In fact, some wineries managed to make some pretty good wines. Those wines exhibit some vegetal tones along with good red fruit flavors in a medium bodied fresh style. It's a style of Bordeaux I can recall from 20 years ago. Many, heck even most folks think Bordeaux has made great progress since then, churning out vintage after vintage of rich, flamboyant, fruity wines, but to me, many of these wines lack both the complexity and elegance that Bordeaux once delivered.
Now, I will be the first to admit that the overall quality of Bordeaux is higher than ever, but that came at a cost, and that cost can generally be described as a loss of distinguishing traits between the wines.
The best 2007s may lack many things, but they do deliver on that front and for those people who enjoyed less intense vintages of Bordeaux there are good wines to be found in 2007. Now as far as value goes, that is a different question, and one that has to be answered on an individual opportunity basis.
Picking up where we last left off: 2007 in Bordeaux was a significant year, and a difficult year, not only because of the weather, but also because it was the year that the Bordelaise chose to change their futures pricing model. They had grown tired of watching wine consumers, and shrewd retailers, reap such large benefits from their investments in the vineyard and the cellars. So 2007 rolled out with difficult wines, at much higher prices than previous, much more highly acclaimed vintages.
The market reacted as one would anticipate, and by that I mean not particularly well. Many swore to forgo the futures campaign entirely; others bought much less than they had in the past. In general this move put the brakes on the sale of Bordeaux and raised much concern in the media. There was wide spread talk of Bordeaux shooting the golden goose – how could they have chosen such a move?
Well, I’m not going to pass judgment on the Bordelaise, there are simply too many stories, too many chateaux, for a single, sweeping characterization to suffice. I will say that many chateaux have priced themselves out of my budget, and that really is too bad as Bordeaux is one of the grandest wines in the world – though fortunately for me I have found many less expensive chateaux to be making great wine, and more importantly – great wine for drinking, not collecting!
As Bordeaux has changed through the years, my impression of it has struggled to keep pace. In my earliest days of drinking and collecting Bordeaux was difficult to understand. The wines were terribly variable, and almost all required cellaring to show well. Bad, and I do mean bad, vintages were a regular, if infrequent occurrence.
But when you found a perfectly mature example of Bordeaux, well, it was magic! And it was affordable magic at that. At that stage of my life Bordeaux represented the pinnacle of the wine world, though a pinnacle in a minefield.
Then the revolution began. Through the 1980’s the wines began to be consistent, and then consistently better! The prices moved up, much more so after the Parker scores were released, but en premier everything was still affordable. Lesser chateaux were very reasonably priced and were finding a niche. It was becoming a golden period for Bordeaux, and the Bordeaux drinker. I stocked up on the wines and drank them regularly, finding great values among the petits chateaux to tide me over until my classed growths matured.
And then the 1990’s arrived, and things took a turn for the worse. After a trio of great vintages (1988, 1989, and 1990) we were presented with four mediocre vintages in a row: 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994. Pricing remained fairly firm for many of these wines, and my interest waned as I saw little value in these wines. Nothing the Bordelaise could do would be able to magically transform vintage like these. They were tough to love, and for the most part would remain so.
In the middle of the decade the back-to-back vintages of 1995 and 1996 showed Bordeaux to be back on top, but the pricing had begun to move ahead of the quality. It was a turning point of sorts. Prices now tended to move inexorably upward, and with large jumps in quality vintages.
Of course after so many off years there was more than enough pent up demand to soak up these two vintage, but the Bordelaise goofed with the 1997, another dud of a vintage that was over-priced in a market that was sated. 1998 followed, a great left bank vintage but one that the Bordelaise would have had us believe was worthy of yet another price bump. Enough already!
And then came 1999. A minor vintage, gentle, balanced, fresh, and cheap. Very, very cheap. Not only was the Euro tanking against the dollar, but the exceptional 2000 vintage was garnering rave reviews, and many people were saving their money for this grandest of grand vintage. And besides, 2000, it’s a cool number and a once in a lifetime kind of thing.
Well, suffice it to say that the 2000’s flew off the shelves. The 1999’s lingered. I bought one here and there at close out prices, and since they were so affordable I just drank them. You know what, they were lovely. Easy to drink, fresh, yes a bit simple, but sometimes that is exactly what I want.
So I bought more, some started to close down, so I bought others. I ended up with quite a few 1999’s in the cellar, and they added dept, a bit of weight, and lovely complexity. I was smitten by Bordeaux yet again! I bought the 2000s, and then things really began to change.
The following vintages, 2001 and 2002, were looked at as lesser vintages. We were told they weren’t as good as the 2000s. Well, they certainly weren’t as big, nor as powerful, but they were balanced, elegant, well proportioned wines that were being sold for reasonable prices.
“Good not great” they were called. I humbly disagree, but a die was cast. One by one the greatest wines of Bordeaux begin to resemble each other, they followed each other down the rabbit hole of bigger is better! Bordeaux, at least the handful of château that define Bordeaux in the US market, had chosen a path that lead to bigger scores, higher prices, and more homogenous wines: wines that lacked a certain something in many cases.
So that’s where we are, where we have come, and I look at these great wines that I have bought, and I do love them, the 2000s and the 2005s, but I look back at the 1999s and, frankly, I miss them. I miss their approachability, their freshness, their food friendliness, and their affordability. The great Chateau of Bordeaux, on which I cut my teeth, seem to lack so much of what those little 1999s were able to offer – and the fact is that those little 1999s were, in many cases, those self same great Chateau!
Back to the 2007’s then – what they are able to offer, in many cases, is that approachability, that freshness, that food friendliness, all of which makes Bordeaux an appealing option for any night. Too much of Bordeaux has Become a wine for special events, and special occasions. My recent trip to Bordeaux exposed my to so many wines, petite chateau, whose wines fit this bill, as do many of the 2007s.
In a way I have come full circle. When I started out in wine I was looking for great wine experiences and I found them in Bordeaux. Now, some three decades later I have had many great wine experiences, and many a great Bordeaux, but what I look for today is fun. Wines should be fun to drink, not some arcane intellectual exercise.! They should make life better, make meals better, make conversation better, and they should absolutely not be reserved for special occasions. Guess what – I have found these wines once again, and many can be found in – you guessed it – Bordeaux.
I’ll take a look next week at some of the regions in Bordeaux we should be looking towards for great wines, and great values. Bordeaux is really a huge, and varied region, so speaking of Bordeaux as some unified and consistent region really does everyone a disservice (something I have been guilty of and will try to remedy!).
Just think about it, in this one vast region there are half a dozen red grapes, and three white varieties, used to produce white wines, red wines, rose wines (if you haven't tried Bordeaux rose, don't miss it), sweet white wines, sparkling wines, and even some Clairet – one of my favorite wines!
So while we finish with the 2007’s today, we really do need to look to the future tomorrow, and there is no better place to begin than with the wines of one of the truly up and coming regions of Bordeaux. Stayed tuned for the next Bordeaux article and find out who I’m talking about!