Guest opinion: Bordeaux Shiraz & Chardonnay? Lessons from Montalcino.

Contributor Hervé Lalau is the Secretary General of the Fédération Internationale des Journalistes et Ecrivains du Vin.

“Bordeaux wines are blend-wines. We wish to test new varietals to know if they can enhance the complexity of our wines.” Thus speaks Florian Reyne, from the Syndicat des Vins de Bordeaux (Bordeaux Wines Union). And the Syndicat has just officially asked the INAO (the French appellation system governing body) that three new whites varietals be tested (Chardonnay, Petir Manseng and Lilioriola), as well as four red ones (Syrah, Marselan, Arinanoa and… Zinfandel). Plus Chenin, for the sparkling wines.

If the regional and national committees of INAO give the green light, then four estates will vinify each new variety (150 hectolitres minimum) for 5 years. Then, if the tests are satisfactory, the use of the new grapes will be permitted in the Bordeaux regulations.

What surprises me is not so much that the French now act like real Australians and use customer-driven marketing instead of offer-driven marketing. These are hard times, you know, and grapes and tastes are easier to market than terroirs. No, what surprises me if that this move comes from the Bordeaux appellation people, and not from the new IGT’s (the new denominations with softer rules, according to the new EU regulations which will come into force in August). Also, it is somewhat pathetic to hear a spokesman of what used to pass as the wine Mecca speaking of «enhancing Bordeaux’s complexity». Does it lack complexity so much that even Bordeaux people confess it?

Another remark: why should one test anything? Is there any doubt about the adaptability of Shiraz and Chardonnay to the Bordeaux climate, when these two grapes have conquered the 5 continents of wine? To me, it rather looks like hypocrisy: “let us do it slowly, so that it can be accepted more easily.” True, back in the 1920’s, some Bordeaux estates used to add syrah from the Rhône in the bad years. And I would not bet my life that some are not still doing it today. There will always be frauds. This is no reason to change the rules for those who make superb wines, true to their terroir, with the grapes they are allowed—in this matter, I cannot but think of the Brunello situation.

Watch out! This could be like Pandora’s box. If the INAO accepts these new grapes in Bordeaux, then how could it refuse Cabernet in Burgundy, Sauvignon in Châteauneuf and Sémillon in Sancerre? And what difference will there be, then, between the famous historical terroirs (historical in the sense that it took decades or even centuries to adapt grapes to the environment, and know where they fitted best) and the modern vineyards of the New World?

Hervé Lalau
Deputy Editor in Chief
In Vino Veritas (Belgium)

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One thought on “Guest opinion: Bordeaux Shiraz & Chardonnay? Lessons from Montalcino.

  1. Pingback: STEVE HEIMOFF| WINE BLOG » Blog Archive » Bordeaux to explore non-Bordeaux varieties? Could happen as soon as this month

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