First of all, apologies for the slow pace of posts lately. It’s been really busy at STBNY HQ, in part because of some exciting news that I’ll be sharing with you guys soon. In the meantime, thanks for bearing with me.
OK, on to business. A few weeks ago I got an offer via Twitter (I’m @spinthebottleny, if you’re so inclined) for free samples of Bordeaux from the region’s trade promotion council. I’m still new enough to this game to be thrilled by an offer of free wine, so I signed up. And as a PR/communications professional by day, I was curious to see how Bordeaux is marketing itself these days. Believe it or not, these guys are actually in a lot of trouble. Once you get beyond the famous names that sell for stratospheric prices — Lafite-Rothschild, Château Margaux, Château d’Yquem — there’s a lot of undistinguished plonk coming out of Bordeaux and many small producers are totally unequipped to compete in the global wine marketplace. (Michael Steinberger goes into great detail on this in his book on the demise of French cuisine, Au Revoir to All That.) Wine is poetry, wine is transcendent…but wine is also a business, and a hard one at that, filled with people who struggle to make a decent living.
That’s why I died a little inside when I tore into the “Life Goes Better with Bordeaux” FedEx package they sent me. Not to look gift wine in the mouth, but I was beyond bummed to see the marketing materials they had enclosed. First there was a dial indicating what type of Bordeaux you should drink based on your other wine preferences, pictured above. Eg, if you like Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, you have to try white Bordeaux Supérieur (Sauvignon Blanc is the primary component of dry white Bordeaux). The whole thing had a chintzy Designer Imposters “if you like Giorgio, you’ll love…” feel to it. Plus there’s something a little desperate about offering up Bordeaux, the historical nexus of the wine universe, as playing second fiddle to the rest of the world’s wine regions. Then there were the food matching notes. The overall message of this campaign is clearly to make Bordeaux more accessible. But with pairings like Glazed Grilled Duck Breast for the Larose-Trintaudon and Maccheroncini with Lobster & Cauliflower Sauce for the Clarendelle, they totally missed the mark. I don’t know many people who cook like that regularly, and the ones who do already know plenty about Bordeaux. What’s wrong with steak for the red? Or a lobster roll for the white? Both would be fine matches. The final tragic piece of the puzzle was a huge, slightly psychadelic poster that follows that same aesthetic of the promotion campaign’s Web site.
Still not sure what I’m supposed to do with it. Hang it above my bed? I don’t see how any of this is supposed to revive the mid-priced segment of the Bordeaux wine industry.
The white wine they sent, the 2006 Clarendelle, is a blend of 44% Sauvignon Blanc, 46% Sémillon, and 10% Muscadelle. The nose was interesting enough, with herbal, citrus rind, toasted almond and Golden Delicious apple aromas. I’m not in love with oaked Sauvignon Blanc — to me, treating this fresh and sprightly variety with heavy oak is like drowning a beautiful piece of grilled fish in a heavy cream sauce — and I ran into some of that problem here. The wine is fine, although it occupies an uncomfortable place: somewhere in the gray area between fresh, bright, aromatic (unoaked Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Grüner Veltiner) and round and unctuous wines (Chardonnay, Viognier). You can see why this wine would be hard to market. With a suggested retail price of $19.95, I don’t see it as a great value, either. (To be fair, I saw it online for as little as $14.99, which sounds more like it.)
The 2004 Larose-Trintaudon, while still pretty basic, offers a little glimpse of what can make Bordeaux great. A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot, and aged entirely in French (of course) oak, it has that lovely gentlemen’s club library smell of cedar, spice, leather and pleasant mustiness that makes me feel like I’m paging through a fragile old book. All the more ironic that I spilled it on my laptop:
There’s fruit here, too — blackberries and a little raspberry — as well as some dark chocolate. Suggested retail is $17.99 but I saw it online for as little as $10.99. For $11, you could a lot worse–but for $18, you could do much, much better.