The Best ‘Overrated’ Wines

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - December 22, 2006
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“Overrated” is a term that sometimes comes up in wine circles when discussing wines that are deemed overvalued or hyped for their “perceived” quality rather than their actual quality.

I have certainly used this term more than a few times in my career, but I find that more often than not, most people who use this term don’t know a lot about the wine, or in some cases hold some jealousy or envy of the people who drink or make it. Wines that become “bigger” than just wine, or those that become associated with luxury, success and quality, quite often become the targets of undue spite and malice.

Case in point: Opus One, the venerable single wine estate in the Napa Valley, is a product of a cooperation between the late Baron Eric de Rothschild (of Chateau Mouton Rothschild et al.) and Robert Mondavi. Their goal was to make the finest wine they possibly could in Napa Valley using the Bordeaux First Growths as a model, not only in style, but also in reputation and marketing. The wine today remains a staunch representative of the elegant, Bordeaux-styled wines of California. It has not changed its style in a “chase” after points from wine writers. Having had every vintage produced here since 1979 and most recently tasting the 2000, 2001 and 2003 in a vertical tasting, they have proved to me how well the wine ages and its high quality.

And yet there are naysayers who see Opus One simply as a product of fine marketing rather than winemaking. In my estimation, Michael Silacci, Opus One’s current winemaker, is taking the wine from strength to strength. Some say there are dozens of Cabernets made in Napa Valley for less money that they would rather drink, although these same people jump at the opportunity to taste Opus One and never turn down a glass. Some detractors have not tasted more than one vintage of Opus One. That is akin to saying Beethoven is no good after only hearing the first measure of Ode to Joy from only one orchestra. Perhaps you had a weaker vintage; maybe you had it with an inappropriate food match.

But just because a wine is popular and successful, is it really overrated? Some say the same of Screaming Eagle, which sells for almost 10 times the price of Opus One, yet it is one of the most highly collectible wines in the world.

Even Champagne does not escape the derision. Louis Roederer Cristal and Moet et Chandon Dom Perignon have both been uttered in the same sentence as overrated. Both are at the pinnacle of luxury and quality. They have also been highly promoted by their respective companies, as well as rappers and stylists.

Someone once told me that he tried Cristal on New Year’s Eve and didn’t like it at all. I pried for more information. He drank it after having the bottle in the fridge for 15 minutes and from a plastic cup. Now does that seem at all fair to the wine or even to the people drinking it?

Dom Perignon is everywhere and yet the people who sell it can’t provide enough because of its demand. Are people buying just because of the brand name? If you were to spend more than $100 per bottle for anything, do you think you would buy it again if it was not worth the price?

Having tasted these Champagnes back to the ‘60s, in my never-to-be-humble opinion, both Champagnes are still two of the best available.

So are these wines victims of their own success? I would say that “victim” is not the word. But the next time someone tells you a wine is overrated, ask them another question. How well do you really know this wine, or are you “simply saying?”

Underrated Wines: 1999 Veuve Clicquot Vintage Reserve ($65). It’s half the price of La Grande Dame and drinking better right now. Great complexity and lifted flavors.

2003 Sirita Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($38). Yes, a wine that lives on its depth of flavor, not just oak and fruit. Smoooooooth, inviting black berry and a hint of mocha.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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