Bordeaux seems to be losing favour on wine lists across North America and Asia, writes Whatever the reasons, there is much still to appreciate from this classic wine region
was in bordeaux in January tasting hundreds of 2012 reds in the bottle. While there, I was asked for my views on the global Bordeaux wine market by a number of vintners and château owners. I recounted a story that illustrates how Bordeaux needs to improve its image in the world. The anecdote takes place in a fine restaurant in New York City called Craft. I was there with two well-known wine merchants from Bordeaux who, when combined, sell tens of millions of US dollars of their wine each year. We sat down at the high-end steak house and we noticed that no bottles of Bordeaux were on the wine list— not a single one.
I asked the wine buyer of the restaurant to come over to our table and, when I asked him why no Bordeaux was on the list, his answer was simple: “Our customers won’t buy top wines from Bordeaux because they are too expensive. They don’t believe Bordeaux that are inexpensive yet good quality are worth buying.”
I certainly understood his point of view about expensive bottles of high-end Bordeaux, considering a recent vintage of a first growth such as Latour or Margaux can cost US$2,000 to US$4,000 a bottle with standard restaurant markups—certainly that’s not for everyone’s budget. But I couldn’t understand why his customers wouldn’t believe that outstandingquality bottles of Bordeaux for US$50 to US$100 weren’t worth buying.
For example, I just finished tasting about 600 different Bordeaux from the 2012 vintage and I was amazed at how many excellentquality wines were available. Many of them can already be found on the market for US$20 to US$30 a bottle in a wine shop. Yet apparently these wines are a hard sell in North America and Asia.
From my perspective, Bordeaux appears less popular in Asian restaurants these days. Late last year, when I reviewed about 60 top wine lists in Hong Kong and Macau for the annual Hong Kong Tatler Best Restaurants 2015 guide, I noticed that less and less Bordeaux was listed—and finding inexpensive bottles of Bordeaux was almost impossible. Meanwhile, offerings of Burgundy as well as wines from Italy and other regions were on the rise. In fact, top restaurants in Asia tend to have more Burgundy for sale than Bordeaux nowadays.
Many reasons for this quagmire exist, so it’s hard to put a finger on one factor. Perhaps the wine trade oversold the expensive bottles for investment instead of drinking, leading people to cultivate anti-bordeaux feelings due to the spike in prices? Or headlines overemphasised the high prices paid at auction and consumers think that all Bordeaux are expensive? It could be that consumer tastes are simply changing and many people don’t want to buy and age wines such as Bordeaux. They see New World, Italian, Spanish and Burgundy bottles as more attractive to drink young. Or maybe the younger set doesn’t want to drink what their parents or grandparents drank.
I don’t have all the answers. But I still believe that Bordeaux is an essential reference for all wine drinkers, one that offers some of the greatest experiences, from breathtaking first growths such as Mouton Rothschild to deliciously fruity and refined reds from the Côtes de Bordeaux. And they don’t have to cost a fortune—open a bottle and try one for yourself.