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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.

Comments (12)

Melanie wrote:
03.31.07 at 11:17 PM

I don't get why lawyers get a say in wines. Maybe it's just my naieve view of the world, but I think that wines should be what they are, no matter what some high-priced lawyer says.

Joe wrote:
04.01.07 at 7:07 AM

Thank goodness for the courts. The ridiculous system should be scrapped. This system implies such a constancy of result that is not possible in an agricultural endeavor over decades and decades. I suggest every Bordeaux producer call his/her wine offering "Super Deluxe Premier Extreme Grand Cru" - consumers will figure it out, and anyone who mistakenly pays hundreds of dollars for a bad "Super Deluxe Premier Extreme Grand Cru" deserves it.

Screwcap wrote:
04.01.07 at 8:05 AM

My personal policy is never, and I mean never, buy French wine.

Alder wrote:
04.01.07 at 11:31 AM

Screwcap, do you want to share why you have decided to never experience some of the best wines in the world? Or is that an April Fool's comment?

Screwcap wrote:
04.01.07 at 12:18 PM

Well, one reason I won't buy French wine is that every bottle of wine I've ever opened that's been spoiled has been French.

Jeff wrote:
04.01.07 at 12:30 PM

Mr. Screwcap,

Absolutes are hardly a part of wine. I have had 1,000's of wines from almost every region of the world (still searching for my first wine from China) and I have found that no matter what country I will always find a certain number of wines that are tainted, poorly produced, etc. To deny oneself the pleasure of French wine based upon absolutes is to shut the door on what is the benchmark for producers across the world. I invite you to seek out a good wine shop in your area and detail your expereince with French wine, tell them what you are looking for and be open. That is what makes wine so much fun.

As to the St. Emillon Classification, the INAO needs to get itself together and create clearly defined expecations and try its best not to be biased in any direction. As Bordeaux's market shared contiues to shrink actions such as this and the break down of the Cru Bourgeois classification will cause more and more buyers to flock to other growing regions of the world.

daryl wrote:
04.01.07 at 4:06 PM

I have been drinking alot of french wine lately and personally I think its much better than the ca.wine I used to drink..

Robert of Saint Suerin wrote:
04.02.07 at 1:29 PM

I don't profess to be an expert in wine.
I do however spend a conciderable amount of time in the Haut Medoc.I do not comprehend Mr Screwcaps comments.
If you are so against French wines, then perhaps you should concider that there is a significant amount of French Reds coming from American root stock.
I suggest you try before you condemn. After all how do you know you dont like it until you have tried it.

Robert of Saint Suerin wrote:
04.02.07 at 1:53 PM

whilst on the subject.
Major UK supermarkets are marking down Bordeaux reds mainly Mouton Cadet. These are of 2003 vintage and should be invested in. As any one knows that was in France during the Vandage will tell you. This is a very good year to be invested in.

Anonymous wrote:
04.02.07 at 8:59 PM

Time to scrap the outdated system and just let the wines sell on their own merit. The better ones will cost more and the lousy ones will be where they are now but at least they can improve from one year to another and upgrade their standing with the consumer. As it is now, they would have to wait up to 10 years to be officially upgraded by some silly review board. This applies in reverse for winery with a good reputation. You could lose it in one year or two of making mediocre wines.
They should scrap the 1855 classification on the left bank too. Why should a mediocre 3rd growth command more money or have more prestige than a great 5th growth?
Carlos

Les aka, ca wine maker wrote:
04.03.07 at 3:17 PM

Daryl, has a taste for S! Nothing I have ever tasted from France, has come close to the quality of wines from CA. Daryl must have a thing for barn yards!

Retro wrote:
04.03.07 at 11:29 PM

Note to Jeff: Give me a call when you visit Qingdao and I'll drive you out to the Huadong winery. You'll be surprised...and delighted. Just two will, do; the Reserve Cabernet Savignon and their Chardonnay.

Retro Richard of China

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