Like music and fashion and food, wine is subject to fads and trends that even its most passionate and devoted consumers easily fall victim to. The soft, Milli Vanilli pop of the early 1990s caused a backlash that led to grunge, which itself eventually opened the door to the swing music that was piped into martini and cigar bars all over the country. It’s the circle of life, or something like that.
It’s the same with wine: As soon as a particular style becomes too popular, too widely accessible or venerated or otherwise obsessed over by either the masses of middle-of-the-road consumers or elite collectors, it eventually, perhaps inevitably, experiences a backlash of some sort.
Jay McInerney’s column in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal deals with this phenomenon as it applies to Bordeaux, one of the great wine regions of the world that has, in recent years, experienced a bit of a PR problem as a result of both its reputation for being a bit on the staid side (I disagree strongly with this) and, at the highest levels, exorbitantly priced (on this point I have to agree).
“Does Bordeaux still matter?” McInerney asks. “This might seem like a foolish question given the fact that the 2009 futures campaign set new records for prices, or given that Asian buyers in general and the Chinese in particular have embraced the region's wines, especially the first growths, as if they had proven aphrodisiac qualities. Many younger sommeliers and enthusiasts think of Bordeaux as the IBM of the wine world—kind of a dinosaur. For wine buffs with an indie sensibility, Bordeaux is the equivalent of the Hollywood blockbuster, more about money than about art. At one recent Acker Merrall & Condit auction, there was booing when the auctioneer announced an offering of Bordeaux.”
“Bordeaux bashing,” he continues, “has become a new form of wine snobbery. As someone whose first love was Bordeaux, I can't quite join the beat-down, and several recent close encounters have reignited my passion.”
McInerney goes on to catalogue a number of tastings he’s recently experienced that give him hope for the region, from the seemingly timeless beauty of older vintages to the up-and-coming producers from lesser-known parts of the region that are igniting a whole new generation’s sense of excitement about Bordeaux.
What interests me most about McInerney’s column is the fact that, finally, it perhaps implies a change in direction of the pendulum’s swing, and hopefully represents a new era of Bordeaux appreciation. Because despite the crazy prices commanded by so many of the top chateaux at auction, these are wines that have earned their reputation for greatness. With a bit of focus on other parts of the region, and producers that bottle wines at prices mere mortals can afford and justify, perhaps Bordeaux will experience the resurgence among all wine lovers that it so richly deserves.