Writer Ethan Fixell sent me (in my role as the fine wine buyer for Spec’s) some questions to answer for his upcoming article on “Selling Bordeaux Today” for Beverage Media. I answered them but I have no idea how much of or even if he’ll use the information and opinion I gave him. Nevertheless, his questions with my answers offer a good look at how I (and, by extension, Spec’s) look at the wines of Bordeaux.
Q. Spec’s carries a lot of Bordeaux. Why do you believe in the region’s wine as a good buy for 2018? What do you feel it offers to customers?
A. Chateau-bottled Bordeaux wines offer the customer site specificity and the personality of an owner or winemaker or estate manager (who is the motive force behind the wine) – so person and place – at all price points (including even lower – as in under $10 – price points where many new-world wines can be pretty “corporate” in nature). So a chateau-bottled Bordeaux wine can offer a value and a story to the customer as well as a potentially delicious, food-friendly experience.
Q. Where is the most value in Bordeaux? Are there particular appellations or producers you think offer consumers the most bang for their buck.
A. Assuming that by “value” you mean moderate price points or wines for everyday consumption, the most value in Bordeaux can be found outside the classified growths and biggest names. There are lots of chateau in the Haut Medoc, Pessac Leognan and Graves, the Bordeaux Cotes (especially Francs and Castillon), and the satelites around St. Emilion and Pomerol, and even basic St. Emilion and St. Emilion Grand Cru that over-deliver on bang-for-your-buck under $30.00 per bottle. The best of these wines offer fruit and flavor and a story and a sense of place to go with their value price points. Of course this ignores the value to be found in Bordeaux when you compare fine Bordeaux at whatever price point (pick one) to comparably priced wines from around the world.
Q. How do you go about selecting the Bordeaux that you buy? Are there particular qualities of wines that you think resonate the most with today’s consumers?
A. I taste. In Bordeaux. In every vintage. When I taste, I look for fruit first, then quality and balance, and then consistency and value. I look for a clean package and a story to tell my customer. I look for wines I am happy to drink because I know I can sell those wines. I also look to buy those wines from trust-worthy, ethical people. Further, I think that each market in the US is unique. Texas is a more Cabernet Sauvignon-centric than most so, while we carry a good selection of Merlot-based wines from Bordeaux, we’re always on the look out for new Cabernet-based (read Left Bank) wines from Bordeaux. Most of those wines come from the Haut Medoc, Pessac Leognan, and Graves. I also think that our customers (when given the option) generally prefer fruit and balance to over-extraction and over-ripeness – so I look for more elegant but still flavorful wines.
Q. How do you position Bordeaux to consumers?
A. Simply put, Bordeaux offers the best experience at the table at the best price. Bold statement? Yes. But many value-priced new world brands either don’t taste good or don’t taste like anywhere. Many (not all) are over-ripe, over-blended, over-sweet, unbalanced messes more suited to standing-around-drinking (wine in lieu of cocktails) rather than drinking with food at the dinner table. If you’re looking to drink wine with dinner at $10 per bottle, there is a Bordeaux wine for you that will stack up well in comparison to wines from anywhere else in the world. The same is true at $15 and at $20, and at $30 and so on up to over $500. Chateau-bottled Bordeaux is real wine from real places made by real identifiable people from specified grapes grown using increasingly environmentally friendly practices in styles that work well with a variety of styles of food. Even if US consumers haven’t tasted Bordeaux, they know the name and know Bordeaux is one of the classics. And that often makes them willing to try a new (to them) Bordeaux wine.
Q. Any overall thoughts / suggestions on how to sell Bordeaux on the retail level?
A. The easiest way to sell Bordeaux is to give the customer a proper pour in a proper glass in a relaxed environment and let them taste it. Proper pour means a sample that is fresh, has been shipped and stored properly and is being served at the correct drinking temperature in an amount conducive to tasting (about 1.5 ounces). A proper glass is just that, a proper stemmed wine glass that is the right size and shape to taste from (A plastic cup that holds 2 ounces is not a proper glass) or the sort of glass the customer might use as an everyday wine glass at home. A relaxed environment means seated at a table with good (but not harsh) lighting in a comfortable room with a controlled level of noise and extraneous activity. Even better if food is involved. Tell them what they’re tasting and why it tastes like it does. Let them engage their brain as well as their senses of smell and taste. There is an intellectual appeal to the finer things and Bordeaux wine is one of those finer things. This is not snobbery; rather, it is reality. It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.
To sum up, I think chateau-bottled Bordeaux across all price ranges offers some of the very best values in the wine world today. Add in it’s ability to pair well with a wide variety of foods and ready availability, Bordeaux becomes an even more obvious choice. Do I drink wines from other regions around the world? Of course I do. I love Champagne and German Riesling, red and white Burgundy (and other well made Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays), Rhone wines, Zinfandel, Rioja, Napa Cabs, and more. But Bordeaux is my reference standard for most of the dry red wines and much of both the dry and the sweet white wines I taste from else-where in the world. And as much as I love a good glass of Burgundy (and I really do), Bordeaux generally offers a better-bang-for-my-wine-buying-buck.