|Josh Greene enjoying the rooftop Wine & Spirits Top 100 tasting in San Francisco|
"Bordeaux gets plenty of attention in other places," says Wine & Spirits editor Josh Greene.
True, but it's a bold stance. For most drinkers over the age of 35, Bordeaux was considered the pinnacle of wine when we started.
Nowadays it's different. The Bordeaux first-growths have priced themselves beyond not only average drinkers, but enophiles. They are now investments rather than wines, and the crowd consuming them has changed. No serious wine lover can justify buying even a single bottle of Lafite-Rothschild when we know we can get cases of wines that are just as good for less money.
Wine & Spirits' problem, business wise, is that it alone, among the four major U.S. wine magazines, is for the serious wine lover. The money is in telling wealthy people which one's bigger, whether it's engines, diamonds or wines. There's no way Wine Spectator or the Wine Advocate would ever exclude Bordeaux from their top 100s, even if the wines didn't live up to the prices. It just ... isn't ... done.
Greene has a technical excuse. Wine & Spirits' Top 100 is supposedly wineries, not wines. "Bordeaux doesn't fit the model. You have to have three wines recommended," Greene said, although he acknowledged that some of the wineries included have only two wines over 90 points.
Most of the top Bordeaux houses make only two wines: a first and second label. But some have more. Chateau Haut-Brion, for example, makes four wines (btw, to enjoy the haughtiness of Bordeaux, try visiting Haut-Brion's website with your browser window at less than full size. You will be told, "Your browser is too small.")
However, Greene also said his Top 100 is done by region; in other words, only the top Burgundies, the top Chinon, the top Barossa Valley wines, will make the list. Pinot Noir is overrepresented and Italy is underrepresented, but overall this system leaves room for some great enophile wines that might be left out in a traditional top-score-from-anywhere system.
So it would be simple for Greene to declare that, say, Cheval Blanc is the best winery in Bordeaux in 2011, and include it, regardless of the number of wines. But he hasn't.
I asked Greene why not, and he said, "Bordeaux producers separate themselves from the rest of the world anyway. It's their choice to separate themselves."
What he means is that Bordeaux is sold and marketed through entirely different systems than elsewhere. For sales, there's a complicated system of negociants who prevent Bordeaux wineries from forming direct connections with merchants and consumers.
And for marketing, Bordeaux is the only region in the world with the cojones to dictate terms to the wine media.
Rather than send samples to magazines, or even put together a big group tasting, the top Bordeaux houses issue invitations to come to them, on their schedule (called "en primeur"), so you may taste a single barrel sample. Robert Parker has been bowing down to this system for years. So does Jancis Robinson; so does Wine Spectator.
Parker has reason to be grateful; he made his reputation with his enthusiasm for Bordeaux he tasted on these appointment-only sampling visits. But for the rest, I've always been a little surprised that they still bother to go. Ever since the Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976 proved that other wines could be better, Bordeaux is only as important as we make it. In fact, while Parker was a supplicant to Bordeaux 30 years ago, that relationship is now reversed, and the first-growths don't even price their wines until he pronounces a rating on them. Yet still he goes to them.
As you can tell, I'm not against Greene's stance; I'm just shocked by it. To not include a single Bordeaux winery in the world's Top 100 -- that's a statement.