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Wednesday Wraparound: Bordeaux and Asti



The Drinks Business magazine is reporting huge unsold stocks of Bordeaux from the 2010, 2011 and 2012 vintages–the latter two decent, with 2010 exceptional according to most critics. Things are so dire, apparently, that the chairman of Justerini & Brooks, one of London’s top wine merchants, called the dust-gathering stocks “the last chance saloon for the Bordelais.” Distribution chains are “struggling to cope”; supplies “didn’t even get to the market as the merchants and negociants didn’t buy any. In fact, it didn’t get out of the chateau door.”

This chart shows how bad things are. It’s hard to read, but basically, all those lines on the right represent unsold inventory.



This raises interesting questions, beginning with the obvious: Has the Bordeaux car run out of gas? One hesitates profoundly to reach that conclusion concerning the most famous wine region in the world. Bordeaux has survived every catastrophe you can name, from wars and invasions to phylloxera, human plagues and financial Depressions. It would be imprudent to the highest degree to even hint that such a long run at the top is over.

Prices of the most famous wines are, of course, ridiculous, but there are plenty of good red Bordeaux in the $40-$60 range, not just Medocs and Haut-Medocs but from prestigious communes like St.-Julien and St. Estephe. So it’s puzzling to me why more people aren’t buying them. I like a good, dry Bordeaux as an alternative to the big California Cabs and Merlots I also enjoy. I’ll peer into my crystal ball and make this prediction: Don’t count Bordeaux out. Ever.

* * *

Have you ever been to the Asti winery? Probably not, unless you had business there, because it’s not open to the public (at least, it hasn’t been whenever I’ve gone). But it really should be, for it’s an interesting blast from the past in the history of California wine.

As I wrote in my first book, A Wine Journey along the Russian River, the settlement of “Asti” was founded by a man as colorful as Count Haraszthy, Andrea Sbarbaro, who established the original Italian Swiss Colony winery there in 1880, on the banks of the Russian River just south of Cloverdale. In the 1960s, ISC went into a period of decline; the Asti facility deteriorated into a producer of jug wines. Treasury Wine Estates acquired the 536-acre property some time ago, but has now put it on the market, as part of its cost-cutting practices. I hope that whoever buys Asti will love it and restore it as a tourist destination, in addition to whatever winemaking they do there. It’s a lovely place to wander about, with old stone structures, and is frankly perhaps the greatest vantage point from which to learn about and appreciate the history of Alexander Valley, especially its Zinfandels.

  1. Bordeaux will survive but many of the smaller producers may not. I used to drink Bordeaux but found I needed to spend lots more money to find similar pleasure compared to other regions in France, to say nothing of the rest of the world. Sure, there is “good red Bordeaux in the $40-$60 range” but I expect more than “good” at that price point. Also, how many people interested in learning about a region spend $50 on their first bottle. Most buy something in the $15-$20 range and then decide if it’s worth spending more. Based on my experience with Bordeaux under $20 there is very little chance of finding a bottle that will reward you enough to continue exploring. Burgundy faces the same problem, though with a lot less wine to sell through. I sorely miss drinking Burgundy like I used to but hardly miss Bordeaux at all.

  2. Bob Henry says:

    For those who reside in greater Los Angeles, or whose travel plans will take them to the region on April 23rd, you can purchase an admission ticket to attend this Bordeaux producers tasting:

    (It is unclear at this early date whether the wine trade will be hosted to a dedicated afternoon tasting, or extended gratis admission to the consumer event.)

    Anticipate many of the exhibitor tables being “manned” by the winery’s owner or winemaker . . . eager to be “chatted up.”

    (If nothing else, these French government underwritten “whistle stop tours” of the U.S. are subsidized de facto vacations for exhibitors.)

  3. Bob Henry says:

    “A Dismal Bordeaux Vintage Hits the Market – Businessweek”


  4. Four reasons for the possible decline in Bordeaux sales:

    1. A dramatic decline in the percentage of wine drinkers who age wine 10 or more years. (which is really where Bordeaux shines)

    2. Decline in Merlot’s popularity. (The Bordelaise finally got around to putting grapes on the label, but now the customer flees from the word Merlot.)

    3. Better cheap wine now available in more popular styles. (Bordeaux under $10 is often bitter and austere and that demographic’s preferred style is soft and smooth and maybe sweet.)

    4. A generation of Sommeliers and Retailers who don’t ‘get’ these wines and therefore don’t promote them.

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