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Bordeaux: Suddenly It's a Hard Sell

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Oct 12, 2006 12:35pm ET

Here's some food for thought...

I met briefly with Hélène Garcin-Lévêque today. She owns Poesia, a very promising new project in Argentina. Her family also owns Clos L'Église in Pomerol, along with a few other small properties, such as Château Barde-Haut and Château Haut-Bergey. She's traveled to the United States for the Bordeaux, not to work the market for her Argentinean project. Considering the hype the 2005s from Argentina have received, I was a little surprised by this.

For so long, Bordeaux châteaus made their wines, and brokers handled the sales. The world came to Bordeaux to buy wine, so there was no problem. And in a great vintage, it all sold quickly. Today, though, that same world is buying many other wines. While the top two dozen or so Bordeaux properties maintain their name recognition, it's the smaller and lesser-known properties who suddenly have to work the market themselves.

Garcin-Lévêque mentioned how every retailer she spoke to complained of high Bordeaux prices--but then noticed that all they bought were the most expensive wines. None of them seemed to care about the properties with less name recognition, irregardless of their quality.

Probably more than any other wine region, Bordeaux is the label drinker's region. Funny how the region's history and prestige in some ways works against it today. A new Argentinean wine? Sure, you'd be hip to try that. But a Pessac-Léognan you'd never heard of? Hmmmm, suddenly some folks aren't so open.

What about you? Is Bordeaux an area still ripe for experimentation, or has the price buzz for the top wines scared you off? Do you have an under-the-radar Bordeaux you like (mine in recent years have been Château Gigault and Château Sociando-Mallet)?

David Lobe
Toronto, —  October 12, 2006 1:58pm ET
I love Domaine de Chevalier. It is always reasonable and rivals wines that are 4 times its price.
Hoyt Hill Jr
Nashville, TN —  October 12, 2006 2:10pm ET
I am a wine retailer in Nashville, TN. I have sold about 50 cases of 2005 Bordeaux futures, but, other than 1 case each of Haut Brion and Lynch Bages, it has all been the lesser known $40-$50 wines with mid ninety point ratings. Which makes a lot of sense to me.
James Molesworth
October 12, 2006 2:12pm ET
Hoyt: Do you have to hand sell those wines? Or are people coming in and looking for them specifically?
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  October 12, 2006 3:48pm ET
Definitely Pontet-Canet and Malescot-St-Exupery. While the prices were much higher for these in 2005, they're still a bargain compared to the bigger houses.
Charles J Stanton
Eugene, OR —  October 12, 2006 6:14pm ET
Really enjoy Charmail, Barde Haut and Lafon Rochet (in ripe Left Bank vintages) in the 'bargain' range. Thankfully there is still reasonably priced Bordeaux to be found, particularly in the non 'vintage of the decade' years.

The problem is remembering buying '82 Lynch Bages or Cos d'Estournel futures for $15. You've got to think twice before plunking down $200-400 for a 1st or Super-2nd growth, even if you can afford to occasionally. I guess I prefer to add a little more to the 401K now so I can drink better wines when I am retired.
Dan Jaworek
Chicago —  October 13, 2006 9:12am ET
James,That's all I buy when I buy Bordeaux. And I've been defending the prices of Bordeaux for a long time stating that I find better wines at better prices than I do anywhere else. 2005 may challange that claim but in the past I've enjoyed Haut Batailley, Haute Carles, Fontenil, Duhart Milon, LaGrange and a few others. They may not be as good as the first growths but then again I'm spending a fraction of the price. And lets be real for a minute. I'm a regular guy with a regular job. I don't play in that league and it would be irresponsible for me to even try. It took a long time for me to convince my brother of my buying strategy. He was/is a label buyer and often picked up decent (but not always great) labels and sometimes in off years. The off year wines were seldom better than the wines I bought in bulk from great years from lesser known labels. But I had spent much less per bottle. When you stop looking at wine as a luxury item and start looking at it as a food item, you stop worrying about labels so much. Quality is what you look for and you find that its available in a lot of forms. Labels matter a little in the sense that they may have a track record of quality. But other lesser known labels have quietly produced a track record thats worthy of your dollar as well. When I do get my '05s it will probably be in the form of the wines I mentioned above. I've enjoyed them for a long time and don't see that changing anytime soon. Dan J
Rob Lentini
Alexandria, Virginia —  October 13, 2006 10:25am ET
I prefer tasting the unknown wines prior to buying. The fancier labels that I get, I'll buy without trying.My favorite under-the-radar Chateau is Malmaison.
Will Miner
Denver, CO —  October 13, 2006 1:25pm ET
I'm in agreement with a few others here: the only Bordeaux that are enjoyable to buy and drink are the unknown ones. I frequent 5-6 wine shops, but I only buy Bordeaux from the two shops whose staff truly know the wines they're selling. Most of these wines aren't rated (which is likely why they are relative bargains), and I've never had a bad recommendation from either. On top of that, the staff at both shops generally know the property and the producer, and that adds to my enjoyment as well. Some day I'll have money to throw around casually and I'll finally splurge on a first-growth, but so far I don't feel as though I've missed anything.
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  October 14, 2006 10:30pm ET
I have to say with smaller known bordeauxs (the none 1855 designated wines) like a few lalande de pomerols as examples. They're relatively cheap around 10-15$ a bottle, but while drinking very well as a table wine they give me a horrid headache that alot of the bigger houses and cali/aussie wines don't give. Perhaps it's the way they ferment the grapes, or if they filter them differently, whatever it may be, for my head's sake I unfortunately have to cut back my taste for lesser known bordeauxs.
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  October 16, 2006 12:40am ET
Plenty of good value with Bordeaux if you know where to look. Gigault, Cap de Faugeres, D'Aiguilhe, Poujeaux, Grand Puy Ducasse and others. Several great deals on 2005 futures!

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