Tag Archives: Bordeaux wine

The Bordeaux wine business, younger wine drinkers, and why the twain isn’t meeting

The latest Bordeaux wine marketing plan will probably fail, just as the others did, because it doesn’t understand that price is all – and Bordeaux costs too much for most of us to buy

Dear Bordeaux wine business:

I understand your current difficulties, what with the pandemic and the Trump tariff. I also understand how desperately you want to reach younger wine drinkers, since that will help with many of your current difficulties. Hence, once again, I take keyboard in hands to offer advice you don’t seem to be getting elsewhere – why Bordeaux is in such trouble with everyone under 35. Or even 40.

It’s price. Your wine costs too much, and anyone who isn’t a wealthy Baby Boomer probably isn’t going to buy it. There’s less and less quality $10 Bordeaux for sale in the U.S., and no one looks harder for these wines than I do.

And you have no one to blame but yourself. To most wine drinkers, Bordeaux means high prices and exclusivity, and you have been perfectly happy with that for years. Hence, I get offers from retailers pitching $650 bottles – on sale. And emails about academic studies touting your wine as an investment option – hardly what a 20-something wants to drink with takeout Chinese food.

But now that business is bad, you aren’t happy. But the catch is that you still don’t see price as the problem. Your new marketing campaign, aimed at young people, includes $30 wine. I rarely buy $30 wine, and I do this for a living. So why would someone else, who just wants wine because they want a glass of wine, spend $30?

Yes, yes, I know: Bordeaux makes the best wines in the world, gets the highest scores, and so on and so forth ad nauseum. Which is all well and good for wealthy Baby Boomers, but what does any of that have to do with someone who wants a half-bottle of wine for a Tuesday night dinner of leftover pizza? This is the thing you haven’t understood in years. You assume that all wine drinkers drink wine the same way – plan their meal, find the best wine for the meal, get out the corkscrew, pour the wine, and sit down and eat.

How much more Baby Boomer can you get?

Which leads us back to pricing: You already have the perfect entry level wine, the red Chateau Bonnet. It’s well-made, varietally correct, and offers an idea of what red Bordeaux is supposed to taste like. The catch? It costs as much as $18 in the U.S., which is almost twice its price not all that long ago. And the white is still $10 to $12 in this country, something that makes no sense at all. I love the red Bonnet, but it’s not worth $18.

That it costs $18 speaks to how you’ve lost touch with U.S. consumers, and why younger drinkers opt for a $6 Trader Joe private label from California – if they’re drinking wine at all. Figure out how to fix that kind of bloviated pricing, and you don’t need any fancy marketing plans to sell your wine to young people.

Hope this helps; I’m always ready to do more if need be.

Your pal,

The Wine Curmudgeon

Photo: “Bordeaux Wines at Fareham Wine Cellar” by Fareham Wine is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Mini-reviews 130: Savoie rose, Cusumano, Grand Louis, A to Z Bubbles

savoie roseReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month

Domaine de la Rosière Rose 2018 ($13, purchased, 12%): Intriguing pink from the Savoie region in eastern France near Switzerland. There are green herbs, oddly enough, with a little red fruit and some spice. Made mostly with gamay, with some pinot noir and mondeuse, a local grape. Imported by Wines with Conviction

Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2018 ($11, purchased, 13.5%): This Sicilian red, once a great cheap wine, is fine for what it is, but there are plenty of $8 and $10 simple Italian reds that more or less taste like this – almost unripe dark fruit and lots of acidity. Imported by Terlato Wines International

Grand Louis Rouge 2016 ($11, purchased, 12.5%): This red Bordeaux blend (more merlot than cabernet sauvignon) is old-fashioned, but not in a good way — tart and and not very ripe fruit. Imported by Laird & Company

A to Z Wineworks Rose Bubbles ($16, sample, 12.5%): Surprisingly disappointing spritzy rose from an otherwise reliable producer. It approaches white zinfandel sweet, without anything to balance the sweetness. And the price is problematic.

Fourth of July wine 2018

July Foutth wine 2018Fourth of July wine 2018: Four bottles to enjoy to celebrate the holiday

No weekend this year to celebrate the United States’ 242nd birthday. So we’ll make do with Fourth of July wine 2018 for the middle of the week. As always, keep our summer wine and porch wine guidelines in mind: Lighter, fresher wines, even for red, since lots of oak and high alcohol aren’t especially refreshing when it’s 98 degrees outside

Consider these Fourth of July wine 2018 suggestions:

Justin Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($15, sample, 13.5%): This California white is one of Justin’s best sauvignon blancs in years — very California in style, with the grassy aroma, crispness, and just enough lemon/lime to be noticeable. Highly recommended

Pierre Rougon Rose 2017 ($9, purchased, 13%): This French pink from Provence is solid and dependable — a steal at this price. Look for barely ripe cherry and some earthy minerality. Highly recommended. Imported by Vinovia Wine Group

Chateau Haut Rian 2015 ($13, sample, 13%): This French red blend from Bordeaux (about two-thirds merlot) isn’t overpriced, which makes it worth buying regardless. Throw in full red fruit and soft tannins, and you have an ideal summer red. I just wish it was a little funkier and old-fashioned. Imported by Wines with Conviction

Mumm Napa Cuvee M NV ($20, purchased, 12.5%): Mumm, the French bubbly house, makes this in California; hence the much more reasonable price. Plus, you can buy it in some grocery stores. Look for crisp and green apple and not quite ripe pear, and tight, crisp, bubbles. Very well made, and always enjoyable.

More Fourth of July wine:
Fourth of July wine 2017
Fourth of July wine 2016
Fourth of July wine 2015
Wine of the week: Mont Gravet Carignan 2016

Can it be? Was that affordable red Bordeaux I tasted?

affordable red BordeauxThe Wine Curmudgeon grew up when French wine ruled the world, and I have watched with sadness as the French — and especially in Bordeaux — have done everything they can to teach the world to ignore French wine. It’s not just that so much Bordeaux is overpriced and underwhelming, but that the Bordelais are in such denial about it. We just need a new marketing company!

That’s why I was so excited last week, during a Bordeaux tasting in Dallas organized by the Spec’s retail chain, to find a handful of $15 to $20 wines that were worth buying. Granted, that’s still more than I wish they cost, and those at the $20 end were pushing the price/value barrier, but it’s a start. That’s because the couple of times I mentioned price to producers at the event, they looked at me as if I was crazy. They truly don’t understand that they have priced themselves out of the reach of almost all U.S. wine drinkers, and I guess no one noticed that only 9 of the 60 or wines at the tasting cost less than $30.

The best affordable wine at the event, and perhaps the best under $20 red Bordeaux I have tasted in years, was the 2011 Chateau Ampelia ($17, sample, 13.5%), made by from the seventh generation Despagne winemaking family. It’s a blend of 95 percent merlot and five percent cabernet franc, and tastes not only like it’s worth that much money, but is honest in its approach. That means it doesn’t tart up the fruit to appeal to U.S. drinkers, so that the merlot tastes like merlot, the cabernet franc adds a little heft, and it’s not a too fruity malbec. Look for red fruit, a bit of spice, and a wine that will age for a couple of more years. Highly recommended.

Also worth trying: the Chateau Croix Mouton ($17, sample, 13.5%), not quite as impressive as the Ampelia, but with ripe fruit and French style; and the Chateau Puygueraud ($20, sample, 14%), an old standby with fresh fruit and an almost herbal aroma — would that it cost a couple of bucks less.

Finally, to be fair, the quality of almost all the wines was tremendous, Bordeaux as it should be — incredible fruit, top-notch winemaking, and everything that is wonderful about French wine. The 2011 Chateau Clinet was earthy, peppery, deep, and full, all I could have hoped for. That it costs $90 was the only problem.

Wine of the week: Ch teau Moulin De Mallet 2011

Ch teau Moulin De MalletThis will sound like damning with faint praise, but it isn’t meant to be. Rather, this review of the Ch teau Moulin De Mallet speaks to how much the wine world has changed over the past couple of decades.

Is the Mallet ($11, sample, 13.5%), a French red Bordeaux blend, as French as I want it to be? No, but since it’s almost impossible to find that style of French wine at this price any more, it will do. In fact, save for the Chateau Bonnet red and one or two others, you’re probably not going to find any better or more interesting Bordeaux that is this affordable, given that winemaking styles today emphasize fruit at the expense of the rest of the wine.

Look for softish red fruit, some earth (but not enough to be unpleasant if you don’t like that quality), the requisite amount of tannins, and just enough terroir so that it tastes French. This is an older vintage because it was a sample, but the newer vintages, including the 2014, are probably just as worth drinking. Enjoy Ch teau Moulin De Mallet on its own, or pair it with any straightforward red wine dinner, whether hamburgers or a tomato-based soup.

Winebits 185: Bordeaux prices, direct shipping, Chinese wine

? French government weighs in: The controversy over skyrocketing prices for red Bordeaux increased this week when the French foreign minister said prices for the wines "are actually great value." The Bordeaux pricing mess has turned into great theater, especially since that's how most of us — who can't afford the thousands of dollars a bottle that the best wines command — get to enjoy Bordeaux these days. Can you imagine Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, weighing in on Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon prices? But, to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the French are different from you and me.

? HR 1161 update: Ignore the headline on the story that this links to, because it's not especially accurate. Instead, know that HR 1161, the direct shipping bill that everyone in the wine business loves to hate, is as dead as always. The bill has no sponsor in the U.S. Senate, which means that the Senate can't consider the bill. Which means it won't become law, and which means that those of you who buy wine directly from the winery in the 38 states that allow it will be able to continue to do so.

? China becomes leading producer: The Chinese wine industry makes more wine than the Australian industry does, which is just one more bad piece of news for the Aussie in a decade of what seems to be unrelenting bad news. The article, which is actually a video transcript, offers some interesting insights into the battle for market share between Chinese producers and the rest of the wine world.

Expensive wine 26: Chateau Lafon-Rochet 1995

What better way to describe this wine than with a quote from my pal Jim Serroka. Jim drinks wine, but is not as serious about it as the Wine Curmudgeon. As such, he often provides much needed perspective. Said Jim: "This is what I thought wine was supposed to taste like."

The Lafon-Rochet ($60, gift) is a big-deal Bordeaux wine, a fourth-growth from Saint-Estephe on Bordeaux's left bank. Fourth-growth means the winery was included in the 1855 rankings of French wine, which classified the wineries in five groups, one (the best) to five; it's still the way left-bank Bordeaux wine is rated by the French. Saint-Estephe, meanwhile, is one of the world's great wine regions, if not quite up to Margaux and Paulliac.

As such, Lafon-Rochet has always been considered a value for this kind of wine. It provides Bordeaux quality, especially for older vintages, without the ridiculous cash outlay that so much Bordeaux requires. That's one reason why my brother, who gave me the bottle, bought it.

The Lafon-Rochet has aged well, and this is a silky, velvety wine. It still has discreet black fruit and those wonderful Bordeaux aromas — mushrooms, forest floor and the like. The oak and fruit are tightly integrated, and the finish seems to go on forever. Don't expect to find New World-style tannins and acid. They're not there, partly from the aging, partly from the style of winemaking, and partly because this wine has more merlot than most left-bank Bordeaux, which focus on cabernet sauvignon. And yes, it would make a nice Father's Day gift for those thinking that far ahead.