HERE IS A MODEST PROPOSAL for dealing with the current wine market: Stop drinking bordeaux. Or, more to the point, stop buying classed growths and other overpriced wine from that region until some semblance of sanity returns to the price manipulators. That may be a long time in coming. Great and mediocre chateaux have in recent years prospered magnificently by the coincidence of a strong dollar and good vintages. The much-heralded '82 vintage was abundant, but even with prices adjusted skyward to fit the reviews, the ch.ateaux claimed they were barely able to make ends meet. Then the '83 vintage came along, neither so good nor so copious as the '82, but prices went up proportionately anyway.
The '84 vintage was generally a disaster, in quality as well as quantity,
but that has not affected prices.
Meanwhile the dollar declines,
widening the gap between reality
and what has come to resemble divine right. Some negotiants and
proprietors seem to think they deserve preposterous amounts of
money for simply introducing wine.
If you have some older bordeaux in your cellar, by all means enjoy them. If you have '78s, '79s, '81s, '82s and even some '83s, so much the better. Sit on them for a few years and then drink up, starting with the '79s, or trade in the lot for a new BMW, but don't buy any more for a while. In terms of value for your money, the time has come to say bye-bye, Beychevelle, so long S,egur and, if you didn't say it a long time ago, adios Ausone.
Bordeaux is not alone in exploiting international exchange and good press. It just happens to be the best and most obvious example of an unfortunate trend for Americans. The time for extraordinarily cheap foreign wine has come to an end. There are still good buys available, but not the coups that were possible even six months ago. Burgundy has been ridiculously overvalued for years, but then Burgundy's production is much smaller than Bordeaux's, and people determined to drink burgundy -- known either as devotees or masochists, depending upon your point of view -- are accustomed to big financial risks for classic bouquets. The risks are even bigger now.
Champagne as well has grown dearer and scarcer. For a couple of years there the average consumer could savor the true mousse (the "head" on a glass of champagne) more than once a year, but now champagne has gone back into the vault. Even the wines of Rioja, in northern Spain, as great in substance as they were unassuming in price, are no longer inexpensive.
There is one possible blessing in all this -- for the domestic winery. For years California winemakers have been complaining about cheap competition and have gone so far as to suggest that it was un-American to drink "foreign" chardonnay. Well, now they can help consumers be both patriotic and solvent by keeping prices down. Volume of sales would strongly rebound in their favor, contributing to their solvency as well, and to the long-sought appreciation of American wine by Americans. Or they can try to get bordeaux prices for California cabernet and drive a lot of people back to bourbon.