Costly Thy Bordeaux as Thy Purse Can Buy

I casually turned over the bottle in my hand. The most storied chateau in France, Mouton Rothschild. The most storied year in French wine history, 1945. This indeed was a bottle above all other bottles. Just imagine it, over 50 years old, this wine was vinted during the Nazi occupation of Bordeaux and France. I was holding history, liquid history.

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And I turned the bottle over and saw…$13,000.

Yes, thirteen thousand dollars. One bottle. I came very close to owning a pair of those brown pants that the French Army wears, if you follow my meaning.

Serious coin. Mucho dinero. Beau coup bucks. And one of the reasons so many folks are scared away from trying Bordeaux wines. So what is the story about the price of Bordeaux?

Yes, there are first growths from top vintages that command huge prices. You can buy these and cellar them and drink them. And often they will be scrumptious. The 2006 vintage is just selling right now but only as Bordeaux “futures”. That’s right, you can buy expensive wine right now that you won’t even see for another year. There are also many “everyday” wines from Bordeaux that don’t cost a lot, don’t need much cellar time, and you can drink them too. You can have them right now today this very minute and some of them are scrumptious, too.

So how do you know if an inexpensive Bordeaux is going to be good to drink? For that matter, how do you know if a 25 year old bottle is going to hold up? The answer in both cases is, you really don’t. So price alone is not the entire answer.

The price of Bordeaux wines is influenced by many factors, including that all elusive “market forces”. If there’s not much of something and a lot of people want it, then Economics 101 takes over. The price goes up. When you purchase French wines in the United States that also means that the euro to the dollar exchange rate affects things as well. Bad weather years in Bordeaux usually mean the prices will be lower, but not across the board. Good weather means high quality fruit and the wineries are going to produce good stuff all around and prices can go anywhere. 2003 and 2005 were generally high priced vintages because the harvest was so good. In contrast, 2004 prices were a lot lower. In short, there is no simple answer about the price of Bordeaux.

The most I’ve ever spent on a Bordeaux was $315 and, yes, it damn near killed me. It’s still in my cellar and now the problem is, upon what occasion do I uncork it? A lot more often, I pop for forty or fifty bucks and get something that is damn near exquisite. And even more often, I drop $10-15 and have a perfectly drinkable, everyday wine.

Let’s assume you’re a wine moron. Without a lot of excess cash. But a deep thirst for Bordeaux. Here’s what I do. Find the wine shop that has a lot of Bordeaux on hand or has someone with expertise in Bordeaux wines. Make friends with that person. Ask for advice. Be honest about how much you can spend. Buy what you can afford. And, most importantly, try different wines. Forget all the crap about impressing women with expensive bottles. Just get a bottle, have some food ready, and drink it, for crying out loud!

In the never ending quest to bring culture and decency to our fair readers, I offer this final thought (with apologies to William Shakespeare):

“Give every wine thy palate, but few thy voice;
Take each bottle’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy Bordeaux as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the beverage oft proclaims the man.”
 
 
 
For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.