I read an article a few days ago about how some Italian wines are now among the world’s most expensive. Titled “The World’s Most Valuable Italian Wines,” this brief article (actually, a lengthy paragraph) details how a relatively few Italian wines now rank very high on the list of the world’s most expensive wines. While these wines are not priced even close to a few of the most highly regarded and rare Grand Cru Burgundies, some of these Italian wines do cost more than $600 a bottle, with one coming in just under $1000. According to this article, all the Italian wines in the top 20 on this list are priced at $350 and higher. I won’t go into specific wines and producers, but wine types include Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Amarone and even dolci such as Recioto della Valpolicella. (For the particulars, here is a link to the article.)
You might think I’d be pleased to learn of this news, as I love Italian wines so dearly, but in reality, information like this saddens me somewhat. Congratulations to the producers on their great work in the vineyards and cellars – as well as marketing – but I believe an article such as this sends the wrong message. Wines such as the ones listed in this article are priced so expensively that they are equivalent to luxury goods. I compare it to a watch that costs several thousand dollars. None of us need to spend that much money on a watch, as $100, more or less, will allow us to purchase an excellent model that tells time just fine and looks good as well.
Similarly, none of us ever needs to spend more than $400 or $500 on a bottle of Barolo, especially as there are so many notable – even outstanding – examples in the $100-$150 range. Barolo – along with Brunello di Montalcino and Amarone – is a world class wine, so prices above the $100 a bottle tag are to be expected, as the pricing reflects not only notable quality as well as limited availability, but also a certain image of success.
I understand what the author of this piece is trying to say here – “Isn’t it great that Italian Wines are now among the world’s most expensive”? In other words, finally, a few of the best Italian wines (best being a relative term in this instance) can now be taken seriously as not just the best of Italy, but also the world’s finest. Look, I’m all for Italian wines receiving the recognition they deserve, as too many book authors, journalists and wine educators have ignored them for too long in favor of French and California wines, but it seems to me this isn’t the way to go about promoting the greatness of Italian wines.
Dolcetto vineyard in the Dogliani production zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
If the Italian wine industry is to maintain its current status in the market as well as cultivate new customers, it can’t be with wines that cost several hundred dollars a bottle. No, Italian wines will always have to play on their distinctiveness, not their price tag. Brilliant whites such as Verdicchio from Marche; Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino from Campania; Friulano from Friuli or Pinot Bianco and Gewürztraminer from Alto Adige are among the world’s most singular wines. The same is true for many Italian reds, ranging from medium-weight examples such as Dogliani from Piemonte or Bardolino from the Veneto, to more full-bodied examples that can age for decades such as Gattinara from Piemonte or Taurasi from Campania; this last, truly one of the world’s greatest and most underrated wines.
Not only am I against this belief that Italian wines must bring a huge price tag, I believe the opposite must be true, at least for 95% of all Italian wines. Anyone who studies Italian wines knows of the diversity of this country’s viticulture and while this situation may turn some consumers away, due to its complex nature, a little effort can result in many, many wonderful discoveries, especially when viewed in terms of price/quality relationship.
I mentioned Taurasi, the signature red of Campania. I have tasted examples that are more than 50 years old and are in excellent shape; there just aren’t that many wines from anywhere in the world that can offer you that. Yet these wines do not cost you dearly; most current releases of this wine from the best producers are in the $50-$75 price range, a far cry from the glamorous wines that are among the world’s most expensive. Lay down a bottle or two of an excellent Taurasi from a producer such as Mastroberardino, Contrade de Taurasi, Luigi Tecce, or Feudi di San Gregorio (to name only a few) for seven to ten years (or twenty, if you can!) and you’ll discover to your delight, the true greatness of this wine, as well as the pleasure of investing in a superb value.
There will always be an audience for the most expensive wines in the world and that’s fine. If you opt to spend your money in this fashion, so be it – you’ll have some pretty renowned wines in your cellar. But I think this practice is reserved for a very small audience, one that worships Bordeaux, Grand Cru Burgundies and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. Producers in these regions are used to a great deal of hype for their wines and they’re also quite pleased with high prices, as collectors will snap them up in great vintages (which seems to be almost every year in Bordeaux, at least according to those individuals that produce or rate these wines).
But Italian wines are largely about local terroir and character, what growers and producers refer to as anima. There are plenty of distinguished examples of Cabernet Sauvignon in the world, but you won’t find great examples of Nebbiolo or Aglianico that aren’t from Italy. That’s a great thing, as the most representative Italian wines will always be about a sense of place, rather than a dollar (or Euro) sign.