As reported by Dr. Vino (and elsewhere), much-celebrated (and almost-as-often-maligned) consultant winemaker Michel Rolland was recently asked if there was an antidote to “Bordeaux-bashing” (i.e., a backlash against the Bordeaux region in general – and its most storied houses, in particular – for producing wines that are increasingly too similar and increasingly too expensive).
You can read Rolland’s response in the original French, if that’s your motif; I offer the following English translation (as supplied automatically via Google):
“There is no antidote to stupidity. It is increasingly monumental. For me, 2015 is a great vintage. There are [those] too stupid to notice. We will notice in ten years, as usual. We are in a world without balls, we live with no balls. Full stop. There is not a journalist [who] will notice. Anyway, there is not a journalist who has weight in the world today. It has nothing to do with the market. They can say, write and think what they want, everyone cares at the fortieth year! When they know that, maybe they will start to become humble. Not to become smart, because it will be difficult, but to think differently.”
In other words, it’s not Bordeaux that is wrong, it’s all of the journalists covering Bordeaux that are wrong.
Let’s discuss this little Rolland rant in a bit more detail…
First, I will take the sure-to-be-flamed stance that Rolland is partially correct. Journalists covering wine do, in fact, get Bordeaux vintage calls wrong. That kind of goes with the territory of making calls on subjective products based on limited information (which is why I think that broad-based vintage calls are of extremely limited utility).
But if we define Bordeaux-bashing as pointing out that the region’s top-shelf reds seem to be offering increasingly homogeneous taste profiles and have opted for the greedy route in terms of pricing (thanks to Asian demand), then I think the logical sand on which Rolland’s rant is partially built starts to erode pretty quickly.
You can’t argue with the numbers: as of the time of this writing, the average price for a bottle of 2010 Chateau Margaux in the U.S. was $1,104. I’m not going out on a limb here by saying that price is a bit outside of the affordability range of 99% of Americans. Most of Bordeaux’s top producers have way too many dollar signs in their eyeballs versus the quality of their wines. Yes, some of the wines are sublime, I’m just not sure that the ones I have tasted are worth a mortgage payment.
Bordeaux, as a red blend benchmark, isn’t going away anytime soon, and there are a dozen solid reasons for that. But its top-shelf producers cannot price their wines the way that they are and not expect the vox populi to call bullshit (as is their right), or journalists to call bullshit (as is their job). Doing so is trying to spit out of both sides of one’s mouth, so to speak.
Now, the Bordeaux region makes a shit-ton of wine, and not all of it can be top-tier, or even good. So I feel for the area’s excellent affordable wines (and god knows that there are several of them); they are probably taking it on the chin, unfairly, for the sins of their overpriced neighbors on both sides of the pricing spectrum.
But they’re not taking it on the chin because of the sins of journalists, Michel. Sorry, I gotta call bullshit on that.
As for lining up to defend Bordeaux’s tippy-top, ultra-expensive tier producers against coverage that they are too expensive? I suspect that the length of that line will be inversely proportional to the number of digits they demand per bottle.
There’s another antidote to Bordeaux-bashing; Bordeaux’s top-shelf producers could do more to make themselves less bash-worthy.
4 thoughts on “That *Other* Antidote To Bordeaux-Bashing”
Michel Rolland makes crappy crap.
Jason, got any examples?
I’m my experience, Rolland gets hired to make a certain profile of wine, whether or not that profile is actually the best thing considering the source/location/fruit/etc. Personally, I’ve had incredible wines that he’s helped to craft, and also wines he’s helped make that I’ve found boorish and unpalatable.
Bordeaux wines are often overpriced in my opinion, but there are people who still buy them, regardless of cost. People did buy that $120 plain white t-shirt “designed” by Kanye a few years ago, as an example. While in theory, ridiculously overpriced things should generally sit in warehouses and cellars unsold, status symbols work on a different system. They tend to be Veblen goods, where demand increases as the price does. While the top Chateaux are definitely status symbols, slightly less well-known Bordelais wineries are asking status-symbol prices without quite being inherently status symbols, outside the more general concept “Bordeaux wine”.
Today’s non-status symbol wines asking status symbol prices have a few options, as I see it:
1) Market themselves far better, and actually come to be perceived as inherently status symbols
2) Commit to becoming a regular commodity again, and drop prices so they’re not stuck with many cases of wine they cannot sell
3) Continue the status quo, be unable to sell the back-vintages, eventually run out of cellar space, and be forced to sell the back-vintages at deep discounts so there’s actually any income
4) Continue the status quo, be unable to sell the back-vintages, eventually run out of cellar space, be unable to maintain enough income to sell these wines, go out-of-business, create genuine scarcity since there’s no more production, and become a status symbol posthumously.
MG – Well, I doubt we will see #4 :). I agree, though, particularly with #2. I feel bad for the Bordeaux producers who are priced more fairly, as they are likely seeing some of the backlash based on the greed of their neighbors.
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