1996, 1985, 1982, 1975. They weren’t lottery numbers in the traditional sense, but everyone who looked down at their tasting mats in the front room of Bleu Provence on Thursday, January 23, knew they had hit the proverbial jackpot. Big time.
While the Naples Winter Wine Festival always kicks off on a Friday with Meet the Kids Day, the Vintage Cellar, an optional event with separate tickets but organized by the festival’s leaders, has emerged in the recent past as the unofficial kickoff. It’s a studious, almost hallowed two-hour tasting followed by a three-course lunch with even more pairings. It’s aimed at the most serious of oenophiles—those who feel compelled to dive deep into the subtle differences between, say, Bordeaux blends with heavier concentrations of Cabernet Sauvignon versus Merlot.
For the thirty or so guests who made attending the 2020 event a priority, being there was a no brainer. It was the chance to meet an icon in the field—Saskia de Rothschild, the youngest person to lead a First Growth estate (she’s 32) and the first woman to helm her family’s Domaines Barons de Rothschild, too—and to taste her prized Château Lafite vintages that even money often can’t buy (one bottle alone could fetch upwards of $10,000 at auction depending on how the supply and demand curve looks for that particular vintage).
She hand-selected the bottles and aside from picking some mythic vintages like those four mentioned at the beginning of this article, she loosely based the rest of her 10 selections to highlight the impact of climate change on viticulture. It’s real, with Bordeaux summers hotter than ever, and it’s something she’s currently writing a book on with the help of more than 100 years of family archives documenting growing conditions and harvests across multiple plots of land in Bordeaux.
The crowd favorite? A somewhat surprising 1996 followed by the 1982 (which is largely held to be one of the greatest of all time). As for de Rothschild? Her personal picks, it seemed, were the also the 1996 along with the 1985 (a good year for sure but sweeter because it was when her brother was born).
The 2010 was also received well, even though she said it was almost “a crime” to drink it this young. But for those collectors out there, investing in a few of those bottles now will likely pay off in spades as the wine continues to get better with age.