Market Manoeuvres


Photo: JL Bernuy

Ok, so we’ve established in the previous blogs why Burgundy is quite special, but what’s happened to the market for these wines and why now? Well for a start the wine has improved and the best domaines and negoce have become very reliable. The international wine market has grown up and is keen to appreciate the subtlety and refinement of Burgundy. The internet has been a big player in spreading the word. Maybe the trophy hunters bored of glossy Cab-Sav and Merlot blends (as no doubt they will of Burgundy in time) and cast around for something different. The fashion pack followed in their wake and, well, there is simply not enough to go round.

Tastes have evolved… people who cut their teeth on the rich, oaky sunshine wines of the new world in the Nineties looked for different tastes and experiences as the years passed and their pockets deepened… mind you, top end Burgundy has never been cheap.

Many new world favourites weigh in at well over 14 degrees of alcohol, some old vine Californian Zinfandels at a staggering 18%, which is frankly a bit rich and heavy, while Burgundy is a much trimmer 12.5 to 13.5% and neatly fits the bill for a lighter, healthier lifestyle.

The global taste for lashings of creamy new oak has also changed. There has always been a ready market in the UK for the restrained taste of Burgundy. Past generations have supped their un-flashy Burgundy, bought blissfully from their favourite merchant year after year (much of it not very good), happy that the world’s attention was focused on the New World wines and the headline grabbing Bordeaux market. It was not to last.

The American market for example, which lapped up rich oaky ‘Parkerised’ Bordeaux, turned their attention to the more delicate palate of Burgundy in the late Eighties and Nineties. The Japanese tip-toed into the high end of the game at about the same time. The market really heated up in Japan when Burgundy featured in ‘Drops of Gold,’ a cult comic in 2005. Prices shifted up a gear with the excellent 2005 vintage and incrementally over the lesser vintages which followed, as the enthusiasm spread like wild-fire through Asia. And then the delicious 2009 and 2010 vintages burst onto the scene. Oh yes – they met with a rapturous reception globally and prices… well, with the small vintages which followed, they became rather more serious.

The fuss in Burgundy caught the eye of China – it had to happen. Burgundy had already made inroads via the English ex-pat market in Hong Kong (as English merchants extended their empires from St James’s) and the smart negociants, Maison Chanson Père et Fils among them, were out in the field courting this relatively untapped market from Hong Kong to Shanghai. And why not? Burgundy with Chinese cuisine is a marriage made in vinous heaven – not just with whites either, red Burgundy is fab with fish… and, with fewer tannins, Pinot Noir sits better with spices than the likes of Cab-Sav or Merlot.

Bordeaux has long entranced the wealthy Asian market with its prestigious image. Top classed growths had been bang on the money (the pricier the better) to create a big impression. But Burgundy may have the edge here too.. How’s that? Go to my website The Burgundy Briefing to find out.

Gilles de Courcel, Director General of Chanson Père et Fils speaks about the market for Burgundy in Japan and China