Charity is all very well, but when it affects one's wine buying, a little selfishness is understandable. Take the wines of Burgundy's Hospices. The annual November auction in Beaune has become so publicized that the very label of the Hospices on a wine is expected to justify prices above those of similar quality wines.
There's another Hospices auction, at Nuits-St.-Georges, shortly before the Easter following the vintage. It's not as well known, mainly because the donated wines come from only 25 acres, compared to 131 acres for Beaune. But the principle is the same. The wines are from parcels of first-growth vineyards, donated in perpetuity to the Hospices. The buyers are the shippers, negociants-eleveurs, of the Cote de Nuits, who are responsible for aging, bottling and selling the wines. Each wine from the auction carries the Hospices' gothic blue and gold label.
Bringing charity closer to home, does that label give any guarantee that the wine is worth a premium price? Let's look at two locally available examples.
The wines are both 1978 Nuits-St.-Georges, from the respected firm of Lupe Cholet. Lupe Cholet traditionally buys the first barrels of two parcels of Les Didiers St. Georges, a first growth vineyard. One is the Cuvee Cabet and the other is the Cuvee Jacques Duret.
In Washington, 1978 Cabet and Duret sell for the same price, $47.50 each. Now, that's a great deal to pay for one bottle of immature wine. Granted, '78 was a fine vintage in Burgundy, many producers and shippers preferring it to '76. Granted, too, that smaller than average crops in '79 and '80 encouraged the Burgundians to increase the release prices of the '78s.
However, there are other, less expensive, 1978 Nuits-St.-Georges first growths on the market, including Chateau Gris, which is owned by Lupe Cholet and sells or $31.Are the two Les Didiers that much better, now or in the long term?
To be honest, no. Although they're sound, well-made wines, there is not enough promise of the rich, velvety style that the vintage and price should deliver. Taking into account the closed, very youthful stage of the recently bottled wines, members of the trade were not enthusiastic in their educated guesses of the long-term potential.
Both Nuits are medium-bodied, tannic and astringent, with the Duret having more fruit to balance the acidity. They need at least five more years to reach a drinkable maturity, but, when reached, should be fragrant, smooth, pleasant and on the delicate side. In a toss-up between the two, my money would be on the Duret for the long term.
The question is, do we want to wait five years for either of these wines, or could we better spend that $50, including tax?
According to Doug Burdette, a Washington merchant, few people are going to wait anyway. "Ninety percent of these wines are bought by what the label says, not by what's in the bottle. And they they'll be drunk immediately."
Even for the more serious buyer, I think the $50 can be better spent.