Bordeaux and Burgundy’s Relevance on the American Wine Scene

P7141848

P7141848 (Photo credit: cumi&ciki)

Bordeaux and Burgundy have been in something of the doldrums in terms of relevance on the American wine scene since the recession began in 2008. It was at this time that, while the near collapse of financial markets in the west, there was an influx of new wealth in China.  The Chinese nouveau riche with their insatiable appetite for the best Bordeaux had to offer, drove prices up at a time when budgets were shrinking here. Also at the very, most wealthy, in America and Europe and Russia just continued to gain wealth – snapping up blue chip wines for their cellars. The result the rarest of Burgundies and the most highly celebrated Bordeaux climbed, and climbed in price

The resulting wine trends in the United States was a combination of a rejection of Bordeaux’s pricing, and focus on wines from other places. For the generally stayed Bordeaux drinker, Brunello di Montalcino was an easy retreat.  Comparatively, Brunellos were cheap, delicious, and some of the very best producers weren’t much more than $60. With their excellent international reputation, softer tannins, Brunello was a socially acceptable down-sizing for the Bordeaux drinker.  For a more adventurous Burgundy drinker, there was a lot of thrilling options to choose from, most notably the remarkable Barolos and Barbarescos coming from Piemonte, and Aglianicos from Campagna and Basilicata.  Although for inexperienced tasters these wines have more challenges of in terms of structure and bitterness, their aromatics and texture are a huge draw with those wines, surpassing Burgundy in quality and complexity at each price point.

“The wines from the more traditional producers, really resonated, because they are flavors that cannot be produced anywhere else in the world.”

This economic dynamic created a scarcity of the top wines, while most of the lower and middle tiered wines sat, lingering in distributor warehouses and retailers shelves.  Of course this has always been the problem. The top 1% of wines has an eager market, the rest are more difficult to sell. Only now, this disparity is much more acute.  Now, as the stock market soars and the housing market moves back toward record highs, we can predict that this trend will continue.  The difference I think, is the wine in the next tiers down will be forced to lower their prices because the most of the middle class is not gaining wealth in the recovery.  There will not be an increased market for middle tier wines, rather these wines will need to retreat some in price.

In the past, the first growth and second growth Bordeaux were not so expensive that the middle class wine buyer could buy them occasionally, and the same went with Grand Cru Burgundy.  But I have always felt the soul of those appellations are those below those haut crus.  In Burgundy, I have always felt, that if you don’t know the premier cru’s you don’t know Burgundy.  Sure the Grand Cru tasted great.  They were ripe and succulent – anybody could like those.  The true soul, the heart and character of Burgundy is in the terroir, and if the wines got too ripe, this would be covered up, and the aromatics would be buried. For that reason I have always been a fan of the ”off years.”  To me, they seemed to retain more aromatics and just seemed to age better. The ripeness of the Grand Crus, at least to me, often masked the vineyard’s terrior.  As for Bordeaux, I have always been a fan of the 3rd through 5th growth Bordeaux and Cru Bourgeois. I know, it’s an underdog thing, but they were really good then, and today they are much better even now which in many cases justifies their price increases.  Besides, what hasn’t gone up in price?

Having just started to go out into the marketplace this week with some of these Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, it is fun to watch the light bulbs go off as the wines are tasted.  In many cases, the reactions I got are as if these buyers had suddenly remembered that Bordeaux and Burgundy even existed.  That’s how far removed the wine industry in many places has become from these two regions.  The wines from the more traditional producers, really resonated, because they are flavors that can not be produced anywhere else in the world. It makes you wonder if part of the problem with the relevance of Bordeaux is not only the prices, but the extreme modernization of the wine making, and the resultant fruit-driven styles that have taken hold there.

Givry vineyards 3

Givry vineyards 3 (Photo credit: Max xx)

Tasting the wines from these two classic French appellations is like a re-awakening. They are beautiful, full of personality and character. Sure, because of my new job I have a vested interest in the success of Burgundy and Bordeaux in the market place.  But I left my buyer’s position at The Wine Club precisely so I could immerse myself in the amazing portfolio at Atherton Wine Imports. While there certainly is a lot more competition for their attention, but I think Burgundy and Bordeaux are, and will again gain in relevance in the American wine consciousness.     Dean 

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