Long Tail Wine and Troquet
A cellar clearance sale occurs every summer at Boston’s wine-oasis-restaurant Troquet. Once upon a time, years ago, Troquet proprietor Chris Campbell owned a simpler but no less compelling wine Mecca, UVA, in Brighton. You would find winos, sommeliers, and chefs ordering pizza and grilled meats to drink with Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rhone wines selling for attractive wine list price points $10-$15 over wholesale; often lower than retail pricing. With unanticipated speed, Chris sold the restaurant to move downtown with Troquet and practically excavated the vast wine cellar overnight. UVA’s liquid inventory went into immediate storage and created one of Boston’s truly long tail old wine stashes.
During the summer sale season, Chris pulls some of these old wines out of storage and offers 25-50 of them every evening at ridiculously low clearance price points. For example, we bought 1966 Lynch Bages for $50 last month. We actually drank a bevy of this kind of old wine that I became eager to write about here, but paused wondering what value there was in sharing the learning I experienced with these old wines considering their limited availability. Could anyone buy them if my own discovery hit a personal chord? It raised the issue of the long tail of wine, like Amazon for books or iTunes for songs (wiki: selling small volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers instead of only selling large volumes of a reduced number of popular items).
Wine enthusiasm that relies on brick and mortar retail access, the opposite of long tail marketplaces, poses unresolved challenges. With thousands of producers, local distributor and retailer selectivity, and limited physical shelf space, finding the specific wines you are looking for at any single local wine shop has never been a straight forward proposition. The same applies to book stores and record shops that eventually begat Amazon and iTunes.
A while ago Stormhoek proposed some reasons that the long tail does not apply to wine . I am not so sure of that. While we still don’t have one Amazon-like wine seller yet, Wine-Searcher.com, for example, aggregates global retailer inventories and WineBid, as another example, aggregates worldwide collector cellars to put almost any wine, no matter how many nor how rare, in front of interested consumers. And then there is Google, whose SERPs render results populated with commercial offerings around just about any wine you can imagine. So the long tail market maker phenomenon is in full force today for wine, albeit without all the inventory under one warehouse roof.
This makes me feel better creating content like last week’s post about old Bordeaux and Cabernet and the rest of this post that covers the left over long tail UVA wines we tasted at Troquet. I will share the average Wine-Searcher.com prices you can buy each one for today if you search the site as well as the price Chris offered them for during the Troquet summer wine clearance dinner my local wine buddies and I indulged in last month. Thanks to the web’s long tail market, every one of these wines is available and discoverable.
*** Ployez-Jacquemart Brut NV: Troquet: $30 (but 10 years old) WS: $40 (current release)
Dark yellow color, tight bubbles, hints of oxidation and dropping fruit, hay/straw aromas, completely vibrant with ongoing reminders of oxidation (did not bother me) as you nurse the bottle.
**** 1983 Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesleing Auslese: Troquet: $30 WS:$45 (but signs of past seepage in Wine Searcher condition description)
Wow, could have been the wine of the evening and at 9% alcohol content the wine continues to thrive. Golden yellow color, petrol. apricot, ripe peach, and perfectly balanced. It crosses lines of both elegance and rich depth, always with clean lines and nice acidity…leaning towards elegance more than anything else. The mild sweetness never obscures its clean edges nor hints at anything cloying, always keeping its head high. The wine is very much alive and very, very refreshing. If you could be assured that the bottles at $45 on Wine Searcher are sound, it is a steal. This is why you lay down Riesling.
*** 1/2 1986 Chateau Meursault, Comte De Moucheron Troquet: $40 WS: $40
This old Burgundy once again proves how well Chardonnay can stand up to age in the old world. With that said, it was the most controversial wine of the evening. The first waft showed me green cabbage which Chris Campbell interpreted as burnt match. For some in our group, this was enough of a turn off to dismiss the rest of the wine’s pleasurable attributes. I loved the exotic funkiness of it all. It is light on attack, with great acidity that is keeping the wine so alive. There is a very sneaky, rich, long finish with lingering memories of caramel flavor. I loved this wine for its lessons in advanced Chardonnay appreciation.
* 1966 Chateau Margaux Troquet: $75 WS: $412
Stay away. Certainly stay away at $412. This wine was totally spent even though there were no signs of bottle damage with a good high shoulder fill. It was fully oxidized with a paltry light color. I will never forget the bottles of 1966 Palmer I drank years ago, defying a tough vintage with beautiful Bordeaux. Here though, this first growth Chateau Margaux is awful. We were hoping for better, and at $75 it was worth a gamble, but we lost out. I wonder if some Chinese billionaire is enjoying this wine with business guests somewhere in Shanghai just because it’s Margaux?
**** 1966 Chateau Lynch Bages Troquet: $50 WS: $318
This competed for wine of the evening and was absolutely the value of the night. We gave ’66 another try and struck gold. There was significant trouble with cork crumbs while opening, but the mid cork to bottom provided a worthy seal. Sweet fruit and cedar on the nose; GREAT old Bordeaux with gorgeous mouthfeel, tamed tannins, and good acidity. Black cherry lingers in your mouth after the very long finish. This is the way wine was meant to be…I thought…amazingly subtle and beautiful, but requiring 46 years of cellaring to hit this performance apex. Amazing! $50! Thanks Chris.
Long live the “long tail” of wine…internet and Troquet style.