Monday, January 25, 2010

2007 Bordeaux: Selling the Benchwarmer

I have an on again, off again affair with Bordeaux. Sometimes its majestic and sometimes its just bland, but its always expensive. Bordeaux ain't no cheap date.

Given the high cost of living of a Bordeaux chateau, they have to sell the stuff every year, regardless of whether the vintage is an allstar or a benchwarmer. The thing is that they feel the same way about marketing and promotion that I do: You only do it when times are tough. In good times your product speaks for itself and that should suffice. No one put out a huge number of ads for 2000 Bordeaux and it sold just fine.

So if the 2007 Bordeaux vintage is, shall we say, weak overall then we should be seeing some Bordeaux commercials coming up shortly as the wines prepare to be released. Maybe Bordeaux Bobblehead dolls, trading cards and high production viral mini-movies. Maybe an Audi commercial with Jason Statham breaking through the gates of Pichon Lalande. I would be happy to produce a jingle if that'd help.

While not an advertisement in the classic sense, one of the Bordeaux wine unions, Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, have a travelling band of winemakers and winery owners flaunting their wares these days in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and the audience is all restaurateurs, critics and retailers. Not usually how I spend my Thursdays but the thought of tasting Canon-la-Gaffeliere, Lagrange, Pichon Lalande, Pez and Troplong Mondot was a nice temptation. And I yield easily.

It really is a not-so-stellar vintage which translates as such: reds kind of suck, whites and Sauternes are very good. The problem with that is the reds pay the bills in Bordeaux, unless you're Rieussec or d'Yquem. That means you still have to sell them. Well you'd think that to sell them you would slash the prices and move them out... not in Bordeaux. They are too proud and that cost-of-living thing haunts their every step. So they laud the vintage with new accolades like, "Drinking well early" or "Fruit forward" or "Ripe". Classic Bordeaux is not really supposed to be any of those things.

So off Steve Grubbs and I went to taste through about 80 wines on a Thursday afternoon at the downtown Ritz Carlton in Atlanta. After a nice lunch at Craft in Buckhead we found ourselves in a ballroom with the standard tasting maze. Pessac Leognan was starting our course. When it comes to white Bordeaux it all seems to happen in the PL. I am a softie for sauvignon blanc and semillon so I was immediately floored with Chateau Carbonnieux, a stunning white that has a hint of petrol and bracing acidity. That acid will melt away though over time and it had layers and layers of complexity underneath. Other whites that stood out were the Larrivet Haut Brion, Latour Martillac, Malartic Lagraviere, and Olivier. I liked the Smith Haut Lafitte but then I realized how expensive it was and thought much more highly about the Olivier. More on the pricing later.

The Sauternes all rocked with the showoffs being Sigalas-Rabaud and Lafaurie-Peyraguey. Sauternes always seems to shine in the crappy red vintages. These rocked but boy they certainly ain't cheap. But boy I could eat some roasted poulet rouge with a some foie gras and a glass of Sigalas-Rabaud. Yummy yum yum.

Overall, the whites were indeed very good to great and remind me that white Bordeaux needs to be shown off more.

The reds were all pretty much what we thought they would be. They tasted manipulated. They screamed off vintage and thus they fleshed out the fruit as much as possible to grab some points. They just don't make me dream of the Gironde. They lack.

There were some good tastes like Pichon Lalande, Lascombes, Clerc Milon, Canon -la-Gaffeliere, Clinet, and la Conseillante. As we were tasting through I remarked that I thought the wines would be great overall if they were far less expensive then they were. I actually estimated the price of the Pichon Lalande at about $70 a bottle but looking at a sell sheet I realized the distributor wants upwards of $130 for it. That's where this has all gone awry. I will keep my money in my wallet and peruse some 2003s instead.
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