Can Bordeaux and Burgundy Remain Benchmarks?

lafite rothschild estateIn the wine world today, despite the emergence of quality wine across the globe, Bordeaux and Burgundy remain benchmarks of quality. The finely honed matches between soil, climate, and varietal in the Grand Crus vineyards and estates of Bordeaux and Burgundy have developed over several centuries and their flavor signature is unique—no other region in the world produces wines quite like these. This distinctiveness and their reputation for quality set the parameters for how we judge the aesthetic quality of wine and the intersubjective norms that give structure to the various competencies we use in wine evaluation.

But can they remain benchmarks if their wine is so inaccessible? The problem is that for most wine lovers, including highly qualified experts, the status of these wines as benchmarks is reputational rather than experiential. They are so inordinately expensive that few can actually experience them, or can manage to secure only a small tasting pour on exceedingly rare occasions. (Barrel samples are not the equivalent of tasting finished wines ready to drink.)

Cult wines from Napa pose a similar dilemma.

It is fundamentally misguided for an aesthetic community to deploy standards that are inaccessible to most people in the community; it is equally misguided to depend on reputation rather than experience to judge quality.

There is plenty of great wine being made elsewhere. It’s time we re-evaluate the position of Bordeaux and Burgundy until they make their wine more accessible.

Consider an analogy with the art world. The best paintings in the world are inordinately expensive and some works by the old masters are priceless. Yet, art lovers have access to the original because most are housed in publicly accessible museums, and reasonably accurate facsimiles exist in various media. Almost every large city has an art museum with at least some works by top artists. Art students and others in the art world can routinely experience and be inspired by works of  Van Gogh, Cezanne, or Rembrandt.

Wine, of course, is more ephemeral than paintings with a life span measured at best in decades.  In wine, we will have to be satisfied with reasonably contemporary versions of the “old masters.” And, more importantly, the supply of any particular wine is strictly limited. So the nature of wine poses unique challenges with regard to the issue of availability. But there is not enough real concern about this state affairs and no obvious solution. Yet, if Bordeaux and Burgundy are to remain benchmarks this situation must change. There is a lot of quality wine made throughout the world; the competition will catch up with them eventually.

One story from last week documents a baby step towards realizing there is a problem.

Châteaux Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, both owned by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, are going to open a visitor center.

While such a venture might seem fairly standard fare for most wine properties around the world, in Bordeaux, and at a first growth, the concept is nothing short of groundbreaking.

That this is considered groundbreaking is indicative of how out of touch Bordeaux is. A visitor center doesn’t fix the problem but it indicates that some in Bordeaux see the need for change.


  1. So, I came to your site for this article. First time here. I like your blog. Fascinating headlines. I would think we coudl tighten the arguments a little. >>As they swirled, sniffed, sipped, and spat, some judges were instantly able to separate an imported upstart from an aristocrat. More often, the panel was confused. “Ah, back to France!” exclaimed Oliver after sipping a 1972 Chardonnay from the Napa Valley. “That is definitely California. It has no nose,” said another judge—after downing a Batard Montrachet ’73.<>flavor signature is unique—no other region in the world produces wines quite like these<< Evidence to the contrary abound. See fake Falernian wine sales of ancient Rome. To your large premise. Again, there's plenty of accessible well priced Bordeaux and Burgundy on the market. However, if your point was to make some sort of reference to the LIVEX Top 100….or auction sales of fine wine in general – that would go a long way in making sense of the point of your premise. I'm at a loss how a wine center has anything to do with the perceived quality of Grand Crus and the classed states of the left bank of the Medoc. France is a benchmark because wine is an integral part of their lore and their culture. When people think of South Africa wine doesn't jump out at them. Does SA have fantastic wines that rival the world's best? Hell, yes. But this fact doesn't put the reputation and prestige of France in jeopardy for a single second. There's a story to be found here I was hoping we could ponder together…..I'm just not sure you found it.

  2. Thank you for your comment. The benchmarks of quality I’m referring to are the 1st growth vineyards, not “accessible, well priced Bordeaux and Burgundy.” My point is not that Bordeaux and Burgundy lack distinctiveness. It is that the highest quality wines–the benchmarks–are inaccessible. And I don’t know what you mean by “wine center.”

  3. Wine Center = Visitor center. Now you seem to be saying 1st growth – so, Haut Brion, Lafite Rothchild, Margaux, Latour, and Mouton + the 33 GC. The headline is a little misleading but ok. However, I suppose what is needed was to define what it means to be “inaccessible” as a variable. Putting aside for the moment the list of 37 vineyard sites. Does inaccessible mean any wine over $30? Over $100?. I can buy plenty En primeur wine sub $100….and not just a few labels. You can buy Chablis GC sub for $100. Go to TWM concierge and click on 2019 Bordeaux futures should you be curious – The quote was from 1976 “Judgement in Paris”. Somehow, the reference got cut off in posting. If in 1976 these world-renowned folks could taste the distinctiveness not sure the quality as referenced by the taste of Terrior is the factor that makes them legendary. This is all about reputation which is your point. I guess I see sub $100 wines more accessible than inaccessible Yes, quantity available for purchase can be an issue. I suppose if you live in Utah (by example) the 3 tier system can be an issue. But as far as the LIVEX 100 is concerned – these benchmarks aren’t going anywhere. Again, I’m not ignoring the astronomical prices you point to as problematic. But is the reputation of Bordeaux limited to these 5 estates? The 33 sites of Bourgogne? I guess like a basketball team if you only know the starting 5 is that where their reputation of greatness ends?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.