I sat down with Margaux Pariente in my office yesterday. The newest generation to work at her family's Château Troplong-Mondot in Bordeaux's St.-Emilion, Pariente is relatively new to the wine business, young, energetic and passionate about her wine. She was in New York to work the market a little bit and she admitted finding the reaction to Bordeaux a little surprising.
"At the dinners we are doing, the crowd is a bit older. And if there are younger people, they don't seem to know much about Bordeaux or really be that excited by Bordeaux," she mused. "What does Bordeaux have to do to get the younger generation interested?"
It's a question more and more Bordelais are asking, from Pariente's generation on up. They see the U.S. market slipping away. They know it's an image issue, driven by the escalating prices of the top châteaus. But they seem befuddled as to how to turn it around.
Granted, it's not all doom and gloom. Bordeaux still holds a magical place in the wine world, one that many consumers long to be a part of. At the Grand Tour tasting here in New York this past Tuesday night, the Château Margaux booth was mobbed. Florence and Daniel Cathiard, the affable owners of Smith-Haut-Lafitte, had a hard time pouring as fast as people wanted the wine. Jean-Charles Cazes was busy at the Lynch-Bages table, and so on.
But alas, it seems prices aren't coming down. At least not in a really meaningful way. The 2011 en primeur campaign is starting to roll, and while some châteaus have made what seem like large price cuts on their wines for the vintage, the prices are still high. The chance to really recapture the broad interest of the U.S. market could be slipping away even faster than the Bordelais realize.
It's a shame too—there are really, really good wines in Bordeaux, at all price points. The famous estates can make magical wines, though admittedly they are out of range for most of us. But there is the $20 Mauvais Garçon from Jean-Luc Thunevin. There's the supple, character-filled Château Jean Faux Bordeaux Supérieur from Pascal Collotte. There's Château Phélan Ségur which rewards a decade of cellaring at a modest price. There are intriguing, delicious, bracing whites such as the dry Sémillon bottling from Château Doisy Daëne. From Castillon to Fronsac to the Haut-Médoc, there are numerous estates making interesting, delicious, cellar-worthy wines at a square price.
There are also many producers going green, with carbon-neutral wineries such as Hélène Garcin-Lévêque's Château Barde-Haut. There is an increasing number of producers stepping into the organic or biodynamic world as well, such as Alfred Tesseron at Château Pontet-Canet or Bérénice Lurton at Château Climens.
There's diversity in spades, with modern-styled wines such as Pariente's own Troplong-Mondot, along with plenty of old-school versions too, from the grippy, throwback wine being made by Nicolas Glumineau at Château Montrose to the long vat-aged Sauternes of Château Gilette.
I asked a few people well-placed here in the U.S. market—what does Bordeaux have to do to excite you? Their answers were not surprising, dealing with the issues of pricing and diversity.
Dan Posner, owner of Grapes the Wine company, a retailer in White Plains, N.Y., said, "In general, Bordeaux is relatively unaffordable to most, and the inability to allow folks like us to taste them and judge them for ourselves, is difficult. There is typically one or two mass tastings in New York annually, and most châteaus are non-participants. Bordeaux needs to do a better job of getting their samples into retailer, restaurant and consumer's hands."
Michael Madrigale, the head sommelier at Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud on New York's Upper West Side, said, "Bordeaux needs to focus on the small estates and the small appellations, places like Canon-Fronsac, the St-Emilion satellites, and so on. If it focuses [on pushing] the value areas of Bordeaux, sommeliers as well as young consumers can get excited and play in the arena."
And so I also pose the question to you, the reader. What does Bordeaux have to do to get its wines into your cellars and on to your table more regularly? Speak your mind—a few Bordelais just might be reading this space!
You can follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1.