Notes from 2009 Terroirs et Signatures de Bourgogne Tasting

To characterize the mood as sober would be slightly inappropriate, yet the peculiar listlessness during the second leg of the Terroirs et Signatures de Bourgogne trade tasting seemed only partially due to the late April showers and the evident jet lag that plagued several of the winemakers.

The new year hasn’t afforded much optimism for the wine industry – aligning in trend with other luxury markets, art, retail and real estate – while predicting a longer timeline for rectification. Late last month importers and investors where in Bordeaux for the campagne primeur, sampling the wines of the 2008 vintage, and negotiating the prices of en primeur, or wine futures.

However, the usual participants, those who extravagantly ran up wine futures in the decadent ‘80’s – hint: two parts, the first part containing “Wal”, but certainly not Wal-Mart – were noticeably absent this year, wearing their Ferragamo belts two notches tighter these days, their purchasing power stifled by the lagging economy.

The atrophy of demand and objections to honor astronomical prices – a case (12-bottles) of Château-Lafite Rothschild, a first-growth Bordeaux, went for £2,800 on the futures market in 2007 (this was down from a titanic year in 2005 when a case went for £4,000) – has left winemakers, merchants and farmers reason for critical concern. Prices need to come down if their market is to survive. But it hasn’t, at least not yet, especially for Bordeaux and Burgundy, the king and queen of the wine world.

If value is conditional on quality, the logic would be for price to maintain proportionality to the integrity of the product, but those wheels fell off decades ago. While we can debate quality from vintage to vintage there seems to be no arguing the inflating price tag.

In New York City, wine directors and sommeliers have been cribbing notes from David Copperfield, trying to make product disappear. Two-for-ones, half-priced, reduced priced, 15%, 20%, 25% discounts. One establishment has even opened up to the conditions of a Lower East Side flea market allowing diners to haggle with the sommelier on wine purchases.

This anxiety to sell wine, present in both the restaurant and retail industry, would perceptibly commandeer an alteration in business strategy on behalf of Bordeaux and Burgundy winemakers, but in reality there has been only a fragmental budge, seemingly a consolation offering as opposed to an economic overhaul.

In the meantime, casual drinkers and value conscious wine aficionados can take advantage of crumbling prices on the lower end of the market, particularly from burgeoning venues such as Argentina, Bierzo (Sp.), Mercurey (Burgundy, Fr), and Austria and sample reasonably priced wines form a series of new bio conscious winemakers.

Note: to the bottle of 1962 Chateau Cheval Blanc resting quietly in the basement of the 21 Club, I’m still waiting patiently on my Wal-Mart stocks to spike.

~R.K. Gella

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