Here once stood the great Chateau Lafite...

It was the shot heard round the world.  Yesterday, Eric Asimov of the NY Times wrote an article that sent shock waves through Bordeaux.  The message:  you’re soon to be on life support.

I feel inclined to write as Paul Grieco, our fearless leader, was pictured in the piece and our wine programs at Hearth and Terroir were discussed.  It was a simple article and yet a brilliant one.

I would have killed to be a fly yesterday on the Gironde River to see the panicked look on the faces of the Chateaux owners as they sipped espressos and overlooked their empires.  Or at least, I hope they were panicked…if the entire Bordelais wine industry isn’t discussing Mr Asimov’s article, then they may be more screwed that they can possibly imagine.

You see, Bordeaux and its wines are falling prey to a massive marketing failure.  They have effectively cut themselves off from the new generations of sommeliers, wine geeks and the average consumer.

Their solid devotees are the collectors and rich “score-chasers” that blindly follow Robert Parker and hunt down their top wines every year like Mercedes collectors do fine cars.  Their wines are snatched off the market and tucked away in temperature-controlled cellars/bunkers around the world only to see the light of day when its time to shock and awe.

The problem with this?  Well, the world has come to see Bordeaux as a playground for the rich, the Monte Carlo of the wine world.  “You gotta pay to play, bitches, and pay dearly!  Looking for value?  Look elsewhere!”

When I first got into wine, I worked at a wine shop in Brooklyn Heights.  Like every other newbie, my studies quickly brought me to Bordeaux and the infamous estates of the Official Classification of 1855.

But I can't even see the front gate?!

Names like Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Latour and Chateau Margaux struck warmth in my heart.  They were dynasties of greatness, wine Meccas, castles to our craft.

But then I saw their price tags.  Holy fuck, I thought, I’ll never be able to even taste these wines!  I felt crushed.  I set about finding alternatives, an entrance through the back door.  There were “second label” wines from these Chateaux, I realized, but they were also out of my paltry salary.  I tore though our stock, getting more and more desperate to learn what all the fuss was about.  But the few we had at an affordable price seemed so far removed from the epicenter of the great Chateaux that I became lukewarm in my zeal.  I was depressed and felt shut out of the greatest wine region in the world.  How would I ever make a place for myself in this business without knowing and experiencing them?

"Buy two barrels of the Margaux! Now, damnit!"

Add to that, I was constantly exposed to clientele that coldly hunted them down and salespeople that snobbishly wielded them like gems I was too uncivilized to understand.   My feelings of exclusion soon became anger.

I soon found the “resistance”–the wine regions that wanted me, the fledgling young wine geek, on their side.  Instead, regions like the Rhone and the Loire fueled my wonderment, soon followed by Spain and Italy.  I left Bordeaux behind.

The sad truth?  Bordeaux is composed of thousands of great wine estates where value and authenticity CAN be found.  But all I saw in my early days were the glitzy ones and the marketing materials that played up this “luxury” lifestyle.  And even today, I still don’t see the small guys, the ones I want to fight for.  Sure, they do one big Bordeaux tasting every year where I could find them, but there seems to be a Spanish tasting in NYC nearly every month!  I can meet the producers first-hand and hear their stories.  After that, I go to bat for them, championing their work.

Behind this wall lies the unseen Bordeaux

Bordeaux has walled itself off from the youthful advocates in this country.  What they need to do is take us passionate people to the countrysides of Bordeaux to show us the greats, as well as the meek.  They’ve put up so many layers of brokers and middlemen that I can’t access the people behind the wines.

It seems to be the opposite problem as that of Australia. Whereas Yellow Tail and other mega-wineries have swallowed the market in such a way that the average consumer doesn’t know great wines exist there (and certainly don’t want to pay for them), Bordeaux has done the opposite.  Bordeaux has convinced the world that nothing but Mercedes and BMWs exist in it’s world.

But I, and most of my sommelier friends in NYC, drive proverbial Volkswagens…

Let's snuggle up in the back seat and drink some Sherry


10 Responses to “Bordeaux: Your Ass is on Notice”

  1. Strappo says:

    Well said, David.

    I’m extremely old, so when I worked in wine retail in the early 70s, many of the great names you mention were easily available and within the means of even such as I. (With employee discounts of course.) They were my great wine education — many of the best estates of Bordeaux and Burgundy which are now the province of the super-rich. I am lucky to have had that sort of formation.

    But I can’t afford to drink such wines. “Tasting” doesn’t do a damn thing for me. The proof of a wine is in the drinking, not a 1 ounce pour.

    All of which is a big part of why, when I conceived my import business, I didn’t give France a thought. It’s Italy, where you can still find ample value combined with vivid character. I’m pretty damned happy about the choice!

  2. Morning Strappo,
    Appreciate the kind words. You nailed it: it’s the “ah-ha!” moments in your early education that form your palette and interests for the future. Mine just happened to latch on to what I could access.
    I’d love to be an advocate for Bordeaux, I just can’t seem to crack the staunchy veneer. And I KNOW that small, great producers exist in droves. Something needs to be done. And quick.
    thanks for your comment,

  3. Susan Guerra says:

    Hi David,

    Great post.

    I might just be as old as Strappo :-) but back when I started really getting into wine I was spending my money on daycare and diapers. Now I’m spending it on college tuitions.
    I also agree that tasting does nothing. I need to drink it with a meal and a good conversation. I enjoy wine from many different places with an open mind but I’m with Strappo in choosing Italy. Something new around every bend in the circuitous route from north to south.


  4. Lar Veale says:

    Feeling your pain. The cherished wine moments I do have are those of Bordeaux classed growths, but those feelings quickly turn to anger, resentment and jealousy.
    If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor

  5. I guess the sad part is that I am IN the business and I still have a hard time accessing the region. It boggles my mind that in a region as dense, complex and large as Bordeaux is, that we hear so little about the backwater regions and we haven’t seen many of the smaller AOC’s catch on with wine geeks.

    I’m convinced there are some amazing stories to be told and some incredible wines to be discovered that lie far from the Haut Medoc…

  6. ben wood says:

    I agree with most of this, but have been lucky to hook up with some folks who love the high end old Bordeaux; so occasionally get to try them . . . however I don’t take much of it home, for two reasons- I love the lighter elegant wines; often from the Loire . . However for special occasions I try to have a special wine, often Bordeaux. In retail I see a lot of interest in Bordeaux from certain ages and up, just as the article suggests- however vintners like David at Tir Pe, and the folks from Champ De Trielles are great; and respond to emails and questions.

  7. Hi Ben, cheers for writing in. I’m bonkers for Loire wines; for the exact reasons you mentioned. I’m stoked to hear some names coming forward of some vintners you’re stoked on. Thats what I’m missing; hearing people passionately supporting and ferreting out producers that aren’t the same roster of characters I’ve heard tossed around like prized baseball cards time and time again.

    I actually spent some time today tearing through the Bordeaux maps in the World Atlas of Wine and was stunned to see its been awhile since I’ve tasted so many of those wines. Guess its just where I’m at in my wine journey right now.

    Perhaps its time I steered my ship that way again soon.

    thanks for writing in and I’ll have to check out 67wine soon!

  8. I’d like to encourage you to explore affordable Bordeaux wines on our sit which features classic and contemporary wines under $35.

  9. J Rudolph says:

    Bordeaux pricing itself out of existence kiss your ass goodbye? Asimov's theory don't think its true

  10. […] Bordeaux: Your Ass is on Notice Bordeaux is becoming irrelevant to younger wine lovers, at least that’s the NY Times take.  Grapes and Grains takes a look at how Bordeaux has isolated itself from the rest of the world. […]

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