We were recently sent an article on a wine that is being sold for the astronomical price of USD$5,000 for the 2019 vintage. That’s right, not a special, rare collector’s vintage like 1961, 1947 or 1928. And not a name that gets top scores or terrific accolades from the wine cognoscenti. We decided to do a bit more research to find out just what this was all about.
At AdVINEtures we are all about small, artisanal wines made by passionate winemakers who want only to make the very best wine they can. We know that passion and a relentless pursuit of quality can come at a high price. We have also been willing to–from time to time, for special occasions and when it is not too fiscally irresponsible to do so–buy a bottle at a price that would make others shake their heads. We get that some wines can be very high-priced, but that they can also be worth it. We also get that terroir, that special something about a vineyard site, often demonstrates an inverse correlation between size of vineyard and quality of the resulting grapes. Given that the wine in question came from the ‘world’s smallest vineyard’, perhaps the price was justified? Or, was it more about marketing and using scarcity to try and drive up the price?
Via Mari 10 is the wine in question. It’s the creation of entrepreneur and art collector Tullio Masoni. The wine takes its name from the address of the building whose roof plays home to the vineyard where the grapes are grown. Their website proudly proclaims it to be the smallest vineyard in the world. And they are probably right. Here is a picture of the vineyard sourced from their website.
A whole 3 rows of vines! These vines are all Sangiovese and yield enough fruit to make 29 bottles per year at 750 ml/bottle. The rooftop is 200 feet square so I will leave it to the geekier ones out there to convert that into how many tonnes per acre the vineyard yields.
Via Mari 10 is sold exclusively through the local art gallery, Bonioni Arte, just a few blocks away. In the article we read, Missoni claims his bottles of wine are works of art, and advises you keep them and not drink them. Right there we come into some serious and fundamental disagreement. At AdVINEtures, wine is to be drunk and enjoyed for the sensory pleasures that it brings, and ideally shared with good company where the wine helps the people form a bond. Not hoarded, not sold or traded, and not proudly displayed or stared at as a “piece of art”. We would also prefer to see it sold through knowledgeable wine retailers or a passionate tasting room staff. We have had great wine purchasing experiences through those avenues; through art galleries, not so much.
Now, we have never tasted this wine, but do we really think it would be worth $5,000 per bottle? The answer is always in the glass but there are several data points that would suggest it is not worth the tariff; not even close.
The first data point is provided in the picture of the “vineyard” above. Look closely at how the vines are planted. That is right, those vines are planted in potting boxes. How deep do you think those boxes are? Maybe 1 foot deep, max? Every viticulturist we have spoken with has valued older vines and one of the reasons is that over the years the vines will dig deeper and encounter different layers of soil along the way. This adds to the complexity of the resulting wine. Old vines can easily reach a depth of 20 feet or more. No opportunity to do that in a planter box.
What about other Sangiovese-based wines, ones that get the top scores and the raves from the wine press? Do they regularly sell for $5,000? We are afraid not. Wine-searcher recently published an article on the most expensive Italian wines. Many came from varieties other than Sangiovese, but #2 on their list was a Sangiovese-based Brunello di Montalcino, the Gianfranco Soldera Case Basse, which retails for USD $1,093 a bottle. Other Brunellos from the likes of top producers such as Bondi Santi, Fattoria Poggio, Cassanova di Neri and Valdicava all can be had for $500 or less.
The town of Reggio Emilia is in northern Italy, where the local wine made there is Lambrusco, the inexpensive semi-sparkling, sometimes semi-sweet red wine.
No Sangiovese of any consequence that we are aware of is grown in the area. Tuscany, Italy’s tenderloin district for Sangiovese, is a good 2-hour drive away. There is a reason that other Sangiovese is not grown there and that is likely due to the grape not fully ripening in its cooler climate.
Finally, we remain skeptical about how these vines are raised. Via Mari 10’s website says “The grapevines are fed with eggs, bananas, seaweeds, and nightingale droppings”…. None of the other top vineyards we have been to add anything to their soil with the exception of the biodynamically farmed ones that spread certain natural teas in the vineyard. We hardly think there is any agricultural basis for this rag-tag collection of would-be fertilizers.
Every one is entitled to like whatever wines they like. Again, we applaud small passionate winemakers who strive to make the very best wines, at sometimes very high cost. But we draw the line at making a wine that is not be drank but looked at as some piece of living art. We have great skepticism about how these vines are grown and the lack of soil they are planted in or the various and curious “feed” they are given will enhance the quality of the resulting wine. To say nothing of the fact that no one else grows Sangiovese around there. Not one these data points are indicators of good wine being made.
And to turn around and try to sell it at 5 times the price of a First Growth Bordeaux suggests to us that this is a lot more marketing than it is anything else. Caveat Emptor!