With the release of the 2002 Barolos Piedmont’s remarkable string of outstanding vintages comes to a close. At the same time there are a number of forces changing the market. The first of these is that the wines have begun to catch on with a broader public than in the past. All it takes is one look at recent auction prices to understand that prices are spiraling upward as the region’s best wines are increasingly attractive to collectors all around the world. In addition global markets are expanding, notably in Asia, and it appears to be a fact of life that the limited quantities of the finest bottlings will have to be shared by a greater consumer base than ever before.
Dramatic changes are going to occur in Piedmont as well. Over the next decade many estates, especially smaller family-run wineries, will face the challenge of generational succession. At some estates this transition has already taken place, but at a number of other high-profile wineries the future is unclear. Today’s generation has grown up in an era of relative prosperity while their parents struggled just to get by in era when making wine was far from the glamorous globe-trotting business than it can be today. Will the younger generation have the same passion and drive to succeed as did their parents? One can only hope the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’
What does that mean for consumers? Not only is 2002 a weak vintage, 2003 is also highly irregular, though certainly better in overall quality than 2002. It won’t be until two years from now, in 2008, that consumers will be able to focus on 2004, which is already shaping up to be an important, classic vintage of the highest level (see Issue 6 for some early impressions). The lack of new releases coming onto the market this year presents a great opportunity for readers to take a look at their cellars and make some strategic decisions about long-term needs. The six extraordinary vintages spanning 1996-2001 produced a large number of exceptional wines, most of which still remain available at relatively reasonable prices. However, over the next year or two I expect the available supply of these wines to dwindle while prices for the most desirable bottles will continue to rise dramatically. Readers often tell me they regret not having made deeper purchases of vintages such as 1989 and 1990, when the wines cost a fraction of what they cost today.
Now is the time for consumers to do their best to ensure their cellars are well-stocked for the future.