Bring Out Your Dead….Wines

People say the darndest things. I think we’re all given to pronouncements once in a while. There’s something very self satisfying about declaring with finality that something is so, so much that most journalists (myself included) have a hard time resisting the urge to speak in headlines.

Take this recent pronouncement from the news pages of the wine world: Vins de Garage are Dead.

With this headline Decanter Magazine proclaimed the end of the garagiste movement in Bordeaux. For those unfamiliar with this movement, it began in the mid-1990s as a group of independent winemakers began making small lots of wine in a style that ran counter to the prevailing wisdom and techniques of Bordeaux. This style is both about taste as well as about methods and scale. The garagiste wines tend to be more “international” in style, meaning less tannic and more immediately accessible, but also darker and richer than the top wines of Bordeaux.

Perhaps more radical than their flavor stylings, are the small plots of vineyards that are used to make these wines. They are not Cru vineyards of established terroir. They have no pedigree and no classification. And those making these wines are doing so in small lots with often great attention to detail — at a level that many of them claim to be of higher quality than the methods used by the First Growths (some of whom make wines in quantities approaching 500,000 bottles per year).

Most interestingly to me, these upstart garagistes represented a very real challenge to the stiff establishment of Bordeaux and their sacred cows: the official classifications determining who is Grand Cru and who is Lesser Cru. About garagiste wines like Jean-Luc Thunevin’s Valandraud, Robert Parker said, “”A hundred years from now the garage wines won’t be a separate category. They will be up and down the Médoc. Everyone will be making wines that way.”

It comes as no surprise to me then, that the demise of these wines is so widely proclaimed (and no doubt celebrated) in Europe. But just like the character in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail clip above, I’m not so sure that they’re dead quite yet.

Of course, I haven’t been tasting these wines for the past 15 years, like some of the critics, including Stephen Spurrier of Decanter Magazine, who is among those proclaiming the demise of these wines. Those who have suggest that these wines aren’t lasting as well as the traditional wines of Bordeaux.

That may in fact, be the case, but it certainly cannot be true across the board. And more importantly, even if it is true, that cannot be equated with the death of these wines, or the movement that created them. Parker is completely correct that we will continue to see more and more small producers making wines outside the Cru system, and if the current wines do not stand the test of time, there will certainly be many that will.

Proclaiming the death of the garagiste wines is like proclaiming the death of California Chardonnay due to overuse of oak. Wine styles never fully die, they merely evolve as the palates of the people change, and the minds of the winemakers shift.

Back to the garage with you !!