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Robin Garr

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WTN /WineAdvisor: Gambling in the bargain bin (Leflaive 1996 Volnay)

by Robin Garr » Fri Feb 23, 2007 1:00 pm

Gambling in the bargain bin

Living as I do in a town that's probably best known for a big annual horse race, I have no real philosophical problem with risking a few dollars at the race track ... or in the wine shop.

I'll even take an occasional gamble on a real long shot, figuring the chance of loss is fairly balanced by the potential for excitement. Still, I'm also well aware of the old wisdom about a fool and his money being soon parted, so I steer well clear of the $100 betting windows at Churchill Downs.

All of which leads us to the topic for today's sermon, in which we examine some of the variables that govern the wine-related bets we place when the wine shop offers a risky option that looks almost too good to be true.

So it was the other day, when I was browsing the Burgundy section at a local merchant in the difficult quest for something both interesting and affordable. Burgundy, as most wine enthusiasts of moderate means are well aware, can be a minefield because the great wines aren't cheap, and the cheap wines are rarely great. So my eyebrows popped up when I spotted a bin full of Volnay from Olivier Leflaive marked at a surprisingly low $15. Did I mention that this was <i>1996</i> Volnay?

An 11-year-old Burgundy in the middle teens! Should I go for it? Naturally I was intrigued. Here, in a few quick "bullet points," are the criteria I considered in making the decision.

* <B>THE PRODUCER:</B> Olivier Leflaive of Puligny-Montrachet is a big name in Burgundy, albeit more renowned for his white wines than his reds. Still ...

* <B>THE VINTAGE:</B> Just about all the experts agree that 1996 was a splendid vintage throughout the Côte d'Or, the kind of full but classic and ageworthy year that unites both classicists and modernists in their applause.

* <B>THE APPELLATION:</B> Here we start getting a little more skeptical. Volnay is a classic, typical region on the Côte de Beaune, but realistically, this is not a high-end <I>Grand Cru</I> or <I>Premier Cru</I> from a named vineyard but a simpler "villages" wine made from fruit grown anywhere in the Volnay appellation, likely the less favored vineyards. Still, even a villages Volnay can be a delightful Burgundy, and assuming reasonably good storage, it could very well be at its peak of maturity.

* <B>ITS CONDITION:</B> Much like walking down to the paddock to get a close-up-and-personal look at your horse before placing your bet, here's where we take a skeptical look at the bottle. Hold it upright. Does it appear normally full, or is there an unusual amount of "ullage" (air space) in the neck of the bottle? This one shows only a small air bubble beneath the cork, a very good sign. A bottle filled only to the "shoulder" of the bottle or below betrays possible leakage, hinting at a deteriorated cork. The capsule twists freely, indicating that it's not glued in place by seepage. The label bears a few scars, but no telltale signs of red-wine drips. And, as best I can tell, no heavy sediment has fallen to the bottom of the bottle. All these clues hint at reasonably good storage and improve the odds that the wine is in good shape.

* <B>THE MERCHANT'S STORY:</B> Assuming that you trust the wine-shop management (and you really shouldn't be shopping for good wine at a shop where you don't), it's never rude to ask frank questions. This stash, I was told, was a close-out lot from a distributor who was clearing shelf space by getting rid of older stock at a good price. Bottom line, "if the wine is bad, bring it back for a refund or exchange." That's good enough for me! I paid my money, and off I went; and the wine was just fine.

I'd love to know <i>your</i> tricks and tips for evaluating these occasional "wine gambles." Please share them with a response in this thread.

<table border="0" align="right" width="170"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/lefl0222.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Olivier Leflaive 1996 Volnay ($14.99)

Ruby with reddish-orange glints and a clear edge, no sign of age. Fresh red-fruit aromas and subtle spice; no geriatric character here either, and the flavor completes the trifecta with juicy fruit, appropriate earthiness and mouth-watering acidity, with tart red cherries and plums in a long finish. It's still a villages Burgundy, not a Premier Cru, and its modest heritage shows in a relatively light texture and modest complexity. Still, it's a great value: This gamble pays off with a jackpot. U.S. importer: Frederick Wildman & Sons Ltd., NYC. (Feb. 22, 2007)

<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> Older Burgundies are versatile food wines that marry well with a broad range of fare from red meat to pork, poultry and even fresh salmon. It was an amazing match with the earthy, rich flavors of sear-roasted turkey thighs.

<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> Although it's showing no real signs of age and may stay on this plateau for years, the conventional wisdom advises against holding most villages Burgundies for much over a decade.

<B>PRONUNCIATION:</B>
<B>Volnay</B> = "<I>Vol-nay</I>"

<B>WEB LINK:</B>
Attractive and full of useful content, the Leflaive Website is published in French and English. Click the national flag for the language you prefer:
http://www.olivier-leflaive.com/
For a short fact sheet about the Volnay region in English with photos and a map from the The Wine Growers Syndicate of Volnay, click
http://www.volnay.com/index_uk.html

<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
Unfortunately, as an older wine on local closeout, this specific wine will be difficult to find. If you're in the Louisville area, check Old Town Wines, 1529 Bardstown Road, while the supply lasts. (I promise not to buy them out.)
Check prices and find vendors for all vintages of Leflaive Volnay on Wine-Searcher.com:
[url=http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/Leflaive%2bVolnay/-/-/USD/A?referring_site=WLP]http://www.wine-searcher.com/
find/Leflaive%2bVolnay/-/-/USD/A?referring_site=WLP[/url]

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Last edited by Robin Garr on Fri Feb 23, 2007 1:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Rahsaan

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Gambling in the bargain bin (Leflaive 1996 Volnay)

by Rahsaan » Fri Feb 23, 2007 1:10 pm

the conventional wisdom advises against holding most villages Burgundies for much over a decade.


Unless your name is Francois Audouze..
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Robin Garr

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Gambling in the bargain bin (Leflaive 1996 Volnay)

by Robin Garr » Fri Feb 23, 2007 2:03 pm

Rahsaan wrote:Unless your name is Francois Audouze..


Good point! ;)

Does Francois drink much villages wine, though?
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Gambling in the bargain bin (Leflaive 1996 Volnay)

by Rahsaan » Fri Feb 23, 2007 2:18 pm

Robin Garr wrote:Good point! ;)

Does Francois drink much villages wine, though?


I could have sworn I read notes from him on recently-tasted pre-WWII village Burgundy.

But I could be wrong..
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Gambling in the bargain bin (Leflaive 1996 Volnay)

by Dale Williams » Fri Feb 23, 2007 2:37 pm

Good find, I'd jump on $15 '96 Volnay from any respected producer absent signs of bad storage.

I might quibble at the term "renowned" for Olivier Leflaive, though. I think of O. Leflaive as a good value but not top producer. I've always thought solid, but never had a wine that wows. He is a negociant who specializes in whites, and I'm not sure I've ever had a red from him, but will keep an eye open. It is Domaine Vincent Leflaive, where Olivier used to work, which is truly renowned.
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Robin Garr

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Gambling in the bargain bin (Leflaive 1996 Volnay)

by Robin Garr » Fri Feb 23, 2007 2:42 pm

Dale Williams wrote:I might quibble at the term "renowned" for Olivier Leflaive, though. I think of O. Leflaive as a good value but not top producer. I've always thought solid, but never had a wine that wows. He is a negociant who specializes in whites, and I'm not sure I've ever had a red from him, but will keep an eye open. It is Domaine Vincent Leflaive, where Olivier used to work, which is truly renowned.


Thanks for the fine-tuning, Dale. In any case, point is, a red from any Leflaive seemed a little funny, but I think we all come to the same bottom line: We'd risk $15 on an 11-year-old Burg from a good vintage, barring either a necociant/producer with an awful reputation or obvious signs of damage.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Gambling in the bargain bin (Leflaive 1996 Volnay)

by Jeff Yeast » Fri Feb 23, 2007 4:18 pm

Good topic, and good find Robin 8)

Let me ask you, and anyone else who cares to comment, what you would do in this situation in which I find myself:

Leslie and I have found what we think is a really good QPR wine. It is a Cabernet from South Africa called Fleur De Cap. It is priced right at $10.99 per 750ml and we both like it...most of the time.

Our first bottle was very good, but the second, bought later from the same bin at Liquor Barn, was slightly cooked. Indeed it was slightly brown around the edges. Thinking it was just a fluke we bought another that was very good. Last night on the way home I picked up a fourth bottle from the same bin and it was again slightly cooked. It would appear that these bottles were all from the same case originally, but I could be wrong.

Is it normal to have some cooked bottles in a case and not others? I'm now a little gun-shy and I don't want to waste any more money, but when it's good, we really like this wine. Would you give up?

I thought about just ordering a separate case, but experience has shown that might not solve my problem. I know that I can return bad bottles, and that might be the only way that LB knows that something is going wrong, but I really don't want the hassle.

Any advice?

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