A roundup of recent news from the world of wine:
* Bordeaux is in the throes of its annual frenzy of futures (or en primeur) sales as chateaux, buoyed by rave reviews from journalists, release the prices for their 2010s. No surprise, perhaps, that many prices are up substantially from the record levels set in 2009. The increases even have uber-critic Robert Parker complaining to the Agence France-Presse that the prices are getting out of hand. Parker’s love of Bordeaux has helped fuel the rise in prices, but he warned of a “big, big crisis” if the trend continues.
“Bordeaux is the epicenter of the greatest wines,” he told AFP. “I hate to see the image damaged by the fact people tend to think it’s too expensive.” He said Bordeaux is focusing too much on the demand for fine wines in Asia and risks alienating the American market. What do the French say to such criticism? Foreign minister (and Bordeaux mayor) Alain Juppe chalks it up to the market and calls the wines “good value.”
* Speaking of the American market, Decanter.com (the Web site of the leading British wine magazine) reports that U.S. retailers are balking at the high prices for the 2010 futures. Elliott Staren of Wide World of Wines in Glover Park is quoted as saying, “We are buying so far, but being much more selective.” A New York retailer says the top wines will sell at any price but worries about “mid-range” Bordeaux, “where wines that used to be $50-60 a few years ago now come out between $100-120.” That’s “mid-range”? Wow — further evidence that the fine-wine market is out of touch with reality or real people.
* That Asian market is no myth. Decanter.com also reported last week that a new store set to open in Taipei, Taiwan, will sell only first-growth Bordeaux (plus a few other chateaux that have achieved cult status), with vintages dating from 1945 to 2000. Sounds like a niche market, but a total of 10 such stores are planned for cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo by the end of this year. New York and London will bring up the rear next year. And this week, Decanter made its own play for the Asian market, posting an online guide to the 2010 Bordeaux vintage in Chinese.
* Meanwhile, the French wine culture seems to be fading. A new study shows that French wine consumption has dropped by 3 billion bottles over two generations, to just 4 billion bottles a year, according to The Telegraph. That makes for one bottle per week for each French adult, the laggards. More tellingly, younger French drinkers are less inclined to savor a bottle over a meal while reminiscing about the good ol’ days, and prefer to drink socially with friends. And to add insult to injury, ShankenNewsDaily.com reported that U.S. wine consumption is set to eclipse that of France in 2012. We have a big population advantage, of course – France’s per capita wine consumption was 46.07 liters in 2010, compared to a paltry 8.7 liters for Americans. But overall, we bought 307 million cases of wine last year, while France consumed 321 million cases. The trend lines show U.S. consumption ascendant.