Confronted with someone wearing well the wisdom of a Jedi master, it might have been easy to say to Clive Coates, Master of Wine and all wines French, “Help me, Obi-Wine Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” I didn’t, though, as Coates was holding court at Saglimbeni Fine Wines last Saturday
Instead, I girded my loins and asked this question: “What would you say to a person wanting to begin an exploration of the wines of Bordeaux (one of his areas of expertise, along with Burgundy) but not having the budget to simply buy the big guns?” “There are thousands of petits chateaux out there,” he replied, “and it would be foolish to mention two or three. But as there are few bad [French] wines these days, I suggest you go into a [reputable] shop and simply ask ‘My budget is ‘x’, what do you recommend?’—and if they don’t know their stock, then that’s their own bloody fault,” he admonished. Find somebody who does, being the corollary. “Then buy two or three in the same category, take them home, compare.”Decide which you like best.
Now, go back and to said shop and ask this question: “I liked ‘y’; what do you have that’s similar?” It might help to know that 2005 and 2006 are considered especially good vintages in Bordeaux—though the vintage thing is taking on less importance these days with improved (let’s hope not tricked-out) winemaking. 2007, he said, is also good but lighter. All, though, should be ready for drinking—remembering that we’re not talking the Cheval Blancs here. “With hundreds of years of winemaking [under their belts], the French have got it right by now,” he added.
Though it may be harder to find wines priced at an introductory level (okay, cheap) in, say, Burgundy or the vaunted valleys of reisling, the same advice holds for wines in any region: buy, try, try again.“When I was a student, cheap wines were so disgusting that I drank beer,” admits Coates. Didn’t we all. But nowadays there’s much more –and much better--wine to choose from. As a parting shot, I asked Coates if all this improved winemaking wasn’t leveling out the interesting peaks and valleys of wine in favor of an international style. “Not at all,” he said,” there’s just more to choose from.” So get out there and start selecting. The Current will continue to help with suggestions.