By Mike Rosenberg
Friend of the Vine Mike Wangbickler of Balzac Communications recently gave me the opportunity to get a first look at “Planet Bordeaux” – the new marketing project by winemakers in the Bordeaux region. The project’s mission is to help people realize they can afford Bordeaux wines of quality without either leasing their first-born or slugging the scrapings from the bottom of fermenting tanks. “Folks can afford Bordeaux as an everyday wine. It doesn’t just have to be for collectors,” Wangbickler said.
First off, a quick review of Bordeaux wine. Bordeaux is arguably the most famous French wine region (the argument would come from their Burgundian neighbors). Some of the most expensive and sought after wines in the world call this slice of France home. Red Bordeaux is always a blend of cabernets sauvignon and franc, merlot, petit verdot, and Malbec. White Bordeaux is a blend of sauvignon blanc and Semillon.
Red Bordeaux, even though they’re a mix of some varietals that we may think of as heavy, tend to be lighter-styled, tannic reds. Even inexpensive Bordeaux can have complexity to the flavor. There’s usually an earthy or “cigar box” aroma and flavor along with the dark fruit, and finishes that are long and tannic. White Bordeaux usually are quite acidic, minerally, and have floral or herbal scents and flavors. They’re also usually very light in color. The deeper colored whites have more Semillon and tend to be heavier.
The mystery, allure, and frustrations of Bordeaux can often be traced back to the
caste system for wines. In 1855, a “ranking system” for French wines was developed based on terroir, winemaking quality, overt and covert bribery, etc. The “best” single vineyard chateaux were classified into five “growths” – the Premier Crus are Chateau LaTour, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut-Brion, and Chateaux Lafite and Mouton Rothschild.
Below these are the AOC wines – wines from a certain region. These are your
regional wines – Chateaux that can call themselves “Bordeaux” but aren’t in the “growth” rankings. The grapes must be grown in Bordeaux, but they come from one chateau or commune’s holdings, although they’re not necessarily single vineyard products. These tend to be a step below the “classed growths,” but are still considered from reasonably to really good wine. You know you’re looking at one of these wines if you see the following words on the bottle:
Σ Bordeaux Rouge (Red) AOC
Σ Bordeaux Supérieur Rouge AOC
Σ Bordeaux Rosé AOC
Σ Bordeaux Clairet (Dark Rosé) AOC
Σ Bordeaux Blanc (White) AOC
Σ Bordeaux Supérieur Blanc AOC
Σ Cremant de Bordeaux (Sparkling) AOC
Below AOC is “Vin de Pays” – a region’s “table wine.” Vin de Pays simply means that the grapes are grown anywhere in that region, but they can be from anywhere therein.
So, the top grade goes for hundreds of dollars a bottle. Collectors hoard these. Thus, there’s always a demand. The vin de pays can be found anywhere. It’s inexpensive. Thus, there’s always a demand. The AOC wines, trapped in the middle, were faced with quite a quandary. These wines are quite a cut in quality above the vin de pays, but many aren’t much more expensive. Imagine you’re a winemaker and you’re putting together quality product, could make a profit with a relatively low price point, and are still a really good deal in any case. If you could only get the word out – people would snap it up, right?
Enter the Byzantine (or would that be Gallic?) world of French wine law. There are restrictions on marketing. Chateaux and communes cannot partner to market their wines. They have to work individually, for the most part. So, not surprisingly, the Chateaux with the most cash get the most run in the press, since they can afford the publicity. The best selling AOC red Bordeaux is Mouton-Cadet – a little side project of Chateau Mouton Rothschild. You can find that Bordeaux almost anywhere. It’s almost as ubiquitous as Duboeuf’s Beaujolais.
So, along comes Syndicat Viticole des appellations controlees Bordeaux et Bordeaux Supérieur, also known as the Bordeaux Syndicate (not to be confused with Rhyme Syndicate). The entire region figured that since they can’t market against each other – they’d market alongside each other! “Planet Bordeaux” (online at http://www.planete-bordeaux.eu/) followed.
Thanks to Wangbickler and Balzac, I was able to procure a few of the Syndicate’s samples. After trying both reds and whites, I thought that this was a pretty worthy enterprise. Even though Planet Bordeaux is largely a way to move product, I believe that helping people expand their horizons is a good idea. Anyone who’s really interested in learning about wines owes it to themselves to form a decent idea of various regions’ styles and flavors. These AOC wines from Bordeaux give a nice window into those profiles, so these would all be good “starter” wines to help you develop a true sense of a) whether you even like these wines and b) whether you want to explore some more.
Reach DCP freelance writer Mike Rosenberg at email@example.com