This evening I was sitting (which doesn’t happen often in this house) reading my latest Wine Spectator magazine (I still have three previous issues I need to read), and of course, sipping a glass of wine. Now, don’t think I am going all “pompous” on you here. I wasn’t wearing a smoker’s jacket or silk pajamas. Classical music was not playing in the background. Actually, I had my ratty pajamas on, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse blasting on the television and a 3-year-old singing “Thomas the Train’s” theme song. Not really the atmosphere adhering to an issue of Wine Spectator. But this is my life, and at least I get to have a little indulgence every once-and-again.
If you have never had the chance to read a Wine Spectator, I urge you to pick up a copy the next time you find yourself roaming the magazine aisles at Barnes and Noble. Even if you despise wine and only drink whiskey or tequila (which they advertise profusely in their magazines), you should flip through it for the simple fact this company has one of the best-produced pieces of “quick read” literatures on the market. Not only is the magazine larger than any other on the stands, but also the pages feel so much different than your typical monthly read. They are thick and rich in color. It is almost like you can feel the font on each page you hold. Okay, sorry for digressing. I get lost in thought on these things. I love the written word, especially when I get to hold it in my hands. So it hits a pretty soft spot for me. If you really don’t care about all that, pick it up for the good wine tips and buyers guide at least. You never know whom you will impress.
My point in this post is not to talk about how fantastic the pages of Wine Spectator are, but rather, to bring up an interesting point I read in the latest issue. In the “Grapevine” section for this month it talked about how Bordeaux wines have started dropping prices. It then makes a correlating statement about younger generation Americans not willing or truly understanding why it is important to pay higher prices for wines coming from First Growth vineyards in France. I have to say, as a Generation X wine-drinker, I agree with what the article seemed to lament. I see this so often among my peers. They want a wine, something to drink tonight with a steak or great piece of fish. They are usually not looking for wine to cellar for years to come, anticipating in the way it will taste at a child’s graduation dinner or wedding reception. And honestly, that is okay. Passion for wine has to start somewhere along the road of life, and sometimes it never really gets above the “let’s have a few bottles on hand when we feel the mood strike” level.
I may be reaching out on a limb with this one, but there might be some truth to the article’s statement about how “Bordeaux has also failed to ignite interest in the next generation of wine drinkers.” Ralph Sands, senior wine specialist at California-based K & L Wine Merchants goes on to suggest, “Bordeaux needs to upgrade the little marketing that they do here in America to attract new young buyers before it’s too late.” Is he right? Who knows, but it is an interesting piece of information to ponder for wine aficionados out there. Fact is, I can see the generational gap in wine buying when it comes to high-priced French, and even American wines, fade a little. Especially if it is a bottle never before tasted. Many of the First Growth and Second Growth Bordeaux wines need to cellar for several years after they are released on the shelf to really become ready to drink. They are usually very tannic wines, and can turn off a newly groomed wine palate. I remember how my dad used to cringe when he opened a nice Bordeaux and I could barely stomach the stuff! These wines can be an acquired taste, and for a “green” wine drinker, not always the best “bang for your buck.” But it doesn’t make them bad wines or wines unworthy to buy. There just needs to be a little education and marketing behind them for newcomers roaming wine aisles across the country.
When there are so many great wines you can open for much cheaper prices, why buy an expensive bottle, or a case for that matter. Why spend money on something unknown if you don’t plan to cellar it and wait for the “great moment” when it should be opened. This is even truer for shoppers who go in to a store to buy a bottle and look at the labels, lost in a reverie of hard-to-pronounce vineyards from far-off countries. Unless you ask the store’s proprietor, or do your own research, it can be a total crapshoot.
But do I buy the nicer bottles, yes, and that is because a great man who loved his “high-priced Bordeaux wines” raised me. And they are delicious wines I enjoy opening for friends and family members who have never, or may never, experience this style of wine. I toast him and think of him with each pop of the cork. It is his legacy to me, and a legacy to his grandchildren. I then tell a story about the wine and why it was one of his favorites to my drinking audience. At the same time, I love finding a great deal on a bottle of wine, and then shock the hell out of my wine friends who assume it is a costly bottle simply because of the flavor and body it holds.
As our society ebbs and flows, so will the world of wine. Anyone owning a vineyard in France (specifically Bordeaux) probably has an idea that marketing needs to change with the times, that name recognition will not always win consumers. Promoting your wine and telling new wine drinkers why it is so fabulous and unique are great necessities for survival. And that is okay, it is business and how the “cookie crumbles” in a buyer’s market.
A friend of mine, who is a great French Burgundy aficionado, once told me that wine is great not because of the year, but because of who drinks it with you. I think my generation, and generations below me, adhere to this because they love the idea of opening a good wine with great friends as opposed to opening great wines by themselves.
So my wine advice for today is not to be afraid to take a leap on a bottle of wine. If you have had wine before, you probably know a little about your personal variety preference (cabernet, pinot noir, etc.). Perhaps you want to venture out and experience great Bordeaux. Unsure what to buy? Take my earlier reading advice and look at the Wine Spectator’s buyer’s guide. But if you are not ready, it is okay. Don’t think because a wine is costly, or comes from a particular region, it is worth breaking your budget. There are lots a great wines out there, expensive and inexpensive, French and American. And many times big-name French labels will have less-expensive wines to offer with the same great quality and flavor as their more “collectible pieces.” Once you find the wine, get a group of great friends, open it up and make some memories. I guarantee it will make the vino taste that much better.
Until next time, cheers!