Are there any winemakers/producers whose wines you feel comfortable buying vintage in and vintage out, without question–and perhaps even without tasting? What do you especially like about these producers, and which are your go-to wines?
Christopher P. Bates, GM/Executive Chef, Hotel Fauchere (Milford, PA). I often buy based on producers, with or without tasting. In Germany this is easy. Martin Kerpen is my go-to producer. Vintage in and vintage out, his wines are spectacular. They will always be stellar. Karthauserhof and Hexamer are also on that list.
France I am a bit more skeptical of, with a few exceptions. I typically buy in France based on vintage more than producer, though Olga Raffault is an exception. Every year I will buy those wines. America is where I have the most reliance on producer over vintage. Stony Hill: I will buy any of their white wines, new or old, in any vintage. Ridge Montebello, Dunn and Hanzell also make that list. For Oregon, J. Christopher’s wines have such consistent brilliance that I have a standing order every year for a case of whatever Jay wants to throw in.
Rajat Parr, Wine Director, Mina Group (San Francisco). Early on, I learned from Larry Stone to never judge all wines solely by the general vintage characteristics. Larry always looks for the “successes” in a challenging vintage. Most often that comes down to the growers themselves. In my experience, producers that routinely bottle delicious wines vintage after vintage are people who are closely connected to the vineyards that they farm. They don’t wrestle with the variances that nature throws at them every year; rather, they welcome the differences. They farm in the best interest of the plants and the fruit, regardless of yields and/or market demand.
My own list of consistently great producers are all from France, but they are from different terroirs. In Chablis, Raveneau has astonished me year after year–the congruity is nearly unparalleled in the wine world. The outstanding vintages in Chablis always result in magnificent, long-lived chardonnay from Raveneau, but the quality of the wines in perceived off-vintages is also remarkable. I never hesitate to buy Raveneau every vintage. Similarly, I have found that in Cornas, Thierry Allemand produces tremendous wines even in challenging vintages in the northern Rhône. In what many regard as mediocre vintages, Allemand’s wines maintain structure, intensity and finesse.
I acknowledge that the small grower in Beaujolais, Jean Foillard, has been producing consistently delicious wines from the estate’s vineyards on the Côte du Py. Jean has made over 30 vintages and is deeply connected to his land. He knows how to work with the conditions that nature gives him, he employs traditional and natural winemaking every year, and his wines are expressive with fruit and minerality. Again, in perceived lesser vintages, the wines always have depth as well as lift. These three producers have the talent to make great wines every year.
Jeff Hagley, Sommelier, Restaurant Eugene (Atlanta). I approached this question from a more personal level: I feel that what I choose to do with my money is a more relevant response and a better indicator of my own taste.
When my guests hear that I only have about 50 bottles in my personal cellar they are astonished, and even though I don’t have thousands of bottles in my cellar (yet!), I am still very proud of the collection I have been fortunate enough to amass. While serving the rich and famous may not make you one, I have been able to gain access to some of the more prestigious producers, one of which is Ken Wright Cellars.
Ken Wright Cellars is my go-to purchase every year as I try to purchase as much pinot noir as I can. Wright’s winemaking ability is incredible and his devotion to terroir is inspirational. He is consistent across the vintage in regard to pricing despite differing case production. I feel that he charges a fair price for the quality of the wine, year in and year out. His wines seem to get finer every year compared to most of the single-vineyard offerings from pinot producers across the winemaking world.
Although I have not had the opportunity to meet Mr. Wright, I hope to have the pleasure one day. I have been able to research his career and my adoration for his winemaking is expressed every year when I purchase at least two bottles of Canary Hill. I also try to acquire six to ten more of the other vineyards in total. The Canary Hill vineyard purchasing started out as a nice coincidence of availability that has turned into a requirement.
I currently have at least two bottles of each vintage going to back to 2002 and even though it is not a “huge collection” (yet!) it makes me happy. When my wife and I go out, she knows that I am truly happy and in a celebratory mood when I grab a bottle of Ken Wright pinot for us to enjoy.