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03.31.2007

Grand Jury Cru

If this isn't a good reminder of how we get too wrapped up in labels and designations, I don't know what is. Some purchasers of 2006 Bordeaux futures from wineries in St. Emilion went to bed owning Grand Cru wines on Thursday night, but on Friday morning when they awoke, those wines were cru-less, so to speak. Just plain St. Emilion.

On Friday a French Court overturned the recent re-classification of the houses of Saint Emilion after a number of producers challenged it as "unfair" in court. Not only did the court overturn the classification, but they have stated that no wines in 2006 will bear the designation of Grand Cru.

This is pretty harsh news on the eve of the En Primeur campaign that every April offers to give journalists and the trade a preview of the previous year's wines and which culminates in the pricing of that vintages futures (and the resultant prices of the subsequent normal releases).

I happen to think it's great. If only as a lesson to everyone. It's so easy to think of the Grand Cru designation as this monolithic....truth. As if it is written in stone and a verifiable fact. As if aliens could scan the vineyards from space and given the correct set of quality criteria, easily pick out which ones are Grand Cru and which ones are not.

Really, though, it's all just a list that the lawyers can pull down as easily as they tear apart a weak alibi. Transient designations, arbitrary rules, subjective judgments, and political gerrymandering are as much a force in Cru designations as is any real objective measure of quality. Heck, in the original classification the price of the wine had more to do with which wines got on the 1855 list of First Growths than many other factors.

So I take this personally as a reminder to not forget that what really matters is in the glass. It's a fun thought experiment to think about what might the future of Bordeaux be like if all Cru designations fell by the wayside. Would the top wines still be the top wines? Many of them would, undoubtedly so. But I'd be willing to bet that there would be a small number of wines whose quality would outshine their past lack of designation. It's those wines that I'm constantly in search of. Whether they be Bordeaux or California Cabernet or obscure country Italian wines.

The jury has reached a verdict: we should all pay less attention to the label. Read the full story.

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