My Washington Post column last week, which I posted here yesterday, generated considerable comment on the web and in emails back to me.
Steve Heimoff, Wine Enthusiast’s California reviewer, took issue on his blog with the thought that Bordeaux could ever appeal to U.S. wine consumers. He took particular umbrage at this:
A top guy at Sherry-Lehmann, one of New York’s leading wine shops, told the Post writer,“We’ve locked up the 70- and 80-year-olds. We need to convince the younger generation to drink Bordeaux.”
Wow. Why not try to interest “the younger generation” in Depends© ?
Okay, two things: Steve, I have a name, so from now on I will refer to you as “the Enthusiast blogger.” Second, do you really have to post a photo of an adult diaper to attract traffic to your blog?
The Enthusiast blogger continued:
I suppose Bordeaux’s chief selling point these days is that it’s not California Cabernet! Oh, the irony. The Post article cites a New York somm who showed some Bordeaux to her staff members, “all in their 20s.” The experience was “eye-opening,” the somm said, explaining that the staff was “shocked” to find the wines so much more “interwoven and integrated”than “powerful California Cabernets.”
To think that Bordeaux has come to this: “We’re not California.” !!! Twenty years ago Bordeaux barely deigned to acknowledge Napa Valley’s existence. Now Napa has become the focal point against which conversations about Cabernet are conducted–the way Bordeaux used to be. What goes around comes around, as they say.
Oh the humanity! This misses the point. Bordeaux is not selling itself as “We’re not California.” New York sommeliers who taste it are realizing that it offers a counterpoint to California’s monolithic, over-extracted, over-oaked, over-alcoholic style. Besides, to a great many people, “not California cabernet” is a pretty darn compelling argument.
Finally, the Enthusiast blogger concludes:
The best Bordeaux is necessarily expensive and will remain so. Ordinary Bordeaux is more affordable, but it’s also less good, and there’s no compelling reason for an American to buy a $30 Bordeaux over an Argentine Malbec, Carmenere from Chile, Cabernet from Chateau Ste. Michelle, a sound Vacqueyras or Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Stellenbosch Syrah/Shiraz or any one of dozens of other world wines that frankly have more interesting stories to tell–and do not demand of their drinkers that they remove their caps before imbibing.
I have two responses to this: First, “no compelling reason” other than a desire to drink Bordeaux. Second, substitute “California” for “Bordeaux” in that paragraph and it would be just as valid.
Eric Asimov of the New York Times (did I need to qualify that?) took to Twitter to chime in with his commentary, in a very parsimonious three words:
Maybe. Maybe not. (There – three words!)
Bordeaux is not the monolith we tend to think of. For much of the wine media, “Bordeaux” means the classified growths. These start at about $30 or $40 a bottle and go well into the three- or four-digit range for the first growths. These are what Asimov and the Enthusiast blogger are thinking of when they say U.S. wine drinkers have moved on. But Bordeaux has about 7,000 producers, the vast majority of which are Cru Bourgeois, Bordeaux AOC or Bordeaux Superieur. Many of these make delicious wines at very reasonable prices. Is quality uneven, as the Enthusiast blogger argues? Yes, but it is in California as well.
What do you think? Is Bordeaux irrelevant? Has the horse escaped the barn forever? Let’s get this discussion going in the Comments.