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05.18.2010

Bordeaux. The Anti-Millenial Wine?

Early in my stages of self-education on wine, I often said to myself, "I really don't see what all the fuss is about with Bordeaux." I had tasted quite a few lesser growths, and found them mostly unapproachable: tannic, tight, too mineral, or simply bad. Over the years, I gradually had a chance to taste both aged Bordeaux as well as some of the First Growths, and I began to understand the mystique. But to be perfectly honest, I've never had a Bordeaux that blew my socks off the way that some Burgundies have. I've yet to drink Petrus, however, but I don't think it's likely in my future. I don't know anyone rich enough to give me a sip.

Which is why I found myself nodding vigorously as I read Eric Asimov's latest piece in the New York Times, entitled "Bordeaux Loses Prestige Among Younger Wine Lovers."

Frankly, Bordeaux has a problem, which I can sum up as follows: there's not enough really good wine being made there, the really good stuff is so unbelievably expensive that it's out of reach for most people, and the affordable stuff that is good really isn't great without a number of years on it.

All of which is a bit of a non-starter for entry level, attention-deficit wine lovers just getting into things, and continues to be a barrier for people like me even if we do have the patience to cellar things.

You simply get more for your money a lot of other places, including Burgundy, the land of astronomical prices, where lesser wines please far more than their Bordeaux equivalents in my opinion. My main benchmark for this assessment is the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting that I attend once every year or so. The First Growths don't show up, and only a couple of the Second Growths do, and the wines there on the whole aren't that great.

Now I do have some favorite Bordeaux wines, such as second growth Cos d'Estournel, but I'll tell you a dirty little secret: I've never owned a single bottle of the stuff, even though I could afford to. Whereas most of my favorite producers that I can afford from most every other region have been in my shopping cart at one time or another.

This is the crux of the matter: I can't really be bothered. And according to wine bar owner Paul Grieco, who is quoted on the matter in Asimov's piece: "If even one person came in and said, 'I want a glass of Bordeaux,' I might think I really have to serve a Bordeaux. But not one person has said that. Not one! That's pretty sad."

Indeed.

Read the full story.

Comments (25)

05.19.10 at 10:13 AM

Your view of Bordeaux is based on the annual UGC tasting? That's like saying your view of California is based on Premiere Napa Valley. Napa Valley only makes up 4% of California wine and the Grand Cru of Bordeaux only represent 5% of Bordeaux.

You're missing a vast opportunity to explore a whole other side of Bordeaux. In fact, Eric Asimov himself said in a Jan. 20, 2010 column, "a recent wine panel tasting of 20 bottles of Bordeaux, in a range of $10 to $20, showed that the other side of Bordeaux still has a good deal to offer.” We couldn't agree more with his former statements.

Alder Yarrow wrote:
05.19.10 at 10:40 AM

Sarah,

That is merely one of my data points, and theoretically should represent a certain level of quality in the region. While I understand your point, Bordeaux is NOT analagous to California, neither in size, climate diversity, nor range of wine styles.

One of the other data points in my assessment are a series of value oriented tastings like the Today's Bordeaux tasting you put on. I didn't attend your tasting last year but I attended it (or something similar) the year before and that didn't change my impression.

05.19.10 at 11:28 AM

In addition to being corporate-driven and fairly high-priced, the Bordeaux region is also plagued by significant quality variance and excessive vintage variation. These attributes combined constitute a major risk (uncertainty) factor for the purchase of Bordeaux wine, and tend to shift consumer perceptions to a biased mode.
Still, (IMHO) there are exceptions to the rule (especially in good vintages like 2005 and 2006), such as Ch.s Poujeaux, Larrivet Haut-Brion, Larose-Trintaudon, Brown, Chasse-Spleen, Fieuzal, Fourcas-Hosten, Cantemerle, Plince… These wines, when young, still benefit from prolonged aeration, but are made in a more approachable style and sell at reasonable price points (US$ 20-45).

Luke Sykora wrote:
05.19.10 at 11:39 AM

I'm 29 and now that I have the cash to buy wines in the 15-30 dollar range, I have been grabbing some 2005 Bordeauxs now and then--mostly St. Emilion and Merlot-based Bordeaux Superieur.

Sure, even the 2005 Bordeaux Superieurs are a little tight right now, but it's pretty incredible to me that you can get a $15 wine that is 5 years old right now and will still have to wait a couple of years to be at its best.

For me it's a matter of now and then just being in the mood for a Bordeaux--not Cali fruit punch Cabernet or a chewy Rhone wine. That mix of really dark fruits and a hint of herb/mineral that's so hard to find in California (and even then, only expensive mountain wines--Howell Mtn, Mount Eden Estate).

Maybe if there were some guidelines out there about how feasible it is to age wine in a dark closet in various climates without having to invest in wine storage, more young people would take a risk on a bottle or two of moderately-priced Bordeaux. And more education about aging wines in general would also help--training palates to understand how wines age.

Max wrote:
05.19.10 at 3:54 PM


Well…I have a little something for everyone….first the Asimov article (who I love to read…) is missing one important aspect in his article and that is California. Specifically, the amount of very good California wine that you can get at each price point. Actually not just good but significantly better than comparable Bordeaux at the same price point. Let’s go case by case. First Alder, Alder is a fan of Les Pagodes de Cos, the second wine of Château Cos d'Estournel. I know this is the wine that Fredrick Engels bought his buddy Karl Marx in the 1840’s which makes for a cool back story. But really ($40 plus) without the Marx-Engel connection wafting through the bouquet this wine is a 8-8.5 on the Alder scale. Alder how would the Blackbird Arise Bordeaux blend fair straight up with the Les Pagodes de Cos? (I could name 30 others- Miner Family Cab and-) Same price point, significant quality difference. Advantage California.

Peter you mention a group of wines in the $30-45 price point. How is that group doing in today’s market? There are over 8,000 wineries in Bordeaux and you pick eight of which I have only tasted four. Usually with that selection of tertiary Bordeaux we in the US get only that which the wineries have made the best deal with their wholesaler. Peter is your little bevy of Bordeaux really an exception to your rule? Or is it symptomatic of the problem. A little rule of thumb Peter, when you buy your Bordeaux at Bev Mo (Larose-Trintaudon etc. ) it is going to take a little more than “prolonged aeration” to make them palatable regardless of what the clerk tells you.

Sarah, quick question. Did you try any of the Bordeaux that were in Asimov’s article? Hmmmm…I did. At least the ones I could buy in California because most of the stuff he reviews stays on the east coast. Bordeaux in the $10-20 range is below average at best. I don’t care the back story, the cool cosmopolitan label or the little hottie pushing it. Below average. Advantage California.

Luke a little note. 2005 Bordeaux Superieurs is the same as 2009 Bordeaux Superieurs as is the 1990 Bordeaux Superieurs. Again see above. Below average for what you get for the same price with California wine. If you want to impress your mate buy wine from Priorat. Much better than same price point Bordeaux and you can still impress your friends as being an international hipster.

Finally, Mr. Asimov if you want to punctuate your article with a cool Pomerol, don’t use Petrus. Use Chateau Le Pin (pronounced La Pan), cool, eccentric owner (Jacques Thienpont) and head to head it beats Petrus every time- at least the four or five times I have had them together (both selling about the same price point $3500 plus). Did I mention the almost perfect (Parker and I agree-100 points) 2001 Pride Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve $230. Game, set, match- California.

05.19.10 at 7:46 PM

I can be said that I have a certain bias to California wine, and I would not argue. But since I cut my vinous eyeteeth on Bordeaux and have plenty in my wine cellar, I have no axe to grind with Bordeaux except the way the prices have escalated.

That said, Bordeaux is not an easy wine to drink young unless one is drinking fairly inexpensive, often not very expressive Bordeaux. And, frankly, if I want to drink young red wine at a good price, there are better alternatives.

But, there is the other side to Bordeaux, and that is why well-made Bordeaux continues to sell well. It is the beauty that arrives with cellaring.

I do not disagree strongly with Alder about the ability of great red Burgs to charm all but the most hard-hearted of palates. Yet, if one allows Bordeaux to age, and that is a lot to ask of young people on limited budgets with fewer years as adults than it takes for good Bordeaux to age out, then one gets a wine of exquisite beauty, of layers of minerals, fruit, oak, bottle bouquet. In short, one gets complexity and a texture that has changed from hard to supple.

Now, it happens that I have not only boxes of Bordeaux in my cellar but also boxes of CA Cabs and I would be happy to pit my 1970s and 1973s and 1974s against similarly aged wines from Bordeaux.

There are thus two takeaways here. Ignoring great wine because it does not offer immediate pleasure is a form of failed thinking, of shortsightedness. Not that everyone should want the same wine, but that judgments of that nature fail to acknowledge the reason why Bordeaux is worth buying.

The second point is that CA wine is not all fruit bombs, cherry juice and alcohol. Those of us who study the topic, who choose to cellar wines with balance, depth and range get rewarded for our efforts.

Allen Clark wrote:
05.20.10 at 5:53 AM

Just a minor point, but isn't the headline backwards? Shouldn't it be "Millennials: The Anti-Bordeaux Generation"?

Full disclosure - I'm not a millennial and I certainly like (adore, really) the first-growths in my cellar, though I am in full agreement that most of the wines worth drinking are no longer worth buying. The Bordelais have priced themselves out of the Pantheon.

05.20.10 at 6:16 AM

Max,
I believe you are confusing your palate and tasting preferences with (objective) reality. You may think that Pride CS Reserve is better than Château Le Pin, and I respect that, but you are only expressing your opinion.
Furthermore, it is a flaw to compare “Bordeaux” with California wine. The former are tannic, structured, low alcohol, long lived wines, from a high-latitude temperate oceanic climate, made to be drunk with food; that should be compared, exclusively, with its best peers. Not with California’s high natural alcohol, low tartaric acid, huge fruit weight, dense, Mediterranean climate wines. Which I like very much, BTW.
You should also be more specific when you refer to a “significant quality difference” between wines from both regions, at the same price points. What “quality indicators” are you using in your analysis? Are you evaluating the “expected quality” or the “perceived quality”?
Finally, it is (IMHO) intellectually naive to rely solely on your individual/personal judgment to render a conclusive verdict upon the “comparative advantages” of two deeply distinctive and complex wine regions like Bordeaux and California. At the least, it is certainly not as straightforward as a tennis match.
Respectfully,
PS: Most wines I cited employ micro-oxygenation and are, indeed, more approachable in youth.

05.20.10 at 7:33 AM

Mr. O'Connor--

The problem with your generalizations is that they are just that. Generalizations.

You ignore the large body of Right Bank wines that are now over 14% alcohol, with some reaching up to 15% (see Angelus and Pavie-Maquin for starters) and you further ignore the whole body of CA wines that stay at or under 14% like Corison, Spottswoode and others.

You ignore the growing use of Merlot on the Left Bank, a trend which together with improvements in growing techniques, acceptance of the Peynaud theory of wine structuring and possibly global warming have seen Left Bank wines also get riper and riper to the point where 13.5% alcohols and higher are not unusual.

And finally, whether one likes them or not, whether their styles are to your taste or anyone else's, wines like Staglin, Hewitt, Hobbs, Rubicon have shown that alcohols in excess of 14.5% and successful long-aging, in which structure and fruit stay intact and complexity is gained, are not mutually exclusive.

You further ignore the whole body of hillside Cabs like Dunn, La Jota, Pride, Paloma, Ridge, Lancaster, Burgess whose structures are decidedly not soft, whose lifelines are proven to extend to three decades and more, whose best uses are with food and whose complexities only emerge in their second decade of life.

There are differences between CA Cabs and Merlots and those from Bordeaux, but they have never been as great as some have been claiming as far back as 1970. The claim that the CA wines are fat, sloppy and do not age well started at least four decades ago, and you are perpetuating it today even though all evidence points to the fact that Bordeaux wines of the 21st Century are as big or bigger than the CA wines of a few decades ago and that many Bordeaux wines are simply bigger on an direct comparison basis.

Alder Yarrow wrote:
05.20.10 at 8:39 AM

Allen,

On reflection, you're right. My title should be reversed.

Alder

Max wrote:
05.20.10 at 11:06 AM

Peter-

First, a clarification- my best wine experiences have all been with Bordeaux wines. Le Pin, Palmer, Petrus, Certan de May to name a few. Like inhaling a beautiful French woman it just doesn’t get any better. But Peter, you Sarah and Luke (along with our buddy’s Alder and Asimov) were talking about a totally different animal. Specifically, the wine in the $10 to $60 dollar range. With that I will stand by my statement that the quality of wine in that range is significantly lower than comparably priced California wine (Peter perception is reality. Check out the current POTUS if you don’t concur.) Asimov was just trying to make his point but he was also very lazy. I know a whole group of wine drinkers in their twenties who would put Bordeaux at the top of their list. Costco is actually the number one selling retailer of Bordeaux in the US and their buying demographic surely includes a healthy chunk of what Asimov calls the “younger wine lovers.”

Finally, Peter you mention micro-oxygenation. My favorite subject. I remember a most delightful exchange I once had on the effect of micro-oxygenation in the 1995 Bryant Family Cab, most delightful indeed. But I digress. Micro-oxygenation is a very expensive process. One actually has to be beyond intellectually naïve, stupid actually, to think the French use micro-oxygenation in wines like Larose-Trintaudon that they sell for $12 at Bev Mo.

05.20.10 at 12:15 PM

Max,
Thanks for your reply.
I copied and pasted the text below from their website:
- Micro-oxygénation en phase de macération post-fermentaire : Apport lent d'oxygène à dose très faible ayant pour objectif la stabilisation de la couleur et l'augmentation du volume en bouche. Le tout à raisonner en fonction de la richesse et de la qualité des tannins de chaque cuve.
But you can always check for yourself at: http://www.chateau-larose-trintaudon.fr/fr/chateau-larose-trintaudon/les-vendanges-et-la-vinification.html
Regards,
Peter

Max wrote:
05.20.10 at 1:48 PM

Peter

First, you say your bevy of Bordeaux “benefit from prolonged aeration” and then you point to what they say is micro-oxygenation. Do you see a possible contradiction here? Second, I would like to paraphrase one of my hero’s when he said “it depends what IS IS”. Chateau Larose Trintaudon talks about “oxygen in very small quantities”. IS this micro-oxygenation as we know it in California with sophisticated testing and aeration systems? Or IS this just a Frenchman with a straw? I wonder.

05.20.10 at 2:20 PM

Max,
Micro-oxygenation was developed by Patrick DuCournau (Vignobles Laplace) in the Madiran, to soften the harsh tannins from that region. And the process is exactly “the exposure of wine to oxygen in limited quantities”. DuCournau defines micro-oxygenation as a “technique by which red wines in tank are exposed to a steady but very fine stream of oxygen bubbles. This process softens tannins and develops structure in young tank-matured reds by enhancing their exposure to oxygen during fermentation, giving it a rounded quality”. Today it is widespread in Madiran and in most of the Bordeaux area (Right and Left Banks). Michel Rolland also employs it in most of his wines, even in Argentina (Flecha de los Andes, Clos de los Siete…). And they all benefit from aeration.

Max wrote:
05.20.10 at 3:47 PM

Peter
Looks like you took notes while watching the 2004 documentary "Mondovino", where it explained that micro-oxygenation is Michel Rolland's raison d'être.

Steve Raye wrote:
05.21.10 at 8:10 AM

Our research on marketing wine to Millennials validates your points. Here are two anecdotal comments that I think capture the issue well. When asked where wine comes from, Millennials are more likely to respond with Australia, Argentina, Chile, and New Zealand...and even include Spain into that list of New World wine producing countries. These countries, their wine marketing associations and the wine producers have oriented their products and their marketing to this new generation of consumers.

The second comment we heard was when asked Do you drink Bordeaux, the answer is, no, I only drink Cabernet Sauvignon.

No surprise that not just Millennials, but Americans, drink and think varietals. Bordeaux is still using names and estates that are not only meaningless to Millennials, but also off-putting.

So our point of view is that the French seem to have a pathological problem of being unable to or unwilling to adapt their product development and marketing to the U.S. No surprise then about the double digit declines we've seen in the news recently reported for Loire and Bordeaux. But this has been a problem (or opportunity) festering for decades. Emblematic of its effect is the steady decline on a bellweather Bordeaux brand that once was the definitive entry to the region...Mouton Cadet.

05.21.10 at 9:31 AM

Alder: I like Bordeaux, so I guess I'm out of fashion. But I rarely drink it, and the reason has nothing to do with anything Asimov mentioned.

I just don't drink that much Cabernet or Merlot. Other varieties are more food-friendly.

I don't think Burgundy is a better value than Bordeaux, and it's certainly not a safer buy, but I drink a lot more Burgundy because I'd rather have Pinot or Chard with dinner than Cab.

As for wine bars, I would order a glass of Bordeaux there, it's the perfect place for it, but I have to credit owners like Grieco for always having something unusual that piques my curiosity a bit more.

All of this said, it strikes me that in five years somebody might be writing the "millenials have come to discover Bordeaux" story.

05.21.10 at 3:42 PM

Alder! Don't be a Bordeaux hater. And this is coming from someone whose interests are tied to the California wine industry. I have to admit that prices for the high end have goten out of whack but that is just the Asian market finding it in vogue and driving the prices up. Some of my most joyfully memorable bottles are Bordeaux versus the crap shoot that is Burgundy. Now don't get me wrong I have had good and bad from both regions like you, but I think a lot of what is driving people away from Bordeaux is sommeliers' current fascination with finding the most obscure plonk out there and putting it on their lists just to be different.

05.21.10 at 3:51 PM

Nice comments, Blake. I pretty much agree with them although I do drink more Cab and Bordeaux than you seem to.

The two comments I would add are: I can't see how a young, tannic, hard Cab, whether from CA, Oz or Bordeaux would be a good wine bar choice. Somehow, when I want a stand alone wine, I want one that is more palate-friendly.

Secondly, good, ageworthy Cab-based wines are very food friendly. It is just that they take a while to get there. Whether it is Ridge MB or Lynch-Bages, or whether is a $30-40 scaled down version of one of those, the good ones need time to soften and gain complexity. I understand why young wine drinkers would prefer something more accessible. Hey, I started with Guild Tavola Red, Hearty Burgundy and Mateus.

It is a bit much to expect the average punter anywhere in the world, including France, to drink hard, tannic wines by choice. They don't do it. So why should Millenials or other folks who have avoided the curse and pleasures of wine geekdom do otherwise?

Finally, I love your last observation. Some portions of the young wine-liking set are going to migrate over time to Bordeaux and other age- and price-demanding wines just as we did.

BaroloDude wrote:
05.21.10 at 4:41 PM

Wow. A strong bouquet of pomposity and oneupmanship in some comments here today. Too bad. Could have been a much more fun discourse.

I agree with the premise of the Asimov article and Alders comments. Enjoyable bordeaux for me has typically started around $40 (for so so vintages like 97 St Julien) and up. I just can't buy that stuff too often! Better QPR and consistent quality from Spain and Italy (Rosso d Montalcino in particular). I have found a few Bord Superiors to be ok for less than $20, but not great. Just my opinion.

Enough chest beating pls. Lets keep this forum more civil and less pompous than the old parker forum. thanks.

Alder Yarrow wrote:
05.21.10 at 9:56 PM

Taylor,

I'm not a Bordeaux hater by a long shot. I've had some excellent Bordeaux, and will continue to drink it, but it's far from one of my favorite wines.

Rob Davis wrote:
05.24.10 at 5:33 PM

Wow. I rarely read blogs; but the lengthy discourses here are enjoyable in that they each illicit so much passion. Bordeaux, Napa, Sonoma, California, Washington, Oregon- I like them all.We should drink what we like; but drinking what we like and drinking what is affordable is the challenge of every vintner. With grape prices still at a premium and barrel prices still hanging in the stratosphere, it is difficult to craft a great wine that is affordable for all. Keep up the spirited seach for finding wines that match your palate and your pocket book. In the end, most vintners I know are simply hoping to share their pleasure of making a wine that brings joy to friends and family. If we all wanted to measure our lives by our bank accounts, I assure you we would have chosen another career path. Don't know too many winemakers and grape growers with soft hands......

Max wrote:
05.25.10 at 5:17 PM

Rob-
Last Sat night I had a Jordan Cab in a blind tasting...very good...my comment to my hosts was that I thought I could taste a hint of Rutherford dust in the finish-so my question to you is- when did you start trucking in dirt from Rutherford to the Alexander Valley? Or perhaps like this discussion its a simple case of just needing more cowbell

Anonymous wrote:
05.26.10 at 10:09 AM

Wow guys, some intense emotions here! I am a french wine guy, and think that for sure there are better values out there in the "obscure plonk" that those fancy sommeliers' are always putting on their list. Most $20-40 Cab/Merlot wines we see on the east coast from California are overfruited high alc. nonsense. I love wines with a sense of place, fruit and acidity which can be served with meals. There are few of those from anywhere, but I find them more from France.

I also think that Eric was writing about the scene here in NY, and not about what is available in California or elsewhere in the country. Further, I think that the next few generation of wine drinkers in France will think more in varietals just as we do here. They are millennial's as well.
Great topic, and great discussion thread here!
Ben

08.17.10 at 7:25 PM

This summer,many coutries facing high temperature,some people say it is because of global warming.My feeling is hot summers due o many aspects.

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