- Bordeaux was traditionally a conservative region that did not embrace changes in packaging – or varietal labelling
- Now a range of producers, from small estates, to owners of Crus Classé and cooperatives are all breaking away from tradition
- Burgundy bottles are being introduced
- Single varietal wines from grapes such as Malbec, Petit Verdot and Muscadelle are being released
- These wines command higher prices than traditional examples
- They appeal to French consumers as well as ones in export markets
Everyone with even a passing knowledge of wine can recognise Bordeaux. It comes in a square-shouldered bottle, usually sealed with a cork. Unless it’s a – usually moderately-priced – Sauvignon Blanc there will be no grape variety on the label because, as everyone had been taught, Bordeaux is almost always a blend. Labels tend to be fairly conservative.
At least that’s the way things used to be.
But now, as visitors to Vinexpo Wine Paris discovered, everything is changing.
Among the sideline projects that are clearly exciting him are Diane de Jacques Lurton whose packaging is decidedly non-Bordeaux in style. There’s a pure Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, but there’s also a varietal Muscadelle and a Semillon – both real rarities. All of these come in a Burgundy bottle. The region – Entre Deux Mers for the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, and Bordeaux for the red, is absent from the front label – unlike the information that the Cabernet has been produced with no additional SO2. Another innovation in the Diane range is the sparkling Blanc de Noirs, made using the Méthode Traditionelle, from Cabernet Sauvignon. Unlike most of its siblings, this wine is not described anywhere as being a Bordeaux because it falls outside the appellation rules. All of these retail from the chateau for around €13 ($14.75).
Another innovation, the Tracé Carmenére is a little pricier, at €36.50 ($41.50), but this seems moderate, given its total production of 700 bottles. Made from a pure example of an old Bordeaux grape grown in a tiny patch of vines at Chateau Cruzeau in Pessac-Léognan, it is deliciously stony, peppery wine that is totally delicious and quite unrecognisable as Bordeaux.
Argentine Grapes Returning to Bordeaux
Goodbye to Vintages?
Olivier Cazenave of Château de Bel is another producer applying a radically different attitude. With eight hectares of biodynamically-farmed vines in Pomerol, St Emilion and Montagne St Emilion and bought-in grapes, Cazenave has created a stir with his Franc de Bel, a Cabernet Franc produced using a solera system involving seven vintages, and Blanc de Bel, a dry multi-vintage Muscadelle that is listed by top restaurants such as the Tour d’Argent in Paris. Both are proudly described by Cazenave as ‘atypique’ – atypical – packaged in bottles that are reminiscent of new wave Provence rosé, and priced at €19 ($21.50).
Then there’s Christophe Rebillou who took what had been a 40ha estate selling grapes to the local cooperative and transformed it into a 70ha estate called Chibaou that not only has Malbecs and Merlots in Burgundy bottles with names like Surnaturel, but also a range of cans and even a pair of craft ales. The wines are good and the open-minded enthusiasm behind them far more what one would expect in the US – where Rebillou spent two years – than in this corner of France. When he couldn’t find a local way to can small runs of his wine, for example, he happily turned to a Spanish business that simply crossed the frontier with its mobile-packaging truck.
Even the Cooperatives…
Finally, at Chateau les Vergnes, the 130ha estate that was bought by the giant Univitis cooperative in 1986, there is a newly-launched range of four organic, varietal ‘Wild Selection’ wines: a Cabernet
Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. All of these are priced at around €10 ($11.40), compared to the €7.50 ($8.50) one would pay for the same property’s classic Bordeaux Rouge.
The pricing of these iconoclastic wines is as relevant as the styles, branding and packaging. Until now, it has never been easy for a producer of a Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superieur to charge more than the price of a similar wine from one of possibly thousands of other producers in the same appellation.
The new approach allows those producers to transcend their appellations and to stand alongside premium-price varietal wines from other regions in France and elsewhere.
Traditionalists may imagine that this iconoclasm is explained by a desire to grow export sales, but both Rebillou and Lurton note that a new generation of French wine drinkers is looking for something new too. And the combination of often organic viticulture and unconventional, memorable packaging may be just what they need.
But anyone with a passing knowledge of Bordeaux may find it all rather confusing.