Out with Bordeaux, In with the….?
With 2011 now down to its final hours, I have been playing grape skin prophet and giving some thought to what the major wine stories of 2012 are likely to be. My guess is that the biggest story of the coming year will be the continuation of what I believe was the biggest story of 2011: the declining importance of Bordeaux. Among American consumers, there seems to be little love for Bordeaux at the moment. Left Bank, Right Bank, grands crus classés or crus bourgeois—it makes no difference. Bordeaux is completely out of fashion right now. Fairly or not, the aggressive pricing for the top growths has soured many wine buffs on the entire region, and while it is possible the diminished interest in Bordeaux is just temporary, I can’t help but wonder if something more permanent is taking hold.
While there is no question that greed (or extreme profit-maximization, to put it more delicately) has hurt Bordeaux’s image, I think Bordeaux is also suffering because tastes are changing. A few months ago, I suggested that cabernet sauvignon’s hegemony is over; for many oenophiles, pinot noir has supplanted cabernet as the reference-point grape, and this has eroded Bordeaux’s stature (Napa’s, too). An even bigger problem for Bordeaux is that because of the high prices of the classified growths, younger drinkers are cultivating their palates on wines from other places. For generations of wine enthusiasts, Bordeaux was the benchmark; the finest clarets were the yardstick against which all other wines were measured. But that’s clearly not the case for this new breed of wine geeks. For them, Bordeaux is just another region, and I doubt that will change.
With sales in the U.S. moribund, the Bordelais have been banking on Asia in recent years. But even there, Bordeaux now seems to be losing some of its cachet. China’s Lafite craze looks to have peaked, and Burgundies, not Bordeaux, were the hottest items during the fall auctions in Hong Kong. Burgundy long ago eclipsed Bordeaux as the lodestar for younger American collectors; the same thing may be happening now in Asia. Meanwhile, British merchants are already warning that next spring’s en primeur campaign could be a disaster unless the Bordelais cut prices dramatically. Is Bordeaux just in a rut, or are we witnessing an historic shift in consumer preferences? I suspect the next 12 months will go a long way to answering that question.
What do you think is happening with Bordeaux, and what do you believe the big wine stories of 2012 are likely to be? Let’s hear some predictions!