It’s hard to count the many ways in which Bordeaux has contributed to the greater world of wine. It’s the birthplace of iconic varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it has been the training ground for generations of winemakers, and it is consistently at the cutting edge of wine marketing and sales.
Yet these days, Bordeaux is viewed by many wine professionals and consumers as uncool and unapproachable. Is this because of its old-school, “establishment” image? Have the eye-watering prices commanded by the great first growths of the region caused a misconception among consumers that Bordeaux can’t be affordable? Or is it just that many Americans no longer get a chance to try Bordeaux in all its glory?
Regardless of the rationale, there are myriad reasons for consumers to give Bordeaux another chance. That’s what Adam Teeter, Erica Duecy, and Zach Geballe discuss on this week’s episode of the VinePair Podcast.
Or check out our conversation here
Adam: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter.
Erica: From Jersey City. I’m Erica Duecy.
Zach: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the VinePair podcast. Guys, what’s going on? It’s cold in New York. I’m not into this. It is the 17th.
Z: At least your air is breathable. That’s an improvement.
A: Yeah, that’s a pretty low response. Thanks. Way to bring us all down. “At least you could breathe.”
Z: You’re out here bitching about the cold. You just gave us a hard time about how all we talk about is the weather. And that’s right where you led us. I’m sorry that the seasons are changing, Adam. What a bummer.
A: Are you those people who say fall is your favorite season?
A: I’m sorry. The way you said that, it sounds like you’ve got a little drawer and you put them all away for the season, just like your sweaters. And then you bust them all out. Do you really do that?
E: Don’t forget that I’m in the midst of a renovation. So I had to send my husband to his studio to dig through all of our boxes in order to find said bottles.
A: That is hilarious. It is true, though. Bourbon does drink well in the fall.
Z: I had some last night. I can’t argue.
A: What did you have?
Z: Basil Hayden. I lied to you all at the beginning, I’m actually not in Seattle. My wife and son and I decamped for Whidbey Island last night. We got to the rental, and as soon as my son was in bed, I poured myself a rather tall glass of bourbon. It was a stressful day trying to pack with a 2-year-old and toxic clouds of smoke.
A: This is what I think is pretty interesting, and maybe you guys have this, too. On family vacations, when we would get there, after my dad unpacked the car and got us all situated, he always poured himself a glass of bourbon or a gin and tonic or whatever. And I think I picked up that habit as well. There’s nothing like a glass of some sort of libation at the end of a long trip.
E: Oh, yeah.
Z: Oh yeah, sure.
A: There’s just something about it that’s really awesome.
E: It is. It’s so gratifying, so relaxing. And these days I’m just looking forward to the end of the day when I can have that just- cracked-open Russell’s Reserve, and last night it hit the spot.
Z: Yeah, it’s something that I think has become all the more so for me once my wife and I had a kid. Because in life without a kid, I think the transition between evening and nighttime is a little bit like, “Eh, whatever.” But there is a huge difference in the quality of my life when my son is asleep versus when he is still awake. And I love him dearly, but the moment he’s asleep or at least in bed and we can shut the door and think “OK, now I can actually relax a little bit.” Maybe I have a conversation with my wife, watch a TV show, and then the glass or two or whatever after that is a big part of that experience in a way that just wasn’t the same, pre-child.
E: I can second that.
A: So today, we’re talking about one of my favorite wine regions, Bordeaux. So you guys may not have known this, but a few years ago I was the U.S. Champion of the Bordeaux Cup, which is a blind tasting Bordeaux competition that I did while I was in business school, which is super fun. But it won me a trip to Bordeaux. Myself and Dan Amatuzzi, who is now the V.P. of beverage at Eataly. All Eatalys nationwide entered together — this was just as VinePair was starting — and it’s run through the Commanderie. So basically, the guys in really fancy old Bordeaux garb from all of the famous 1855 classification chateaus hold this competition every year. And they want people to enter who are not specifically trained professional sommeliers, but are interested in wine. And they actually go to promote it through business schools, med schools, law schools, things like that, and that’s how we heard about it. It was when we were at NYU, and we entered, and we won the U.S. competition. We beat Yale, which was dope, and then we got a trip to Bordeaux, which was sick. And then there was a grand championship or ultimate championship in the cellar of Lafite where we had the final tasting. And we were the U.S. team, obviously there’s a European team with them because they’re French, but there was also a French team. One team can win in Europe and then there’s a team that can win France. There was a team from China, a team from Japan. It was really cool. And I got to meet wine lovers from around the world, which was also really interesting. All people in their late 20s, early 30s. It was awesome. But it gave me this really massive love for Bordeaux. And then after I came out of all that, VinePair was in its infancy, I think maybe we had been publishing for six months at that point, I started to uncover this sort of snobbism in the world of New York against Bordeaux. I said, “Oh, my God, I’ve discovered this region that’s so amazing.” And then I’m talking to all these young wine professionals who say, “No, no no, Bordeaux’s not cool.” And I’m like, “What are you talking about?” I was so confused.
Z: “Look at all these dudes in crazy old garb that are talking to me in French. That’s the coolest.”
A: Also, there was a welcome dinner — and now I’m talking a lot about this experience — they made us all wear really old-school, not berets, but French straw hats, it was absolutely hilarious. And they also made us have a singing competition.
Z: Naomi, I know you don’t listen to the podcast, but please post on Instagram.
A: No, she wasn’t there. It was an awesome experience, though. I don’t know, it was something that I don’t think I would ever get to do again. And just getting to experience the region and those wines was really epic. I don’t know how I didn’t have gout afterwards. But besides that, it was a pretty epic experience. I think there’s something about Bordeaux that has always been really classic and is something that’s very easy, especially for Americans, to fall in love with because it’s grapes that we know. It’s where those grapes were born, but we’re used to Cabernet because we love Napa Cab, and Cabernet is from Bordeaux. We’re used to the flavors of Merlot because a lot of us like Merlot, if we didn’t watch “Sideways” and get swayed by a movie. And so we love Right Bank Bordeaux, and I think there’s so much in Bordeaux and yet no one is really drinking it. So I’d like to first ask you, Zach, when do you think the wine professional community sort of turned on Bordeaux? And I don’t mean turn on it like, “Oh f*** Bordeaux, we’re done.” But decided that it wasn’t cool to drink it anymore. They haven’t turned on Burgundy. They haven’t turned on Barolo, and to some extent Brunello. Maybe a little bit Brunello as well. About two or three years ago, the organization that supports Bordeaux in the U.S., the CIVB (Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux), came to us saying Bordeaux has an image problem amongst wine professionals. Is that true? And if it is true, why?
Z: Good question. I think there is definitely an image problem, but it’s kind of two different problems. The first is that there’s this issue where what are generally considered the great wines of Bordeaux, the first-growth Bordeaux, the second growth Bordeaux. And to reference that 1855 classification, if you are an up-and-coming wine professional like I was — or still maybe arguably am — those are not wines that you get a chance to try anymore. Not even can you not afford to buy them – especially the first growths, they go for thousands of dollars a bottle these days for the most part — but also you don’t get a chance to even taste them because, for the most part, those wines have an audience that is sort of already built in. Its collectors, its fine dining restaurants, three-star Michelin restaurants, so the chateaux that are at that level are not really interested in cultivating a reputation with sommeliers like me. I don’t mean that absolutely but in general, I think that’s the case. And even the second growths and third growths, some of the slightly more affordable wines as you move down that tier are still quite expensive. And for a lot of younger people, myself included in the profession, you just find that whether it’s that there’s more access to the producers in lesser-known regions, or more access to the wines, or you can afford yourself to drink them. That’s just a reality I think that is hard to escape at this point, because the wines have become so famous and so sought-after, and such a status symbol that they really kind of escape, in the same way that some of the great grand cru Burgundy have as well, they’re just not a wine that me, even as a professional 15 years in can get access to, with very few exceptions. The other problem for Bordeaux, I think, and it sort of cuts against this, Bordeaux is also a huge region that produces a ton of wine. And where Bordeaux has really struggled, and maybe this is what the CIVB was getting at with you, even if they didn’t say it directly, there’s a lot of great, relatively affordable Bordeaux, but it’s almost hurt by its association with these great wines because the average consumer and even a lot of sommeliers think, “Bordeaux is for old white dudes, and Bordeaux is for my parents or my grandparents,” and, “Bordeaux, I can’t afford it, and my clientele can’t afford it.” And that’s bulls**t. There’s a lot of really good, reasonably priced Bordeaux from all over the region. You can find wine on a wine list that’s 70, 75, 80 bucks often has a decent amount of age on it, because often back vintages are easier to find in Bordeaux than almost anywhere else. And I’ll come back to the topic of ageability and aging as a necessity in a minute. But I think that’s the problem, is that the market for Bordeaux and the reputation of Bordeaux is really bifurcated and the high end gets a lot of attention and is well known but it’s not something that people can buy and afford. And the lesser-known stuff is really lesser known than even s**t in the Jura or Languedoc or these other lesser known regions, because, again, there’s this association with these great wines. And it’s not cool to champion Bordeaux. So congrats to you, Adam, for being uncool.
A: Hey, first of all, I’m the coolest. Second of all, would you say that the 1855 classification was the best and also the worst thing to ever happen to the region of Bordeaux?
E: Yeah, I think that’s definitely part of it. I think that Bordeaux has also developed this reputation as being “the man” of the wine industry, the establishment. And then when you think of Bordeaux as the thing that all the old critics love or all your parents or grandparents used to drink, then by definition anyone who is young and up-and-coming and a disrupter, they’re looking for: What is the “anti” that? I think that’s when we saw a lot of the other up-and-coming regions. We saw more organics and natural wine. We’ve just seen somms, especially, move in a different direction. And to some extent, wine drinkers move in a different direction of wanting to try new and different. And so it’s that it’s that novelty of trying the new and different that I think really has captured a lot of the wine industry and also wine drinkers. But I think that when I think about Bordeaux, and I actually love that it is super uncool right now because my favorite thing to do is — and I just did this this summer in Connecticut — I love going to wine stores. And I just opened one of these wines last night, actually. I had a Chateau Meyney, a Bordeaux wine from Saint Estephe. It’s a beautiful wine. I was online last night and I saw it for $39. Well, I found it on a dusty shelf in a wine store in Connecticut for $28. And I love finding those sorts of wines, because they’re so geeky and no one knows about them, and these are value wines. This was a 2012. A 2012 wine. A wine with age. Wines from Bordeaux at this lower price level provide such insane value, because no one’s looking for them. And I find them all the time in wine shops. And it’s literally one of my favorite activities. I wish I could be spending way more time in wine shops looking for these dusty bottles.
A: I agree with that as well. It’s one of my favorite activities, too. I think that people kind of are sleeping on it. But the one thing I want to bring up challenges what both of you said, which is that because they are so expensive, because no one knows about the smaller chateaux, because the critics have loved these wines, they’ve become uncool. But that hasn’t stopped Burgundy at all. I love Burgundy, I think that Pinot Noir is a gorgeous grape. Check out Keith’s Wine 101 episode [last] week on Burgundy. Burgundy’s great but it had all the same and if not more of the pretension. You literally had communes who renamed themselves to make sure you knew a Grand Crus vineyard was in their commune. This is also a region that is incredibly expensive, that is even more expensive. It has a lot of producers whom you’ve never heard of, but it’s a Villages from Burgundy so I guess I still have to pay $60 for it. And it hasn’t stopped anyone in the wine industry from saying, “No, that’s not cool anymore, either, because it’s too expensive and it’s gotten too inflated and none of us can afford it.” It’s actually made them go after it more so that they look more like ballers. So there’s something else about Bordeaux that people have decided they don’t like. Or because it’s become the one thing that everyone in the wine community has decided is cool to not like. But it’s not just because it’s super expensive, because if that was the case, they wouldn’t drink Champagne, either. So I don’t buy that.
Z: I think there’s a kernel of truth to what you’re saying where I think what makes Burgundy appealing, to sommeliers in particular, is the degree of specificity and the degree of the ability to nerd out on a subject. Part of the challenge with Bordeaux is that the classification of 1855 is attached to producers — not to pieces of land, particularly. And so with Burgundy, you end up with this idea, whether it’s true or not (and I have my doubts, and we can we can get into my Burgundy skepticism now or in another podcast) but there’s a conviction among a large portion of sommeliers and the people that listen to them that the ability to trace a wine to not just a village, not just a vineyard, but in some cases single rows of vines or a few rows of vines. That is not the case in Bordeaux. Bordeaux is large-production, even the first growths make a lot of wine. They don’t always tell you exactly how much they’re making in a given year. And again, the reputation is attached to the winery, to the chateau, not to the piece of land. And so I think to some extent Bordeaux and Burgundy are often illustrated as two different approaches to classifying wine and I think most of the world of wine has moved in the direction of Burgundy. It’s why Barolo is creating their own classified vineyards, and many other regions around the world. No one is really saying, “Oh, we’re going take the Bordeaux model.” We’re going to just say this winery is great and we’re going to call all of their wine first growth. That’s just not what anyone in the wine world outside of Bordeaux really thinks is the right way to approach it anymore. And maybe it made sense 165 years ago, I don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense now. And so I think that your Burgundy point is good. But I think there’s a lot of people who, including myself, are as equally boxed out by Burgundy as they are by Bordeaux. Let alone the grand crus wines. The premier crus wines are, for the most part, out of my price range. When I was running restaurant programs, I was able to put a few on a list, maybe, if I got a good deal or found some things on closeout. But if I want to put a well-known premier cru vineyard Burgundy on my list, it’s $300 or $400 minimum from a producer who is reasonably well known. We’re not talking about people who are considered the absolute pinnacle. And that’s just a price point that in most restaurants, in most parts of the country, is not going to move. You can put it on the list, and part of the reason I have it on there is so that the one time every two months someone comes in and wants it, I have a bottle for them. And I think that’s important to do. But it’s not going to generate a whole lot of volume sales. And neither is the high end of Bordeaux, or any region, to be fair. I just think that what you’ve seen is a move away from Bordeaux that happened when Burgundy was a little more affordable and then a move away from all of those wines because people our age and younger can’t afford any of that s**t. They have to get into wine in other places. And maybe Burgundy is an easier reference point because, like I said, it’s easier to understand why a Burgundy costs $1,000 when you look at, “OK, here’s a tiny part of a vineyard that it comes from and they make 250 bottles a year. So, yeah, this bottle is going to cost $1,500.” It’s a lot harder to make that argument in Bordeaux except for it’s got a lot of history and marketing behind it. And those are valid things, but it’s not necessarily as easy for a sommelier or a wine aficionado or even someone who’s just getting interested in it and has the money to spend to see the connection to the scarcity that comes with Burgundy. That just doesn’t seem to come with Bordeaux.
A: Erica, got some thoughts here?
A: I’ve heard a lot, obviously, that the way people compare the two regions is that Burgundy is the land of farmers and Bordeaux is the land of businessmen. Or Bordeaux is the region that was made famous by London, whereas Burgundy was the region that was embraced by Paris. And these two kinds of styles — Bordeaux much more powerful, bigger wines, and Burgundy is very much about finesse. But again, I think that that’s all well and good. I just think it’s interesting that we want to immediately, quickly just say it’s about the price, because there’s just so many gems in Bordeaux that aren’t that way, that I think it actually does make it more accessible for a lot of people. And I do wonder if Bordeaux will become more popular soon, because I don’t know if you guys follow a lot of basketball stars, but I do, and a lot of these guys in the NBA who are really into wine who have massive followings, most of what they’re drinking is Bordeaux. Sometimes drinking a little bit of Napa Cab, especially the guys that play for West Coast teams. But you see a lot of bottle shots of Bordeaux and then a lot of other guys commenting about how great those wines are. You see C.J. McCollum or JJ Redick, all posting Bordeaux bottles. LeBron loves Bordeaux. He’s posting every time he has one of those bottles or someone from his team has one of those bottles. So I think that’s been interesting, and I wonder if that will help raise awareness, or if it will cause the same problem that Zach’s talking about, which is that you have the bottles they are always posting that are classified growth bottles. Or they’re not posting the Phelan Segur, which I think is a great chateau. It probably should have gotten classified and didn’t, and you can still find it at Warehouse Wine in Astor Place. You can find it in Warehouse Wine five or six years old for $30 and you’re like, “Really? This is a really well-known winery.” But because it doesn’t have that 1855 classification, no one thinks they can sell it for as much as they could if it did, even if it’s not as good of a producer. As long as the chateau has that classification, even if it’s a withering fourth or fifth growth. And I mean withering not in the fact that that’s bad, so don’t come at me, but that maybe they’ve only really traded on that classification for the last few decades, you can still sell it for more because it has it on the bottle. And that I think is really nuts.
E: When I did a tasting group not so long ago for diplomas studies, we all bought Burgundies that were from $20 to $150 and pooled the cost. And those wines, fairly across the board, did terrible. They did not have a lot of value. Everyone agreed that those Burgundies at a lower price point were not as compelling as a similar set of similarly priced wines from Bordeaux. So for my money, I think Bordeaux offers a lot more value at a lower price point, especially $50 and below. I have absolutely no problem saying that because, I mean, I will always look for those Bordeaux values and those older bottles in stores and I can’t even think of one that I found that did not deliver a delicious drinking experience.
A: I completely agree with you.
Z: I think the other thing to be aware of there — and this at this point has been sort of alluded to a couple of times by both of you — is that age is really important when it comes to Bordeaux. And I think it’s one of these things that is maybe part of the reason why Bordeaux has struggled a little bit. Because I think that Bordeaux, across the quality levels, is really not a wine that’s made to be consumed young. And we exist in a world where people don’t age wine. People don’t have wine cellars. Adam, you and I have talked about this on previous podcasts. There are reasons for that that are totally legitimate, but it does mean that if you’re going to go buy a 2017 Bordeaux I don’t think you’re going to get as much enjoyment out of it as you would have with a five- or 10- or 15-year-old bottle. And that’s not just for people who love aged wine. I like older wine, that’s not the way everyone feels, and that’s totally cool. But even if you like younger styles of wine, Bordeaux generally — even at the lower price levels — doesn’t really reveal itself until it’s got at least five or so years of age. And I think Burgundy is probably overrated by people in general. I think Pinot Noir, as a grape, doesn’t age as well. That’s my take, I suppose. And I find that old Burgundy tends to be really uninspiring even when it is really expensive. But at the same time, I think with Bordeaux it suffers a little bit from the accurate perception that you have to have older Bordeaux, and if you don’t have ready access to that or you don’t have necessarily a really good idea of how to go find that wine without paying exorbitant prices, it can be daunting. Because if you buy a 2017 and open it I think if it’s a good Bordeaux it probably shouldn’t be all that enjoyable at that young. It’s really not the idea behind the wine. It’s a style and a conception for wine that doesn’t mesh with our modern lifestyle in many ways. And it’s why it’s part of the Bordeaux approach that hasn’t translated so much to other parts of the world even if the winemaking techniques and the varieties themselves have.
A: I think you’re right. I think that the biggest thing to take away from this, which we should have given more concentration to, but we didn’t, is Erica’s tip. If you want to get into wine, especially aged wine, you should be going out to these wine stores in small towns. We’re not talking about your big box Total Wines. You’re not going to find it there. You’re not going to find them at Astor Place, which is also where Warehouse Wine is, you’re going to find it at these small liquor stores, wine warehouses, etc., where you can find these bottles that may have languished on the shelves for a few years because people weren’t buying them and they have age on them and they’re going to be very well priced.
Z: I think another tip, too, that I’ve had a success with, is if you do have a shop that you go to on occasion, I would ask the owner or someone working there, because what I often find — I found this as a restaurant buyer and as a private consumer as well — is that often, distributors in a lot of places will have multiple vintages of a wine. And Bordeaux is a place where this happens a lot, because oftentimes, they won’t fully sell through everything they have, and some distributors will cut prices to try and move that wine. But others will just hang on to just a few cases. And if you ask and the wine shop is willing to inquire on your behalf, especially if you’re willing to buy a few bottles, you might find that a distributor might have a 2012 or 2011 or 2009 or something or a few knocking around, and they may be willing to work to get you that wine for a reasonable price. It’s not quite as romantic as pulling it off a dusty shelf, but the flipside is you have a better assurance of quality that the wine is actually being stored properly, instead of sitting in a window for 10 years.
A: True. Just don’t buy it if it’s sitting in a window.
A: Well, guys, I hope other people who’ve listened to this podcast today are convinced that Bordeaux is worth your time. I promise this was not sponsored.
Z: It should have been.
A: I know. CIBV, get at me. But no, seriously, it’s a region that I think, and it sounds like you guys agreed, doesn’t get enough attention — especially when it comes to value. We’re not talking about going out there and looking for the 1855 classifications and filling your shelves with that stuff. If you can, good for you, also always accepting donations of your amazing cellar.
Z: Invite us over.
A: But if you can’t. There’s so much good stuff.
Z: I have one last one thought that I want to add, which just struck me. When you learn about wine, and I’m sure that for all of us this is true, you start with Bordeaux. I mean, for most of us, the first place you learn about is Bordeaux. Whether it’s a formalized education or even a little bit more informal, it’s often Bordeaux. Maybe you start in Burgundy, but Burgundy is so f***ing confusing. I don’t think most people start there. For a lot of people, you start in Bordeaux and then even if you’re a wine professional, you almost never come back to it. And that is, now that I think about it, sort of bizarre.
A: Let us know your thoughts. Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear what you think about this topic and others.
Z: LeBron, tag us in your bottle shots.
A: Yes. Seriously, LeBron, let me get at that wine. And guys, I’ll talk to you next week.
E: Talk to you then.
Z: Sounds great.
A: Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair Podcast. If you enjoy listening to us every week, please leave us a review or rating on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show. Now, for the credits. VinePair is produced and hosted by Zach Geballe, Erica Duecy and me: Adam Teeter. Our engineer is Nick Patri and Keith Beavers. I’d also like to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder Josh Malin and the rest of the VinePair team for their support. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you again right here next week.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.