Wall Street Journal wine columnist Echikson explores the return of quality to Bordeaux over the past 20 years, as well as the economic flat-lining that will put a check on the recovery.
Although his satisfying portrait of the Bordeaux wine industry in the late 20th century concentrates on a few producers, brokers, and merchants, it nonetheless provides an overview of what is happening in the region as a whole. What looked like “another painful lesson in globalization, the latest chapter in France’s ongoing and mostly losing struggle to balance its artisan traditions with the unyielding demands of the marketplace,” produced an interesting twist. A good number of producers decided to cut back on quantity, no longer making “the vine piss wine” and taking a more severe approach to the selection of grapes. This was most evident in the work of the garagistes, whose social battles with the mandarins are chronicled in sprightly fashion by Echikson, as is the whole depressing ballyhoo at Chateau d’Yquem. The author considers Robert Parker’s impact on the area-wide move toward a denser wine, which infuriates many of the 10,000 producers who understand the existential mandate of terroir to be the delivery of variety, not homogenization. He brings his background in economics smartly to bear on challenges to bureaucratic regulation, the rise of cooperatives, and the overpricing of bottles (particularly those that get the Parker nod); when the stock market tanked, Echikson notes, so did the Bordeaux bubble. The most original materials here are the close portraits, in broad cross-section, of a few Bordeaux winemakers, including the profoundly artisanal garagiste Michel Gracia, arriviste Yves Vatelot at Chateau Lascombes, and Chateau d’Yquem’s difficult feudal paternalist, Count Alexandre de Lur-Saluces. Echikson's sleeve across the pedigreed windpipe of undeserving premier crus is a welcome reminder to seek quality, not fancy names.
An entertaining introduction to Bordeaux, though little of it is new. (23 illustrations, 1 map)