Wine Collecting for Real People

Wine collecting doesn't have to be (and shouldn't be) just for the one percent. Jon Bonné on how real people can start a wine collection, via the regions and producers that offer value at non-prohibitive prices.

collecting wine for real people

In wine, as in art, the finesse move has always been to find something great before it breaks out—to uncover the next Henri Jayer or Tina Barney before anyone else. (Unless you’re trying to make the market. See also: Harlan Estate, Basquiat.) In both cases, that has grown harder in recent years, not only because communication is now instant, but because the universe of potential buyers has exploded. Love that bottle of Yvon Métras? Yeah, well, so does half of Instagram.

The silver lining in this, at least on the wine side, is that some regions remain slightly under-the-radar for the label-gazer set. Sometimes it’s because their reputations, still dented from an earlier era, remain misunderstood. Others seem to be utterly resistant to market forces, no matter the quality of the wines.

Either way, the collector who wants to stock a cellar with actual wine to drink can still find value. Here are six places to look. 

California

Yes, really. The cult wines are still dancing their loony dance, but the new generation of producers has demonstrated skill not only with modest, young-drinking wines, but also stoic, long-lived ones. These are, increasingly, set to become collectible—perhaps less so for cabernet, but for pinot, syrah, zinfandel and more. While pinot noir is ever less of a bargain, there are already a raft of collectible names like Calera, Littorai and Mount Eden Vineyards with prices that, if not cheap, remain stable. And wines like the Drew Family Fog-Eater ($45) have excelled for years without becoming over-leveraged. For syrah, the wines of Wind Gap seem to be aging with remarkable grace, especially the Majik ($45) and Nellessen ($42) bottlings, but you could also seek wines from Failla, Ojai Vineyard and many others—all of which seem more affordable as prices spike for Côte Rotie and Cornas. And of course Turley, and now Bedrock, have long demonstrated that zinfandel is a wine for the cellar.

Germany

What is it about German wine? Old vines, exceptional terroir, one of the oldest wine cultures on the planet and an ambitious new means of designating grosses gewächs (grand cru) sites—and yet many top German rieslings remain almost stagnant in their pricing, no matter what critical praise they receive. Translation: They’re some of the best values on the shelf. I mean, name another country whose greatest producers you can buy for under $40, including the epic J.J. Prüm, whose lighter kabinett bottlings can still be found under $30, as well as the estate QbA from Prüm’s neighbor Willi Schaefer ($22). The list of underrated names is long, both established (Von Schubert, Zilliken, Selbach-Oster, Strub) and new (Peter Lauer, Weiser-Kunstler, Immich-Batterieberg).

Beaujolais

An embrace of more serious winemaking and a revived belief in the quality of both gamay noir and the region’s granitic terroir are creating a proliferation of exceptional, age-worthy bottles. It’s always been considered a sort of annex to Burgundy; now that’s true in a really meaningful way. Stalwarts like Marcel Lapierre have grown harder to find, but there are emerging stars like Jean-Louis Dutraive and his Fleurie Clos de la Grand’Cour ($30), Richard Rottiers Moulin-à-Vent ($27), or Mee Godard’s Morgon Grand Cras ($30). Value can transcend generations, as with the Thénevet family; there’s the Morgon Vieilles Vignes ($30) from Jean-Paul Thévenet, and the Grain & Granit Régnié ($30) from his son Charly. And more here.

The Loire

From Chinon, Saumur, Montlouis and even Muscadet, the best producers are making serious bottles that will improve with time. And increasingly, back-vintage bottles are appearing—especially from Chinon producers like Olga Raffault, or Alain & Jerome Lenoir, whose 2006 Domaine Les Roches ($36) is currently on shelves. It’s already getting hard to find Romain Guiberteau’s Saumur Blanc ($28), but keep an eye out for his Saumur Rouge, as well as names like Domaine du Collier (Saumur), Jacky Blot (Montlouis), Luneau-Papin (Muscadet) and many others. In fact, I’ve already said too much.

Piedmont Lite

To be candid, Italy has become a tough place for cellar-worthy value. Barolo and Barbaresco? Far less affordable than they used to be; Friuli and Mount Etna have exceptional, but no longer underpriced, wines; Chianti is mired in identity issues; and let’s not even talk about Brunello. What, then? The wines of Elisabetta Foradori, maybe. Or, back to Piedmont, where good producers are putting extraordinary effort into their wines beyond Barolo and Barbaresco, namely via grapes like barbera, dolcetto and freisa—which not long ago were considered simple table wines. The best can age for more than a decade, like the Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba ($30), Vajra’s Kyè Freisa ($33), Giuseppe Mascarello’s Freisa ($23) and Elio Grasso’s Vigna Martina Barbera d’Alba ($28). Further afield, some of Piedmont’s lesser-known red wine producing areas, like Lessona—where you can find excellent nebbiolo-based wines from the likes of Massimo Clerico—are also ripe for picking.

Austria

The era of cheap liters of grüner veltliner is waning, and today the most serious examples offer quality to rival white Burgundy; they, and the country’s epic dry rieslings, age beautifully. (So do some of the spectacular examples of red blaufrankisch from eastern Austria, from producers like Moric, Muhr-van der Niepoort, Prieler and more.) Names like Prager and F.X. Pichler are well known and priced more like Burgundy, but look for wines like the Pichler-Krutzler Klostersatz Grüner Veltliner ($27), made by Pichler’s daughter and her husband, or the Hirsch Zöbing Riesling ($29) from the Kamptal.

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  • Fantastic article, Jon. Nice to see some validation that Cru du Beauj and Barbera can age nicely. On Piedmont, and your advice on lesser known areas, I’ve laid down a Gattinara from Travaglini and a few Valtellina Superiore from Nino Negri and Sandro Fey (technically Lombardy I guess). Think its safe to say those will age like Barbaresco and Barolo bc they’re nebbiolo? Thanks.

  • WineCountryGeographi

    I think there’s more to Italy than you’ve mentioned. And much more to Calfornia. But otherwise – nicely done.