Posted on | February 11, 2014
Written by | Jean K. Reilly MW
Even the newest of wine drinkers has heard of Bordeaux; the name recognition is the highest among U.S. consumers of any European wine region. However, this situation has sometimes worked against sales. New wine drinkers are often intimidated by the colossal reputation. “Bordeaux has an image of being expensive and overwrought and only for millionaire collectors, but there is actually a lot of great Bordeaux at reasonable prices. I think that’s the most difficult thing, the image,” says Robin Kelley O’Connor, the European Specialist and Education Director of Italian Wine Merchants in New York City as well as one of the country’s leading experts on Bordeaux.
Jennifer Tietz, Wine Director of Tru restaurant in Chicago, tries to find wines that defy the expectation of high prices. She enjoys introducing wine drinkers with moderate budgets to wines from satellite appellations, such as the 2009 Chateau Bellegrave from Lalande de Pomerol which she offers on Tru’s list for $95.
André Compeyre, Wine Director of Benoit in New York, also reports finding a much broader range of attractive wines at moderate prices compared to previous years. His current favorite value wine is the 2011 Château Mon Plaisir. While only entitled to the Bordeaux Supérieur appellation, the property is one of a growing group that have invested in what is an above-average terroir located just outside a famous appellation, in this case Margaux. While wines just across the road sell for many times the price, Mon Plaisir is just $50 per bottle on the Benoit list.
Admittedly, the upper echelons of the category are out of reach for the majority of younger drinkers. However it is the entry-level and mid-tier wines that are responsible for drawing in new drinkers. These are the categories in which the greatest strides in quality and, consequently, value for money have been made.
Historically, the French domestic market absorbed large volumes of entry-level Bordeaux of varying quality levels. However, after several decades of falling domestic consumption, the Bordelais decided to re-tool. They’ve raised their game and the results are very evident in the wines.
O’Connor credits many years of substantial investment as the real force generating more moderately-priced Bordeaux that appeals to a younger demographic. Advances in the vineyard have allowed growers to achieve higher levels of ripeness, a characteristic typical of the California wines most American wine drinkers cut their teeth on. Likewise, the improvements in the cellar—including better sorting, improved hygiene and temperature-controlled fermentation— allow for the expression of clean, pure fruit flavors that are easier for less-experienced consumers to understand.
One new avenue through which many younger drinkers are discovering Bordeaux is through a proliferation of programs at U.S. graduate schools. Also, more producers are adopting a more modern look: Chateau Fleur La Mothe in the Médoc, for instance, now sports a catchy bright orange label.
In introducing Bordeaux to Millennials, O’Connor recommends avoiding typical wine industry jargon: “Terms like finesse and elegance are a bit superfluous; those words don’t mean anything to a 23-year-old.” He notes that the variety of styles and grape varieties necessitates a steeper learning curve. “If I have a friend who says he’s a California Cab guy, I know what he means. Napa Cabernet got defined quite a few years ago,” says O’Connor. “I think it’s a lot harder to establish the same demarcation in Bordeaux because there is so much more diversity in style, and more subtlety.”
A few years ago, Bordeaux was often given short shrift by some sommeliers and wine store owners looking for something new and unknown. However, there is now an incipient backlash against lists that seem to be competing for an award for the largest collection of wines no one has heard of. Whereas Bordeaux might once have been seen as ‘your father’s wine,’ it’s now an ‘in’ wine. And with so many good wines being offered under $50, this is good news for wine drinkers of all budgets.