How To Expose Novice U.S. Drinkers To Bordeaux

Wine-lovers need no introduction to Bordeaux. But what about average Americans? What do they think about this historic, world-class region?

Especially Millennials. Is Bordeaux on their radar? Or does this generation much prefer the hipness of New World wines to the history of Old World?

These were questions on our mind while attending the annual Unions des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting this week at the Cipriani in Manhattan. Nearly 100 producers were on hand to pour their product. We spoke with a number about where they believe Bordeaux fits into the overall U.S. wine market. Here were five key takeaways:

1) Trust The Curiosity Of Millennials

A Millennial probably does not begin their journey into wine with Bordeaux. But chances are they’ll eventually find their way into France — and sooner than later. Millennials love to explore and experiment when drinking.

“We’re confident that they’ll come to us,” says Wilfrid Groizard, directeur commercial & marketing for Château Latour-Martillac. “And we don’t have to wait until they’re 50 to do so.”

“The very good news is that Millennials like to drink wine,” he continues. “When they first start drinking wine they’ll start with American. Then they’ll drink Argentina and Chile and the other New World styles. And eventually this will lead them to wonder how the Old World works.”

The history of the region becomes critical. “Bordeaux is still an Old World reference point for Millennials,” Groizard says. “They’ll know what that means.”

Still, it obviously helps to build up that reference point beforehand. Tasting Millennials on Bordeaux when they’re young is key. In a perfect world, Millennials would be well versed with the meaning of “Bordeaux” by the time they reach 30, Groizard says. That way, they would know where to look when they are ready to explore Old World wines.

2) Stress High Ratings

This is hardly breaking news, but when buying products Americans heavily consider reviews. “They tend to concentrate on the stars,” explains Christophe Labenne, manager of Cru Bourgeois Château Poujeaux, “rather than coming back to buy the same bottle, vintage after vintage.”

It’s particularly difficult for smaller labels like Château Poujeaux to build such loyal fan bases in America, he adds. So communicating the high ratings of these wines is important, whether on the label, or on the wine menu or on-shelf advertising. Give an average U.S. consumer proof that that wine got a good grade and they’re much more comfortable trying something outside of their comfort zone.

3) Explain The Quality Of Recent Vintages

Although Americans may not think much about vintages — most U.S. drinkers open wines as soon as they buy them, rather than laying them down to age — they do love to learn. And they love to buy something interesting and unique, something they can share and talk about among friends.

So Dany Rolland of The Rolland Collection believes there is opportunity for education-backed sales of the 2014, 2015 and 2016 vintages of Bordeaux. “These last three years have been very rich vintages,” she says. “I hope the American market can know that.”

The 2014 harvest was a “very strong vintage, expensive, but easy to drink like in ‘09,” Rolland says. “2015 was a very classic vintage, because we got more than 265 days of sunlight.”

The 2016 vintage was a “very difficult cycle with a bad spring,” but was saved by a hot summer.

Teach customers what makes these three vintages unique — knowledge they can then share with friends — and you’re one step closer to them understanding and buying Bordeaux.

4) Taste, Taste, Taste — And Educate

Tasting consumers on Bordeaux remains essential. Particularly for younger LDA customers.

Proper tastings are served with a healthy dose of education. Modern consumers are very curious about the production and history of what they’re drinking. Simultaneously appealing to their mind and palate is a strong strategy.

And this can also help clear up misconceptions some Americans have about Bordeaux. Like that the region is for reds only. “Most Americans do not associate whites with Bordeaux,” says Marie-Hélène Lévêque, owner of the Château de Chantegrive. “American consumers know about the red wines of Bordeaux and already like them, but whites are a little bit harder.

Lévêque said she wants Americans to know that Bordeaux whites are “versatile, you can drink them during all consumption times. They’re not very heavy wines. They’re very elegant and refined. They’re easy going down. I do think people will appreciate discovering them.”

5) Bordeaux Can Match American Tastes

Some Americans may think that Bordeaux represents foreign flavors that won’t appeal to their palate or price point. The producers at the tasting spoke to the contrary.

Rolland hopes American consumers know that “Old World wine” does not necessarily mean “pricey.” “We want to show that we’re making good wine, but not so expensive wine,” she says.

Groizard says that Château Latour-Martillac remains conscious of American taste trends. “That’s why you don’t see us making too many oaky wines anymore,” he explains. “Today the flavors are more about fruit and the fruit expression. That’s why we use less new-oak in our blends.”

Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com. Read his recent piece 7 Wine Trends To Watch In 2017.

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