The cliché may be that policemen are looking younger but I’m not sure that’s the case with Bordeaux drinkers. Nor Burgundy drinkers for that matter. A recent remark on Twitter by Jancis Robinson lamented the fact that there seemed to be few young people at the Bordeaux tastings. Is Bordeaux becoming an old person’s drink and what are all the young ones drinking?
At first it might not seem important, the fact that a major disconnect is going on in the world of wine. The great cities of the world have these fantastic new, vibrant wine scenes encompassing new independent wine merchants, new wine bars, and young sommeliers introducing new wines to diners. But I’ve noted before how these places are not pushing the traditional greats any more. In some places you really are more likely to find something praised by Isabelle Legeron than by Hugh Johnson, and whilst that may not please some commentators it is nevertheless a fact of the changing face of wine retailing and drinking. If it’s only in a trendy metropolis that this is the case, what starts in Sydney, San Francisco, London, New York, Paris…
I’m not convinced it’s because no one likes these “traditional” wines. It’s because they are perceived as expensive. When people I know talk about Bordeaux and Burgundy they are usually talking about the investment level wines. For Bordeaux that means the upper tiers of the 1855 Classification, whilst for Burgundy it means almost any wine made by the top producers, plus most of the Premiers and Grands Crus of the rest.
The prices of these wines don’t just put off many wine drinkers now, they are just totally unaffordable to most younger drinkers. This is a shame. I was lucky enough to start my passion for wine when even the Bordeaux First Growths were affordable, if somewhat rarely. Yet a wine lover starting out today might never get the chance to drink, or certainly to buy, wines like Haut-Brion, Latour and Mouton, or wines from Coche, DRC, and Leflaive. Even at the lower (sic) levels, producers like Lynch-Bages, Pontet-Canet, Fourrier and Bruno Clair are now out of reach for many.
But do the new wine lovers care? I’m not so sure they do. The world of wine is so wide now that there’s a greater choice when it comes to satisfying hand-crafted wines, expressive of place, with an interesting back story to them than ever before. Few wine regions now fail to yield wines deserving of the epithet “fine”.
Of course we look at the top producers from the traditional regions of France, Italy and Spain, and they appear to care little about what these new “drinkers” think. As long as these highly sought after wines have a market among the small number of collectors, and the larger number of investors, who purchase these blue chips, then they are not worried…or so it looks. Indeed, what used to be one world of wine has seemingly split in two. Wines for drinking, wines for trading (how prescient was Simon Loftus with “Abe’s Sardines” all those years ago).
But aside from the future of fine wine as an investment vehicle, what about all the other people making wine in Bordeaux and Burgundy? I think Burgundy has a better time of it. It’s the artisanal nature (whether in truth or in the marketing) of many of these wines that attracts new drinkers, whether from once less popular villages (from Pataille in Marsannay to increasingly popular producers in the once forgotten Chalonnaise and Maconnais), or the artisans working on the fringes (Goissot in Saint-Bris, La Cadette in Vézelay etc). They can be readily identified with other artisans from the Beaujolais, Jura, Loire and so on. They are rarely seen in the same light as the big names, just as the growers in Champagne have forged a separate identity to the large houses there, although in both locations the boundaries can sometimes be blurred to the producer’s advantage.
We might be grateful that the old school have not woken up to the potential outside the classic regions. Like the eminent collector, a man with a fine cellar and a very good palate, who commented that Tenerife might be a good place for a cheap holiday but not for wine, surely! Well, the fact that Suertes del Marques are making some of the finest single parcel wines in Spain is best kept a secret, isn’t it?
Yet there are two problems facing the traditional fine wine regions. First, the finest producers do need to encourage younger drinkers to develop a love for these wines, as others have done for generation after generation before them. If we don’t drink them they will slide from the radar of genuine wine lovers, even if their virtues are extolled by the points givers. They will surely otherwise just end up stashed underground in China, Russia, Wiltshire…waiting for someone else to buy them to do exactly the same thing, bury them forever like a work of art in the basement of The Louvre that never sees the light of day, nor gets seen by the viewing public.
Some of you will have read my posts earlier this year from Bordeaux where visits to three Chateaux at different levels (Haut-Marbuzet, Lynch-Bages and Pichon-Longueville where we stayed) certainly reminded to me how excellent the wines are in this region. If I am totally honest, I think I needed reminding. If I buy them less and less it’s not just because the choice is now so much greater, nor because I have a little stash of them already, but because they don’t always scream affordability.
And what of all the many smaller producers in Bordeaux? Yes, the second problem. The Petits Chateaux, the Crus Bourgeois’, the Graves, Saint-Emilions, and for goodness sake the excellent white wines? There’s still so much to enjoy here, and I believe that as genuine wine lovers give up on the great Crus they also give up on these so-called lesser wines, affordable wines potentially every bit as good as a fine Morgon Cote du Py, an amphora-aged Cerasuolo, a Californian Trousseau, or perhaps whatever genuine marvel Sager + Wilde have found this week. Does the future for Bordeaux at least, if perhaps not Burgundy just yet, look bleak, or am I just on the wrong wine planet?
I’ve been thinking about this one David, it’s a big topic and I agree with you throughout. As a novice wine enthusiast I always looked up to Bordeaux and Burgundy. I was lucky enough to taste a couple of first growths and a few more Grand Crus. As you say I’m not sure that would happen to someone of similar means these days. Personally I can live without it. I still drink Bordeaux occasionally and have some 90s and various others and when I drink one I think how much I do love it. But do they miss me? Of course not, they have new markets to drink it up.
Living in France I see so many people like me. Wine enthusiasts who have moved on to new regions, new styles which offer better value for money. Bordeaux is not fashionable or missed. Sad for the producers who are trying to do new things and have to really push for a market, not the crus classés of course. Having said all that I am alarmed at some of the prices charged by novice producers which make Bordeaux and Burgundy seem not unreasonable.
As I am 56 I am not interested in buying those top names anymore, I probably won’t be around to drink it at it’s apogee. I do feel sorry that wine drinkers of moderate means won’t be easily able to enjoy it. Are they missing out? Yes. Though as you say there are great wines in so many regions now.
The question of wine writers and the new generation is another big topic, for another day.
Thanks for an article which has given me a day of thinking and reflection. Always a good sign.
I agree entirely, Alan. Like you I’m no longer buying wine to age for twenty years, so top Bordeaux would feature less in my cellar even if I could afford it.
But, pertinent to Wendy’s comment, as you know I get to many wine dinners and lunches where there are a lot of younger wine lovers. They drink a lot of Barolo, Sangiovese, New California, Beaujolais, Jura, Languedoc, Rioja, Bierzo, Northern Rhone and even Burgundy. Hardly ever do these people bring a red Bordeaux!
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There’s a definite ‘scene’ here. Blogs hardly mention Bordeaux, wine bars go for anything but. Now that may be just the circles I move in and your exchange with Ms. R on Twitter indicated how we become unaware of what is going on elsewhere. Clearly it’s fine for the big guns and their arrogance comes across loud and clear as in a recent interview with CEO of LVMH in LRVF recently which had me hating him in a few paragraphs. I do feel for the likes of Ch. Puy and Puy Arnaud which I enjoyed recently and the hundreds of smaller domaines who still charge under 8€ per bottle.
Perhaps I may suggest coming to Bordeaux outside of the primeurs tastings, to see the young bordelais and their young clients in their natural habitat. Try http://www.bordeaux-fete-le-vin.com where thousands of Bordeaux lovers in their 20s taste Bordeaux and party all night to the live concerts and light shows on the place de quincunxes. That might change a few preconceptions about who is really drinking the vast majority of Bordeaux production.
Wendy, that’s a fair comment. My perspective comes from the world’s Capitals and their wine scenes, where my perception is that Bordeaux is being left behind.
In Bordeaux (city and region) Bordeaux wine is clearly king and there is heated loyalty to it. Hopefully not coupled with complacency. There’s a wide world of wine (excuse cliche) out there and I do detect, sometimes, a feeling that “we are the best so we don’t need to try…”.
But remember, my blog was not anti-Bordeaux. It was an admission that I have not paid enough attention of late, and a hope that the prices of the finest wines do not put consumers off trying the less expensive examples the region has to offer (including the whites…please).
Thanks for your comment.
I’m a Millennial wine drinker, and while I detest that label, I must say that I fit the description. When I get into talks with those from my tasting group for example, we talk about drinking Montilla over passé sherry and txakoli over albariño and certainly Bierzo over even RdD, let alone Rioja (this was a particularly Spanish-centric tasting…). I think everyone of about our age wants to be the first to talk about the next big thing, including wine. It is a double-edged sword because while we promote up-and-coming regions and producers, some of the classic greats fall by the wayside through no fault of their own. Millennials incorporate wine drinking into their everyday lives now and buying an expensive First Growth for a special occasion is just not what we’re doing. I think if some fabulous smaller chateaux banded together and called themselves the No Growths or something similar and focused efforts on a younger audience with increasing levels of disposable income, they might have something. I just discovered the Femmes et Vins de Bourgogne and with it some great smaller producers from lesser-known parts of Burgundy. The hunt continues!
Vanessa, thanks for posting that. I’m about to publish a post about my love of wine shops because they are the perfect place for something completely new to jump off the shelf. Perhaps I’m a little bit unusual in constantly chasing after something new. It’s not exactly “taste boredom” but there’s so much that is exciting out there and I just want to find it. That said, if Sherry is old hat, then you really must get hold of a selection from Equipo Navazos…they take Sherry to new levels of world class intensity.
As for Bore-deaux, I agree with recent articles challenging the smaller, artisan producers to push forward. There are smaller, quality focussed, petits chateaux who make excellent wines but they live in the shadow of the big boys (sic), whose appeal to oligarch investors cannot endear them to passionate wine drinkers in quite the same way as a family domaine in Vosne or Puligny.
I also agree that there are a lot of really good women winemakers who should have a louder voice. I recently visited Heidi Schroeck in Rust, who I believe is, or has been, active in the wider women in wine movement. It’s good to see, especially from Twitter, how there is now an increasing move towards a better gender balance in the UK wine trade, though less so in some other EU countries.