Bordeaux is in trouble. But its woes are not just tied to the present economic upheaval and two good but not great vintages in 2007 and 2008. No, there are other issues as well, and for that matter, Bordeaux isn't alone. Not by a long shot.
For what seems like forever, Bordeaux has been the reigning heavyweight in wine. Its prices have only known one direction and that has been skyward. It is the largest fine-wine producer on earth, even as its foundation has been shaken by the global recession and it recently lost its largest importer to the U.S., Diageo's Chateau & Estate Wine Co. Still, no other appellation comes close to producing the volume of great wine that Bordeaux does, and few wines age as well and benefit from cellaring as those of Bordeaux.
But that doesn't mean Bordeaux is bulletproof. It may be a victim of its own success, as in too many great vintages and high-priced wines to be absorbed (though many Bordeaux are very affordable). My colleague James Suckling, who covers Bordeaux for Wine Spectator, believes 2009 Bordeaux futures will put Bordeaux back in a groove of sorts. Winemakers there are proclaiming this to be the greatest vintage of their lifetimes, which is more than a vintage of a decade, but less than the vintage of a century (and Bordeaux has had a few of those in the past three decades).
No, the issue isn't only Bordeaux prices (which are high) or quality (which in 2009 is said to be off the charts), but more a matter of tastes, styles and the word for our times, relevancy.
I wondered in 2003 how Bordeaux would cope with its image, that is, many at the time were saying (and still do) that Bordeaux isn't hip anymore. Restaurateurs were saying that Bordeaux didn't meet the "new and exciting" criterion that fuels much of the market, or didn't work well with their cuisine and menus.
I thought about this on Saturday night as I opened two 2000 Bordeaux for a dinner with friends. 2000 was the last vintage I bought Bordeaux and secured a few cases from what was then the latest of greatest vintages at prices that made me squeamish at the time. The two wines I uncorked, Cos-d'Estournel and Ducru-Beaucaillou, reminded me of wanting to stay in touch with Bordeaux, since it has been an important part of my wine life. Alas, the Cos was corked but the Ducru was delightful: elegant, refined and concentrated, and it continued to change and improve through the evening. But some of the other wines on the table—a 2007 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir from Riverblock, a 2005 Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer To Kalon and a 2004 Araujo Eisele—proved more interesting both to me and those at the dinner.
So, yes, prices are a big issue, bigger than the $100-plus a bottle I paid for the 2000 Bordeaux in 2003 (and certainly the three California wines were expensive as well). No, it's about tastes and relevancy, and phases we go through in life, and as much as I respect and admire Bordeaux—and know its wines will age better than most for years—they are less to my liking today than ever before.
Back to my main point. Yes, Bordeaux is facing challenges. But so are so many wines, and the biggest challenge is being fashionable, hip, in vogue, or relevant, or whatever you want to call it. In that sense, Bordeaux isn't alone. Not by a long shot.
Fred Mcelveen — columbia s.c. — March 1, 2010 5:23pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — March 1, 2010 5:48pm ET
Richard Zaremba — Philadelphia — March 1, 2010 6:36pm ET
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Glenn Keeler — OC, CA — March 2, 2010 8:45am ET
Jeffrey Barefoot — Perrysburg, Ohio — March 2, 2010 10:27am ET
Matt Scott — Honolulu HI — March 2, 2010 11:37am ET
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Patrick Cook — San Mateo, CA — March 2, 2010 12:43pm ET
ROBERT MILTON — Newbury Park, CA — March 2, 2010 2:50pm ET
Ross Ritterman — Bay Area, CA — March 2, 2010 3:02pm ET
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Frank Celico — Westerly, ri — March 2, 2010 3:44pm ET
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Jamie Sherman — Sacramento — March 10, 2010 3:55pm ET
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