24-02-2017 ~ 2 Comments

Bodega Otazu’s Vitral, the 2,000€ ruse

A few days ago, word came down that there is a new, ultra-premium-priced wine from Spain, the Bodega Otazu – Vitral 2013. Undeterred by the idea of a mere 1,000€ for Pingus or l’Ermita, they’ve plunged ahead with a price of 2,000€ a bottle for this wine. It’s a price that makes me feel as if ‘vitriol’ to be a better name as such a price per bottle, in addition being ludicrous and unwarranted just continues to paint wine as this exclusive thing as opposed to a delicious alcoholic drink.

At its core, this is a 2013 wine from DO Navarra that’s a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, and Merlot, with a limited release of 688 bottles. So, let’s look at that.

First up, there is the DO Navarra aspect. People in the US won’t know this DO as well as those in UK as they export heavily to the north and generally in the “budget friendly” segment of the wine market with nothing terribly special standing out. Historically (and unfortunately still in most wine training texts…) they’re listed as a big rosé producer. The main notable producer in the region is Bodegas Julián Chivite and they’ve done everything they can to not have their top wine associated with the DO which says a great deal.

Then there’s the 2013 vintage. Not a bad one in Navarra overall, but not a great one. The wines are fresh, fruity, and with good acidity. For a wine of 2,000€, that one can only assume is meant to cellar (ie invest in), the 2012 or 2010 would have been much better choices as those are considered to be longer-lived vintages. Fresh and fruity is great for a 10€ wine to quaff with your BBQ but a serious wine to age, no.

So we come to the grapes and of the three in the blend (although past vintages seemed to indicate two) the only one that’s native is Tempranillo. This grape is much more known for being the star of Rioja and Rioja butts into and interlocks with Navarra so the two regions have much in common. But there’s a reason that Cabernet and Merlot are not permitted grapes in Rioja in that, big surprise, they suck in Spain. Most everyone sees Grenache as being the best-suited grape to Navarra. Sure there are the few examples of people producing decent wines from French grapes, but at the level of what you see in Bordeaux or Napa Valley will never be found in Spain, and it’s just getting worse with climate change as these are cooler climate grapes.

When releasing a wine in this bracket, there are three items that are quite crucial: scarcity, fame, and quality, and in that order. Otazu has done one thing correctly in making only 688 bottles of this wine, which is a weird number as it’s 516 liters of finished wine and I’ve no idea what barrel(s) come in that size meaning that they’ve most likely chosen to bottle only one part of the finished amount. This goes to show how scarcity is so easy to artificially create in these terms. It’s much different when talking about a Grand Cru in Burgundy where there is an absolute, certified maximum of wine that can be produced under certain tiny appellations. That, is actual scarcity, not someone gesturing around a cellar and saying, “Sure, 688 bottles. The other 222 [or whatever] we’ll pretend don’t exist.”

So we come to the question of fame and quality. Again, fame can somewhat be fudged. Here I am writing about this wine so it’s obviously caught some eyeballs with this move, but it’s one thing for a wine to be famous vs. infamous. If you’re trying to build up a wine to sell for the price of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, you want people writing about how it made them swoon and redefine their perception of wine, not how bullshitty and unfounded your pricing is.

But the almighty question is, how good is the damned thing? Based upon searching around for past reviews, scores start at 89 and go down from there. A score of 89 is fine for a 20€ wine from a reliable region. But, for a 2,000€ from DO Navarra? That’s a nonstarter. I’ve even seen other scores of 86 points which, for me, once you drop below 85 points, I won’t write about a wine here and most people will only buy it if it’s priced at around 5€, in the shop. People say that this wine is the arrival point of years of work in investing in the vineyard and enology practices, but on no level do I buy this as I’ve seen similar approaches in other regions that don’t pan out. Creating exalted wines such as these take more than 15 years of constant work, if that is, it can ever be achieved again. And keep in mind that the other pricey Spanish wines didn’t suddenly arrive at those levels overnight.

Essentially, what Otazu is trying to do, is create a cult wine about 20 years too late. Yes, there are expensive wines in Spain, but both Pingus and l’Ermita get scores in the upper 90s if not at times the cherished 100. Their prices are indeed ridiculous as well, but if you haven’t the time to wade through wine reviews because you’re loaded with money, then you won’t be let down if you buy them. The same most definitely cannot be said for this Vitral and if anyone sees themselves keen on buying as an investment or status wine, I can’t say that you haven’t been warned.