Sips and Tastes

Where is our Bordeaux?
Seems a variety of business factors and some parallel corporate decision-making has placed the U.S. importing of Bordeaux wines in a state of flux. Such circumstances usually mean the product disappears or goes up in price, the latter being reasonably unacceptable to many potential consumers, given the already stratospheric conditions of the cost of a bottle of fine Bordeaux wine.

It all stems from the fact that the two major companies who imported (note the past tense) fine wines from Bordeaux – Chateaux & Estates and Diageo – have pulled out of such activities, either tiring of Bordeaux’s quirky habit of demanding cash for the wines long before they are released or just changing business directions. (In the case of Diageo, it looks as if they are leaving the wine business and concentrating on spirits.)

For years the grand chateaux of Bordeaux have actually made the folks who love their product, i.e. the consumer or the importers and negociants who buy their products for resale, suck up the real costs of aging the wine for several years in preparation for its release. Nice arrangement if you can get it, and the Bordelaise have arranged to get it for a long time.

Anyway, since nature abhors a vacuum, and there are those consumers out there (yes, you know who you are) who are willing to pay huge sums of money years before the product is actually delivered, the practice of “pre-selling” goes on. Think about paying for a 2014 Chevrolet today, with the promise that the car is really good and will look spiffy when it is manufactured three years from now.

After the companies that enabled this madness for years decided that the rising cost of the wine and the vagaries of the Euro were something they could do without, a number of American retailers went directly to the bankers….er, winemakers of Bordeaux and made arrangements to step in. Those arrangements include putting up wads of cash and developing expensive new French business partnerships in order to continue the flow of Bordeaux into America.

As the selling market is set to open on the 2010 just-barely-wine vintage, which is the fourth vintage of the century in this century – and we are only 11 vintages into the century – these arrangements will be tested severely. The French, for their part, claim all will be well and the United States will not see a decline in volume at the upper tier of Bordeaux wines available on these shores. There are other markets waiting in the wings. Or at least one market is anxious to play. The Chinese have developed an interest in owning bottles of fine wine, not because they really understand the liquid, but because they understand the cache of owning the bottles with great French chateaux pictured on the labels.

Throughout the past 25 years, the French have been down this road before, selling big first to the Russians and then the Japanese, forcing Americans to pay more dollars for products that were not deserving. Still, it’s a free market and the Golden Rule (the guy who has the gold…) applies.

Bottom line: If you are among the Beautiful People who likes Bordeaux in the upper category, prepare to pull out your credit card with the high limits.

Continuing on that theme
The managing director of Chateau Margaux, Paul Pontallier, recently announced that the vaunted chateaux would begin production of wine from that property under a third label.

Chateau Margaux is one of the most respected and expensive wines in the world, and they also bottle wines from their estates under a second label, Pavillon Rouge. Now there will be a third label, name not yet announced. With French law, certain top-tier wines in Bordeaux, as well as in other notable locales like Burgundy and Champagne, can only produce so much wine. The amount of juice pressed from the grapes is legally defined and limited, both by volume and point of origin.

Wineries for years, thanks to modern techniques and good vintages, have made more juice from their grapes than is allowed by law, and that product has gone into “second label” bottlings. Now, as noted here, there is still so much juice left over that third labels are a possibility. So why not just do it?

In actuality, there will now be four labels of Margaux, since the chateau will continue to sell certain grape “must” into the AOC market. Don’t ask, only know that some grape pressings from Chateau Margaux will end up in a wine made by a merchant and priced literally hundreds of dollars less than Margaux. It’s just that you will not know what winemaker purchased that product from the chateau.

See, I thought I learned in Economics 101 that when there was a lot of something, the unit cost went down. The wine business defies economic gravity.

Thank you, The Balvenie
The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch, one of the finest scotches produced, has come up with a unique project to emphasize their commitment to hand-crafting their product: They are honoring artists in other fields who create hand-crafted artworks.

Importantly, The Balvenie is coming to New Orleans to do just that. While the press notices arrived a bit late for me to give you a heads-up, it does not matter as long as you know it’s going on, and maybe even enjoy a sip or two of The Balvenie in appreciation for including us in the program.

Just a bit of background on The Balvenie: This single-malt scotch is aged from 12 to 40 years. The distillery is located in Speyside, Scotland. The 1978 single cask, something very special I am told, was just released in 2009 and is still available, but likely only at the distillery.

In town very recently were Andrew Weir and Nicholas Polacchi, The Balvenie Brand Ambassadors, who were traveling America seeking out artists and craftspeople to feature in a film they are doing about American craftsmanship.

First recognized here was Ninth Ward blacksmith artist Rachel David, who draws inspiration for her art from New Orleans landscapes. Then the traveling entourage went over to New Orleans Glassworks where they were met by City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson. All three evidently took a lesson in glassblowing. (I’m a little fuzzy on why, so please, no questions.)
I am only noting here that The Balvenie is emphasizing its hand-crafted state by aligning itself with other craftspeople. And I am glad that someone in elected office chose to spend some time with these nice people.  Other than that, you are on your own to draw conclusions. Bartender, get me The Balvenie, please.

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