Most inexperienced wine aficionados instantly think of high priced, exclusive chateau wines when Bordeaux is mentioned. While the prestigious fist growth classified chateaux Petrus, Lafite, Haut Brion, Mouton Rothschild, Latour, Cheval Blanc and the like command astronomically high prices, this is only (5 percent) of the total production of Bordeaux. Pricey classified growths make only a small proportion of red Bordeaux wines.
The region contains over 9000 chateaux and many produce fine wines, which are sols at reasonable cost. The problem is their inability to market their products effectively. Throughout this wide and diverse region, there are many worthy and fairly priced wines waiting to be discovered.
Today, fierce competition is forcing changes in pricing and distribution. Both are in favour of consumers.
It is time for high priced château wines to some soul searching as they face unprecedented competition from many countries including Spain, the U.S.A., Australia, Italy and Chile
The reputation of Bordeaux rests primarily on its fabled reds, but whites, both sweet and dry, make up approximately 30 percent of the total production. Smaller quantities of rose, a lighter red called “clairet” and sparkling wines are also made.
Although many Bordeaux winemakers seem to be reluctant to make white wine, today’s dry Bordeaux blanc tastes much getter than ever.
Modern fruity wines that compare favourably with New World wines in both style and price.
The appellation Bordeaux and Bordeaux superieur represent 55 percent of total sales of Bordeaux. There are close to 7000 winegorwers, 42 co-operatives and 400 wine merchants a k a negociants.
All joined forces to promote Bordeaux wines by creating the Syndicat des Appelation Bordeaux et Bordeaux Superieur and to control quality.
Bordeaux winemakers are acutely aware of the competition, especially from New World wines, and are determined to respond effectively. The truth is that for a long time the French governments failed to support promotional efforts of wineries relying on past glories, while the New World wines were being touted as outstanding in the international press, French wineries limited their marketing to small tastings showcasing fine wines to a market segment that was already consuming their products. They were trying to preach to the already converted.
Grand cru wines sell themselves. It is the small chateaux that need market presence, and sadly they either lack the funds or marketing savvy, often both.
Well-managed wineries send their winemakers overseas to study New World techniques, taste orientation, winery organization and packaging.
Allan Sichel, of the well-known Sichel wine dynasty, believes controlling every aspect of winemaking and marketing to be the crux of the matter.
He sent his young winemaker to California, Australia, and South Africa. Maison Dourthe (a fine Bordeaux shipper and vineyard owner) decided to invest heavily in vineyards and winemaking technology to good effect.
Young well-educated Bordelais winemakers understand the importance of technology, marketing and packaging. To that end, many who are fortunate enough o take over from their parents are starting to make welcome changes.
Small chateaux that have changed hands show improvements in quality with new injection of capital and replanting vineyards with better clones, different proportions of varieties, and modern methods of pruning to reduce yields and increase fruit flavour.
Small chateaux have been able to draw the attention of Robert Parker, who, despite many French critics, still maintains a high profile and influence in the USA and elsewhere in the world. In Bordeaux all wines are fine in good vintages. Select the better-known properties in poor vintages.
Here are small chateaux whose wines (of vintage 2008) you can buy with confidence:
Chateau Tour de Pez
Château Haut Vigneau
Chateau Moulin-a-Vent (not to be confused with Beaujolais cru)
Chateau Larose Pergaison
Chateau Monlabert (Canadian owned)
Chateau des Laurets