Rob Moshein - Austin Wine Guy
I'm sorry Mr. Asimov, Bordeaux deserves a Pour...
May 20, 2010
In the May 19, 2010 New York Times, Eric Asimov, a columnist with whom I very often concur and who I respect, wrote in his "The Pour" column, that Bordeaux is now "largely irrelevant" in the United States,
I concur whole heartedly with his statement "The more troubling sign for Bordeaux is that it has largely lost the loyalty of people like sommeliers and neighborhood wine shop proprietors, who can help build an audience for wines". This statement is the crux and truth of the matter.
Where Yr Mst Hmble & Obdt Srvt here begs to differ is the rest of the piece and the general tone.
He quotes Paul Grieco of New York City, who owns several "innovative" (Mr. Asimov's term) Wine Bars and mentors young sommeliers "“If even one person came in and said, ‘I want a glass of Bordeaux,’ I might think I really have to serve a Bordeaux. But not one person has said that. Not one! That’s pretty sad.”
No, Mr. Grieco, what is "sad" is the fact that you don't care enough to encourage your customers to consider Bordeaux. For grins I downloaded the wine list from his Wine Bar "Terroir" ( huge pdf file, full of graphics trying ever so hard to be ever so "hip", think a grunge-chic cross between SNL and Tracy Ullman) I wonder how many of his customers come in asking for the Grüner Veltliner, Scheurebe, Godello, or Mondeuse, all of which are on his wine list, at prices no less than $10 and up to $20 per 6oz GLASS. He even has the audacity to charge 30% more for some wines after 6pm.
Lord, this man does not speak for much of the United States outside of area code 212. It makes one wonder whether Mr. Asimov travels in the US outside of Manhattan. Clearly Mr. Grieco doesn't.
I trotted over mere hours after reading these words to East End Wines, the newest, youngest most "Wine Guy" wine shop in Austin. Now, for you non-Lone Star folks, Austin is not like the rest of Texas. We are a much younger, hipper, independent, sophisticated city than Dallas, Houston or San Antonio. Our per capita wine consumption is five times higher than that of the other Texas markets, and we spend twice as much per capita for our wine as well. Think of Austin as a landlocked Venice Beach or South Beach, without the Beach or the great weather…anyway, I digress.
I just had to chat with Matt and Sam, thirty-something proprietors and bad ass palates of E.E.W. They personify the demographic of which Mr. Asimov writes. They read the piece, and immediately disagreed with Mr. Asimov and agreed with me. The problem isn't Bordeaux, the problem is a perceived anti-Bordeaux prejudice. Their shelves had fifteen BDX wines, a dozen reds and three whites, which represents 5% of their SKUs, or five times the ratio of consumption in the US. The problem, they agree, is that younger sommeliers are too lazy about Bordeaux. "You have to do your homework, taste the wines and carefully choose the wines and vintages…but you can easily find a lot of good Bordeaux at reasonable prices" said Sam Hoveland. Matt Miller agreed, adding "you just have to find that right customer who doesn't yet know they like Bordeaux, and they're out there, and turn them on to it."
Let us move on, gentle reader. "For many younger sommeliers and wine lovers, the new standard of excellence is Burgundy." says Mr. Asimov. Ok, all of you regular gentle readers know full well my love and appreciation for all things Burgundy. However, virtually all things Burgundy come at a huge cost. There are virtually no Red Burgs available in the United States worth even considering in quality for under $15-20. Frankly 99% start in the low $20's and go up rapidly. There are a small handful of White Burgs under $15, but not many. Frankly, one can't buy genuinely good Burgundy for less than $35 per bottle.
Clearly Mr. Asimov seems to blame Bordeaux for the problem as well. For example: "Good Bordeaux might start at $35 to $50 retail, and $85 to $100 in a restaurant, and soar from there — far more than, say, reds from the Loire, Beaujolais or Alto Adige, darlings of the sommeliers and neighborhood wine shops." Im sorry Mr. Asimov, but that statement is, as we say here in Texas, "a whole Mess of Wrong, Yeah Buddy…" Bordeaux, has literally dozens and dozens of choices under $20. Just go to enjoybordeaux.com and see for yourself. In fact, while at East End Wines, I was going to challenge this statement head on. After looking at their selection, not one of which was more than $50, and most of which was under $30, I asked the guys to give me a Bordeaux for no more than $15. I wanted to make certain the price point was affordable for anyone's budget. A minute of discussion, and they both zoomed in on Chateau Larroque, 2006, just a plain Bordeaux aoc, nothing more. With tax it was just $15 and change.
A lovely wine. Nice dark cherry tones on the nose. The palate was more clean dark cherry fruits and a hint of cocoa and tannin. The acids were soft and pleasant. The mouth feel was nice, not heavy or dense, nothing at all chewy. It was a very clean, medium body drink. After about an hour open, it had relaxed some and gained complexity of layers of flavor but stayed light and clean. At 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, it probably came from the right bank. I enjoyed it very much and it paired nicely with chicken braised in tomato sauce served with pasta.
I have to say, it was much better in quality than anything comparable I have had at $15 from Australia or Northern California in the last year. I couldn't hope to find a bottle of red Burgundy at that price which will be even half as good.
Now, at this point, I must disclose my affiliation with the CIVB, the Bordeaux Wine Council, as one of the "Le Wine Buffs" for their program called "Today's Bordeaux" which is trying very hard to correct the market perception of Bordeaux. They do want to regain the loyalty of people like sommeliers and neighborhood wine shop proprietors who can help build up an audience. Yes, I am compensated for my work with them, but honestly the compensation is truly a minimal token amount. I'm truly not doing it for the money, none of us are. I'm doing it because I am the last of the generations of wine lovers and drinkers who knew Bordeaux in its heyday. I"ve had that "aha" moment with Bordeaux; '59 Lafite (the finest memory of a deceased friend Gene who opened it for me at dinner at his house), the '82 Lafite and Lynch Bages, all just to name a few. Im doing this because I believe that Bordeaux deserves a place in the market as befits its quality, price and, frankly contribution to Wine in general. We would not have Napa Valley Cabernet or Merlot without Bordeaux. "Meritage" was coined to reflect the "Merit of the Bordeaux Heritage". Bordeaux has a place in my glass and should in yours as well.
I close gentle reader, with the last line of Mr. Asimov's piece: "“I’m a fan (of Bordeaux) and I’m not afraid to say it,” Ms. Chang said. “Who would not be excited to have a glass of Château Pétrus, if you’re not footing the bill?”
Snotty tone Mr. Asimov. One which does no service to you or to Bordeaux. Allow me to change one term and you will see my point.
“I’m a fan and I’m not afraid to say it,” “Who would not be excited to have a glass of Romanée-Conti, if you’re not footing the bill?”
Austin Wine Guy
UPDATE: June 4, 2010. Paul Grieco tweeted the annoucement that Terroir Tribeca was now serving a Bordeaux by the glass!