Disciples de Bordeaux – Atlanta and Chateau Palmer

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Kulers Uncorked: Disciples of Bordeaux

By: Gil Kulers / ajc.com / March 7, 2013

If you describe the 2009 Bordeaux vintage as “da bomb!” (which it is, by the way), then you are probably older and less hip than you’d like to admit.

If you were to say the 2009s were “fly” (which my 12-year-old daughter, Erika, assures me is the current slang for “great”), there are some Bordeaux producers and enthusiasts who would like a moment of your time.

The grand and ancient wine-producing region of Bordeaux, France, is at a bit of a crossroads. Long considered the “it” red of the wine world, if you wanted to demonstrate your wine’s quality then you measured it against a fine Bordeaux. (Think the movie “Bottle Shock.”)

These days, numerous quality winemaking locations—regions such as Mendoza, Argentina, Marlborough, New Zealand, and various locations in California, Italy, Spain, just to name a few—vie for the attention of wine lovers. Unlike Bordeaux, however, wines of these regions are relatively easy to understand and to find as consumers, especially younger consumers, navigate the plethora of choices.

“Generally speaking, this is the problem we face not only in the U.S., but in all mature markets such as England, France and Japan,” says Thomas Duroux, CEO and winemaker for Château Palmer, one of Bordeaux’s top producers. In addition to challenges of a uniquely complex distribution system that can make specific wines difficult to find, Bordeaux is also viewed as my “dad’s wine region” (a.k.a., not hip) or too expensive for the younger wine drinkers on a budget.

But before I announce that Bordeaux’s best days are behind it, there is hope.

First, the 2009 vintage (the one you’re likely going to see the most of on your retailer’s shelves right now) is da bomb…er…totally fly. I’ve tasted easily 60 2009 Bordeaux wines in the past six months and would be hard pressed to offer up a scant handful that I would give the dreaded “thumbs down” grade. I find the 2009s full-bodied with measured, soft tannins and ripe fruit. Note to newbie wine drinkers: Now is the time to take the plunge into a wine region you’ve only heard about or have had limited experience with.

Second, a local initiative called the Disciples of Bordeaux squarely targets younger wine drinkers in Atlanta. “Our mission is to help educate the young wine drinker in Atlanta that Bordeaux wines are affordable, versatile and, quite honestly, the best wines in the world,” said Craig Maske, general manager and partner of Sherlock’s wine shops and a member of the Commanderie de Bordeaux, the premier worldwide Bordeaux enthusiasts’ organization and sponsor of the Disciples project.

In fact, it was a Disciples event that brought Palmer’s Duroux to Atlanta for a dinner at 103 West in February. When asked to participate by this fledgling organization created in 2012, Duroux was skeptical.

“Why would I want to give them any wine?” he asked facetiously during an interview following the dinner. “Is this for people who can’t afford to buy Château Palmer and never will?” In case you think that Duroux is just being a cheapskate, the winery ultimately donated about $18,000 (wholesale value) of wine to this event. Among the offerings were Château Palmers from the ’95, ’99 and ’04 vintages, wines that sell for well over $300 a bottle.

“Then I thought about it a little more and said some of them never had a chance to taste a wine like Château Palmer,” Duroux reflected. “It just may get them excited about Bordeaux. I now view it as a wonderful investment.”

Worldwide demand for Palmer is extremely high. The château’s future is not in question, at least not in the short term. Duroux, however, has reason to feel uneasy about long-term prospects.

“I see a lot of smaller Bordeaux wineries making great wine and having trouble selling them,” Duroux said. “[Château Palmer] is at the top of the pyramid, but if the bottom of the pyramid is a little shaky, we are all at risk.”

With the magnificent 2009 vintage and efforts by the Disciples to demystify it, Bordeaux stands a good chance of being discovered by yet another generation of wine lovers. To join the Disciples of Bordeaux, contact Maske at craig@sherlocks.com.