maybe $28 is a bit much for a bottle, you say, but I'm telling you there's not much risk in this one. If you've wanted to try a Barolo but haven't shelled out the money yet, this is a chance to get pretty close to tasting Nebbiolo at its best. Also for you collectors, a case of this stuff won't put you back as much as that Barolo you've had your eyes on. Keep it for another decade, and enjoy a bottle when you want without feeling guilty.

 


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