There’s a very telling thread over on the UK Wine Forum regarding Bordeaux, and how the changes in prices seen over the last decade have influenced spending within the region. If you’re an interested wine drinker, especially if you have a particular penchant for Bordeaux, then it’s well worth a read. If you’re a Bordeaux proprietor, reading should be mandatory; after all, you need to understand how concertedly a section of UK consumers, once avid Bordeaux addicts, are turning away from the region.
It’s no secret that Bordeaux prices are rising, and the reasons for this change have been discussed at length, here and elsewhere, so I don’t intend re-examining the root causes here. Suffice to say that over the last ten years prices of classed growth chateaux have skyrocketed. This means that for many UK consumers, the top wines are now financially out of reach. Let’s see this through the eyes of an imaginary buyer of Bordeaux called, for no particular reason, Peter. Peter is a fan of the wines and ten years ago this is what he would typically buy:
Even ten years ago Latour was a bit of a treat, but he could still stretch to half a case. Of course since then, that’s no longer true, and Ducru became unaffordable as well. But that’s OK, that still leaves him with some excellent, iconic wines, unparalleled in terms of style and quality; you can’t find a Léoville lookalike coming from the Languedoc, or Rioja, or Margaret River, and so on. So in more recent vintages, say up to 2008, he bought these wines:
The latter two additions keep Peter’s stock topped up, and the under-appreciated Angludet can do very well in the cellar (I’ve certainly tasted very convincing examples at over 20 years of age). But then come the price rises of 2009 and 2010, and more of Peter’s favourites go out of reach, the first two wines on his list now disappearing beyond Peter’s €1000 per case limit. So Peter weighs up what he can afford, and it looks like this:
And Peter feels a little dejected, for several reasons:
(1) Peter is used to drinking exciting wines such as Latour and Ducru. He doesn’t deny that Fourcas-Hosten and Thieuley are well made, and are readily identifiable as Bordeaux, but he knows he won’t get anything like the epicurean experience he used to have when he could afford Ducru.
(2) Peter was happy to accept first growths and super-seconds disappearing out of reach; most regions have their iconic and unaffordable wines. And after all Peter’s friend Paul, a Burgundy drinker, accepts that tastes of grand cru wines from the likes of Leroy and DRC are treats rarely experienced. But now Peter can’t even afford Léoville-Barton or Pontet Canet, and Cantemerle is he best he can hope for. This is a little like expecting Peter’s friend Paul to give up not only the grands crus, but all the premiers crus as well. Would the Burgundy drinker be happy with only village level wines?
(3) Most importantly (and this was the point that was made so nicely in the above-linked thread), Peter looks at his list and sees the wines there as ‘value’ Bordeaux, wines for any occasion rather than a fine, weekend dinner. He was happy to add them to the cellar to open on occasion, for midweek drinking perhaps, but he isn’t so interested if these wines are all he can afford to add to his cellar. They say less about Bordeaux than Latour or Ducru, and more about well made red wine. And because of the Bordeaux association the prices aren’t exactly low, they don’t look like such great ‘value’ after all. Peter looks around and sees that, for less money, instead of drinking decent lower-end Bordeaux like those above he can drink amazing reds from the great schistous terroirs of the Languedoc, or he can discover new wines from Priorat and other regions in Spain previously unknown to Peter, or he can drink the very best wines of Chinon or Saumur-Champigny, or good wines from Australia or South Africa, all for much less money. And so Peter begins to do just that.
Peter decides not to trade down within Bordeaux, but to trade away.
It’s a warning shot across the bows of Bordeaux; be careful alienating old long-standing customers as you chase new, more wealthy customers more ready to part with grand sums of money for your wines. The whole wine world has pulled its socks up, and there are now great wines being produced everywhere, and most are now much more affordable than Bordeaux. You are driving old customers to these other regions, and although some will no doubt come back when your new customers stop buying, and the prices of classed growth wines fall to more reasonable levels, the tone of opinions expressed suggest to me that many will not.
All of this sets a very fascinating context for Bordeaux 2011; how will the Bordelais price their wines for these disparate markets? As once-faithful buyers reject even a successful vintage such as 2010, based on price, how will they respond to 2011? That’s a subject for another blog post, on another day, I think.