Bad Times in Bordeaux, Good Times for Us
by Clive Irving
Forgive the Global Gourmet for taking pleasure from the distress of others. But when the others are the wine merchants of Bordeaux, the pleasure is, as they say, fruity with a satisfyingly dry aftertaste. Bordeaux wines, principally the reds, are a classic case of a self-deluding brand. In the best years, the great red wines (Petrus, Margaux, Haut-Brion) are peerless. But great years are intermittent and the prices suggest AIG bonus ranking: For example, a 1999 Margaux is currently "on sale" at $695 a bottle.
Last year was a particularly bad one in Bordeaux. The weather was unfriendly. The 2008 vintage will be released for expert tasting in April, and expectations are for a dud. This comes as London merchants, who traditionally pre-order Bordeaux wines in barrel before it is bottled, are sending earlier vintages, like 2002, back at a loss because the market for them is shrinking fast in the economic meltdown.
Maybe at last this will help to do two things. One, bring down prices more in line with real values. Two, lead to the admission that poor Bordeaux vintages are a lot less palatable than far cheaper wines.
You need not go very far from Bordeaux to find two red wines that have always been far better value. A few years ago, the Global Gourmet discovered one of them in Gascony, the region immediately north of the Pyrenees, while he was tasting a more legendary local hooch, Armagnac. Gascony's food is powerfully rustic, featuring foie gras (duck and goose livers) and rib-sticking stews. The wine I found is Madiran, made mostly with a grape hardly seen elsewhere, called Tannat. At its best, Madiran has the tannic base of a Bordeaux with the guts of a far more expensive Rhone red. About a hundred miles southeast of Bordeaux is the ancient provincial city of Cahors, where another distinctively local red is produced. Again, Cahors is a really satisfying wine for carnivores.