Sarah Kemp May 2011 column

  • Friday 15 April 2011

It has not gone unnoticed that Wine Spectator's Top 100 for 2010 only had one Bordeaux

Sarah Kemp

It seems hard nowadays to mention the word Bordeaux without the word China. The Far East’s love for claret is well documented and isn’t abating, but what is equally fascinating is the other side of the story: how America has fallen out of love with Bordeaux.

Farr Vintners, one of the UK’s leading fine-wine brokers, provided a fascinating insight with its end-of-year report. A buoyant 2009 campaign had led to a total company turnover of £169 million, more than 80% of which was Bordeaux.

Just over 48% by volume and 40% by value was bought by customers in the UK, while the Far East bought 36% by volume, but more than 49% by value. And America? A mere 3.36% by volume and 3% by value.

A leading St-Emilion proprietor confirmed the trend. ‘The US market has collapsed for Bordeaux; 60% of my wine is going to Asia,’ he said. He also confided that the decision by Diageo’s Chateau & Estate, the biggest US importer of Bordeaux, to pull out of Bordeaux in the US had shut a major distribution channel.

It has not gone unnoticed that Wine Spectator’s Top 100 for 2010 featured only one Bordeaux. Margaux 2005? Latour 2008? No, in at number 96 was Rollan de By 2008.

The Spectator’s list is based on quality, value, availability and ‘an excitement factor’. Value and top Bordeaux aren’t usually used in the same sentence, but with Beaucastel’s Hommage à Jacques Perrin, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2008 for $535 in at 35, is a point being made?

The 2006 list had Léoville-Barton at no 3; Ducru-Beaucaillou, Smith Haut-Lafitte, Prieuré-Lichine and Pontet-Canet also made the list.
Two of America’s best wine writers, Eric Asimov of The New York Times and the Spectator’s Matt Kramer, recently raised the issue.

Asimov wrote: ‘Some people find in Bordeaux a symbol of the staid, corporate institutions that they dislike. Others simply don’t care much for Cabernet-based wines.

The growing natural wine movement finds little in Bordeaux to inspire them, while many sommeliers summon little passion for Bordeaux.’ In page after page of replies, two themes dominated: price, and ‘Why wait for five or 10 years when you can drink a Californian Cabernet now?’ Kramer’s column echoed Asimov’s sentiments.

The key question is: how important is the US market to the Bordelais? And, with the clamour for their wine in Asia, how much will they care?

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