Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

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Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Ed Novak » Mon Dec 12, 2011 5:03 pm

Ok... I know someone out there will jump all over me for what I'm about stir up, but here goes. I've been in the wine camp now for about 2 years, formally a die hard beer drinker. During these two plus years I've found that with food I can enjoy just about any wine, if paired properly. I'd put Cabs at the top of my list followed closely by almost all Italian wines, Tempranillos and Gernaches. My biggest disappointment to date? Bordeaux. I've tried a number of Bordeauxes... priced usually in the $10 to $20 a bottle range... 2006, 2008, 2009... and in general they all taste a little thin to me. Much like my experience with Pinot Noirs. If I have to make a general comment about both, I'd have to say watery.. thin... Having said all that, seems like in a game of word association, the phrase "great wine" would point towards France for many... and French wine would point you towards Bordeaux. So what am I missing?
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Hoke » Mon Dec 12, 2011 7:33 pm

Ed Novak wrote:Ok... I know someone out there will jump all over me for what I'm about stir up, but here goes. I've been in the wine camp now for about 2 years, formally a die hard beer drinker. During these two plus years I've found that with food I can enjoy just about any wine, if paired properly. I'd put Cabs at the top of my list followed closely by almost all Italian wines, Tempranillos and Gernaches. My biggest disappointment to date? Bordeaux. I've tried a number of Bordeauxes... priced usually in the $10 to $20 a bottle range... 2006, 2008, 2009... and in general they all taste a little thin to me. Much like my experience with Pinot Noirs. If I have to make a general comment about both, I'd have to say watery.. thin... Having said all that, seems like in a game of word association, the phrase "great wine" would point towards France for many... and French wine would point you towards Bordeaux. So what am I missing?


That perhaps you're making too hasty a judgement based on too small a sample and including too little time while you have a wine palate that is still developing?

(The tipoff to me is that you also take turn of direction and dismiss another entire category, Pinot Noir out of hand.)

I understand what you're saying and the point you're making. Many of the cheapos available to you may indeed be, to you, "thin", because you're now appreciative of and respond to a different prevailing style of wines. And I'll be the first to admit that Bordeaux reds can be challenging to even the most dedicated of wine drinkers at times. But you also need to consider that your preferences will likely evolve over time, and so will styles. And so will (in all likelihood) the Bordeauxs available to you.

Don't make the mistake of thinking a $10 End of Bin Special with an unknown name is equivalent to a well-aged (and that might easily mean up to twenty or thirty years) and carefully maintained tradtional estate Bordeaux. They are not...believe me....NOT the same. Until you can say that, you're not a competent judge of Bordeaux, simply a judge of the Bordeaux you've had to date (and that isn't meant to be pejorative or demeaning or a put down to you, guy; it really isn't).

So my advice is Drink What You Like (Always)...but keep your mind and your options open because sooner or later you're going to find a few Bordeaux that will make you rethink what you just said.

And if you end up getting bitten by the Burgundy bug (and there's a fair chance that might happen), you have both my congratulations and my sympathies. :D You'll understand that remark when you get enmeshed beyond hope. :mrgreen:
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Ed Novak » Mon Dec 12, 2011 7:46 pm

Hoke... while not yet bitten beyond belief by the Burgundy bug, I did enjoy a bottle of Alex Gambal Bourgogne recently and it was a treat. And regarding both Pinot Noirs and Bordeauxs, I intend to continue to experiment. I wouldn't say I have dismissed them totally, however I'm just surprised that for both, in the $10-$20 category, something has yet to jump out after trying 7 to 8 different wineries. And then again, what I'm referring to thin might in time be better described as delicate... vs a big bold Cab or Barolo.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Hoke » Mon Dec 12, 2011 8:04 pm

Ed Novak wrote:Hoke... while not yet bitten beyond belief by the Burgundy bug, I did enjoy a bottle of Alex Gambal Bourgogne recently and it was a treat. And regarding both Pinot Noirs and Bordeauxs, I intend to continue to experiment. I wouldn't say I have dismissed them totally, however I'm just surprised that for both, in the $10-$20 category, something has yet to jump out after trying 7 to 8 different wineries. And then again, what I'm referring to thin might in time be better described as delicate... vs a big bold Cab or Barolo.


Ed, I think a lot of it has to do with where you're at at any given time. Heck, when I started out it was all about big Cabernet and I didn't understand the fascination with Burgundy at all at all. (Generally kept mum about it tho, since I was by then a supposed professional.) Didn't really appreciate Sauvignon Blanc back then either---until I found out what SB was capable of in all its glorious manifestations and then there was no going back. Thing is, we do learn to like other things and we do teach ourselves to enjoy by keeping our minds and palates open (as you evidently have chosen to do).

Re Bordeaux and thin-ness: no, I think you're right with a lot of the cheap Bordeaux being thin, not delicate. Something foisted on us by the "negociant" aspect of Bordeaux and the control for so long of the merchant houses: sending the world an awful lot of sub-average dreck and coasting on the cred of the Classed Growths. B&G, Mouton-Cadet anyone??? I also honestly think that's changing now, as I'm seeing many more decent quality wines (and writing them up) coming from the region, wines with a fresher, livelier style than I've seen in a long time. And more diversity of style than I've seen in a long time either, with the advent of better Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Superieur designated wines. Some with oak but not oaked to death. Some fruity but not over-jammy. Some with no oak at all. And some whites that are actually interesting and tasty instead of dull and leaden and dead.

But you know? That's the great thing about wine: it's always changing, and you have to work to keep up. And that work is usually more fun than not. :D
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Jenise » Mon Dec 12, 2011 8:11 pm

I agree with everything Hoke has said so far in so far and must add: Ed, at under $20 you're probably never going to have that Bordeaux epiphany. The Bordeauxs in that price range will typically have too little fruit and too much acid, precisely the opposite of what you're used to in similarly priced new world wines.

I'm encouraged by your liking that Alex Gambal, though. It's proof that there IS hope for you!
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby James Dietz » Mon Dec 12, 2011 8:14 pm

See if you can find a half-bottle of, say, Leoville Barton or some other classified growth. It should be possible to find one in the $30 range.

Have your tried Poujeaux? That is a value Bordeaux that delivers in flavor.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby David Creighton » Mon Dec 12, 2011 9:22 pm

HMMMM. if you taste versions of bordeaux better than the price range you mention AND taste more mature bordeaux and still find them thin, then you just don't have the palate for that type of wine. for the first time in my life i'm going to go with tim hanai. palates do change; and sometimes we actually become more accute. bordeaux IS thin compared to CA cabs. its supposed to be. but our internal composition is a limiting factor. i finally realized i'm not crazy about Bach - generally regarded as the greatest composer ever. some people just don't like whatever you can mention. some people say that white wines in general are thin and watery. i find them flavorful and wonderful. we differ - and sometimes its not something we can grow our way out of.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Jon Peterson » Tue Dec 13, 2011 11:42 am

This might be an issue of "expectations". The following is just a generalization: I don't think anyone should expect a new world Cab, (i.e.: Napa, California) to be like an old world Cab (i.e.: Bordeaux) or that, as may often be the case, the Bordeaux should be "better", because of its history or fame, than the Napa Cab. They are their own separate styles and have always been so. When I want a big wine that may not necessarily emphasize the fruit I'll go new world; for a softer expression of fruit with complexity, I'll go old world. Again - this is a generalization. But I know that if I'd had Napa Cabs for 2 years then had a Bordeaux, I might be disappointed, too. But 30 years into wine, the opposite is true more often than not.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Ed Novak » Tue Dec 13, 2011 12:56 pm

Some very interesting thoughts... and I appreciate the info and patience, especially since I consider myself as a novice here. I agree with many here that you have to keep exploring and trying things. RE: price... I've heard similar things about the Pinot Noirs, that being, its hard to fine a good bottle under $40. In the rack I have a nicer Bordeaux (Chateau Saint Poly Saint Emillion 1999) that I'm saving to try at the right time. By nicer, all I can say is that it cost me over $30. I understand the sentiment that you can't just expect price to dictate the quality of the wine but on the other hand there are times when you get what you pay for. All that said, I'm glad you mention price so now I can happily invest in a pricer Bordeaux and continue to explore.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Jenise » Tue Dec 13, 2011 1:04 pm

Ed, I'm unfamiliar with that house (which isn't saying anything derogatory, St. Emilion has a ton of different producers), but 99 was a good year for wines that are drinking well right now so I'm hoping you'll have a great experienced with that wine. Also, want to reccomend you follow up on Jim Dietz's reccos. Poujeaux is especially affordable and impressive for the price. It's typically one of the best QPR buys out there.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Brian Gilp » Tue Dec 13, 2011 2:06 pm

I would not worry about it. Drink what you like currently and if your taste change in time, address it then. I believe that a lot of individuals when they first start getting really interested in wine think they have to like Bdx or Burg. One can waste a lot of time and money trying to prove that to be true when they may actually be happier with a Cal Cab or a CdP. If in time, you find that the Cal Cabs you have been drinking don't excite you the way they use to, then maybe you try Bdx again.

I look at my brother as an example of one who came to wine with no preconceptions. He first found port, then CdP/Cdr, and in time also Cal Zin and German rieslings. He is very happy with what he likes and buys to his preferences but will try anything and I have noticed lately that he owns more Bdx, Burg, and Chinon than ever before but still only a small portion of his cellar. In another 5 years who knows, they may actually make up a significant portion.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby AlexR » Tue Dec 13, 2011 5:03 pm

Bordeaux has thousands of châteaux.

The great ones are arguably the world's best wines, but they have become out of reach lately due to price increases.

The lower end has many very attractive wines, but these need to be selected by a knowledgeable wine merchant because it's true that there is a lot of dross.

There is a wealth of fine wine in the medium price range: wines with good fruit, structure, and style.

I suggest you try some of these and meet someone in a liquor store who actually knows what they are selling.

Best regards,
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Ian Sutton » Tue Dec 13, 2011 5:25 pm

Brian Gilp wrote:I would not worry about it. Drink what you like currently and if your taste change in time, address it then. I believe that a lot of individuals when they first start getting really interested in wine think they have to like Bdx or Burg. One can waste a lot of time and money trying to prove that to be true when they may actually be happier with a Cal Cab or a CdP. If in time, you find that the Cal Cabs you have been drinking don't excite you the way they use to, then maybe you try Bdx again.

I look at my brother as an example of one who came to wine with no preconceptions. He first found port, then CdP/Cdr, and in time also Cal Zin and German rieslings. He is very happy with what he likes and buys to his preferences but will try anything and I have noticed lately that he owns more Bdx, Burg, and Chinon than ever before but still only a small portion of his cellar. In another 5 years who knows, they may actually make up a significant portion.


Brilliant post Brian - I couldn't have put it better!

My early wine experiences were on cheap european wines (from the fiercely underripe / overcropped, through to the sugar water flooding out of Germany). However along the way various wines have provided the spark for my current interest. Firstly a 1976 German riesling (probably Auslese - no idea where specifically, but a nice present to my sister from the family of an exchange student). From there wines with fuller flavour sparked my adult interest, but what an odd combination they were:
- Cahors, don't know more than that but 10 French Francs bought something with a real punch of flavour / texture
- Ch. Musar, a wine which remains a strong favourite to this day
- Penfolds Grange, which showed me for the first time, that spending big (£25 :lol: ) could deliver something so stunning that the price could be justified, even though it was ~ 5 times what I'd be normally looking to pay
- A white burgundy, which I can still picture the label (pastel green and grey very thin stripes), but I have no idea what appelation. Bright fruit, butter & a touch of honey were flavours I'd not experienced before.

Perhaps going against the typical trend, I've generally kept faith with those styles. Ok I can't actually afford Grange, but still have plenty of Aussie reds... and my faith in Cahors is perhaps more of the 'born again' variety, but that hasn't stopped me celebrating finding a producer (Ch Lamartine) that rekindled that previous interest.

There have been other discoveries though, Italy and in particular the grape Nebbiolo. Loire chenins will surely gain further ground in the future - there have been some stunning wines for little money... and they can age well.

Finally, I'd add that the full breadth of wines available is just so large, that unless you feel like writing off a whole appellation as a result of a single bottle (which I'm sure I have done before :oops: :lol: ), it's no bad thing to develop a more focused interest in a handful of regions. With that more of an understanding emerges, as does an appreciation of the subtleties of vintage variation, producers, terroir, etc. That's not to say to ignore other areas, but I found it easier to start following a few specific leads, branching out over time as a taste here or there indicated another potential target.

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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Carl Eppig » Tue Dec 13, 2011 6:52 pm

Recommend you get a bottle of Les Fiefs de Lagrange. This is the second label of Chateau Lagrange of St Julian. It will run around $20. Drink it five years from vintage. I think this is one of best introductions to good Bordeaux.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Covert » Tue Dec 13, 2011 7:34 pm

I’ve commented before on this forum about this topic, Ed. 95% of the red wine I drink is Bordeaux, and that has been the case for years (yes, I am aware of the pun). I don’t drink any so-called Bordeaux that costs under $20 because to me that stuff is something other than what I call Bordeaux. Yes, it comes from the general region, so it is technically Bordeaux, but it is pretty lame, like you describe. If I am speaking about it, I call it generic Bordeaux.

It is very possible that you wouldn’t like what I term Bordeaux, which includes the Classed Growths and equivalents on the Right Bank, and many good, solid Cru-Bourgeois. Many people I know who like wine do not like Bordeaux. So it is possible, even if you drank a great Classed Growth, that you will never like a Bordeaux. You just have to realize that some people do, and they like it a lot, or they wouldn’t pay thousands of dollars a bottle for some bottles of it. I love Bordeaux second only to my wife.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Richard Fadeley » Tue Dec 13, 2011 11:55 pm

Ed,
Although Bordeaux is one of my favorites (along with Burgundy, Loire, Rioja, Tuscany, and Piedmont (Italy)), I am reluctant to recommend Bordeaux to uninitiated friends. Bordeaux can be other-worldly, but only if you know how to handle it. By that I mean, mainly decanting and with better wines, aging. You just don't open a bottle of Bordeaux. It will need typically at least 2 hours in a decanter (all day won't hurt). I like to use a Pyrex measuring bowl, easy to pour back into the bottle. You will catch the heavy sediment going into the Pyrex, and the fine sediment going back into the bottle. Then about 20 minutes in the fridge. I am assuming you are starting with at least a Cru Bourgoise (left bank) or a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru (right bank), with about 6 years+ age ('03, '04, '06, '07's are drinking good now, with this decant). If after you do all that, don't expect a "big wine". Bourdeaux is not a red meat only kind of wine. They are very understated, food friendly, and at 13% ABV are not rewarding if you are looking for a buzz. You also need to work with Bdx, swirling to aerate the wine. I am a "two sniffs to one sip" kind of guy, and this is important with finer wines. If you don't do this you are missing the whole point. You might as well be drinking Yellow Tail. You cannot tell the difference between good (fine) wine and plonk without nosing the wine. This is what separates the "men from the boys" This all sounds like a lot of trouble, and it is, but is well worth the trouble if you want to taste the worlds finest wines. Same holds true for white wines, where you will find white Bdx and white Burgundies to be without equal in the white wine world (IMO). Enjoy, and keep us posted on your experiences.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Covert » Wed Dec 14, 2011 8:55 am

Richard Fadeley wrote:Ed,
Although Bordeaux is one of my favorites (along with Burgundy, Loire, Rioja, Tuscany, and Piedmont (Italy)), I am reluctant to recommend Bordeaux to uninitiated friends. Bordeaux can be other-worldly, but only if you know how to handle it. By that I mean, mainly decanting and with better wines, aging. You just don't open a bottle of Bordeaux. It will need typically at least 2 hours in a decanter (all day won't hurt). I like to use a Pyrex measuring bowl, easy to pour back into the bottle. You will catch the heavy sediment going into the Pyrex, and the fine sediment going back into the bottle. Then about 20 minutes in the fridge. I am assuming you are starting with at least a Cru Bourgoise (left bank) or a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru (right bank), with about 6 years+ age ('03, '04, '06, '07's are drinking good now, with this decant). If after you do all that, don't expect a "big wine". Bourdeaux is not a red meat only kind of wine. They are very understated, food friendly, and at 13% ABV are not rewarding if you are looking for a buzz. You also need to work with Bdx, swirling to aerate the wine. I am a "two sniffs to one sip" kind of guy, and this is important with finer wines. If you don't do this you are missing the whole point. You might as well be drinking Yellow Tail. You cannot tell the difference between good (fine) wine and plonk without nosing the wine. This is what separates the "men from the boys" This all sounds like a lot of trouble, and it is, but is well worth the trouble if you want to taste the worlds finest wines. Same holds true for white wines, where you will find white Bdx and white Burgundies to be without equal in the white wine world (IMO). Enjoy, and keep us posted on your experiences.


I should have added Right Bank Grand Crus and equivalent Pomerols in my definition of what I call “Bordeaux.” And some bottles from satellites and other "out-of-the-way" appellations such as Côtes de Blaye are insinuating themselves into respectability.

But, I am almost sure now, from looking at the question six ways to Sunday, that Bordeaux is an art form as well as a drink, and you are going to have people who never get certain genres, such as expressionism or constructivism in painting, and Bordeaux or Burgundy in wine.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby AlexR » Wed Dec 14, 2011 9:00 am

Covert,

Your wrote:

"But, I am almost sure now, from looking at the question six ways to Sunday, that Bordeaux is an art form as well as a drink, and you are going to have people who never get certain genres, such as expressionism or constructivism in painting, and Bordeaux or Burgundy in wine".

Wise words...

I am essentially a Bordeaux man, but I has spent one week a year in Burgundy the past several years and like those wines very much too.
The best can vie with the likes of the first growths of Bordeaux, no doubt about it.

What I find it difficult to abide by is blanket statements.

And I am put off by the anti-Bordeaux/pro-Burgundy crowd - mostly because Bordeaux encompasses such an amazing range of styles, that it seems contrary to brush eveything aside all at once...

Best regards,
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Sam Platt » Wed Dec 14, 2011 1:15 pm

Ed,

I've been at this wine thing somewhat seriously for about 12 years now. It seems that the more I know, the more I realize how much I don't know. What makes this hobby interesting to me is the ability to be continually surprised by things that I taste. In the early days I told people that I hated Chardonnay only to happen onto white Burgs. I dissed California Cabs before tasting a Ridge. Be careful what you dismiss this early-in as you will end up eating (drinking?) your words.

If you can find Bordeaux from the 2000 vintage at any price point give it a try. I failed to find any sub-par juice from that year. Even the '00 Mouton-Cadet was solid.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Ryan M » Wed Dec 14, 2011 2:23 pm

I don't know that I can add much to what has already been said, but it's important to keep in mind that even Bdx in the $15 - 20 range needs several years before it comes into its own. If possible Ed, get your hands on some solid Cru Bourgeois from a good vintage that has 8 years or so on it - that's when Bdx begins to reveal what it's about. I think the St.-Emilion you mentioned will be a real eye-opener.

Also, worth noting that in the $15 - 20 range, you should really look at Cotes-de-Bordeaux (Castillon, Francs, Blaye) for wines that might do it for you. Also also, 2009 Bdx in that price range is pretty darn good stuff, and I think will be great transition for you from Cali Cab and the like, given the opulence of the 2009 vintage.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Bill Spohn » Wed Dec 14, 2011 2:38 pm

There is a common path of development for wine drinkers. Some people stop at different points than others and many never make the full journey.

When you first get into it, you are most impressed by the big brash fruity wines that whack you in the face with ripe fruit. You aren't alone - the Wine Speculator and other critics cater to that sort of taste.

Later on, you may begin to find that sort of simplistic approach a bit tiresome, and go looking for more complexity and subtlety, and find your way to Bordeaux, Burgundy, Northern Rhones, Rieslings, any number of wines with class rather than power.

You'll just have to keep tasting as many wines as you can, and don't judge any one type by a sample size pimited by numbers or price.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Covert » Wed Dec 14, 2011 2:42 pm

I’ll say it again. I notice that a lot of us here talk about wine like it exists alone when we say such and such is good. Maybe it is because I work in the pharmaceutical industry where no drug is good unless a receptor accepts it and does something good with it that I think there is no such thing as a good bottle per se. A drug can be a miracle worker for one patient and do absolutely nothing for another. That’s how it is with wine, in my opinion. It takes two to tango. Talking about a wine, or a vintage, by itself means almost nothing. I’m a slow learner: it took about ten of my acquaintances turning their noses up at, or nearly gagging on, bottles that I shared because I found them to be transformational to learn my lesson. But now I get it. My guess is that Ed will never find a Bordeaux to be great, just by comparing his speak with other people with whom I have had experience and whose oenophilic outcomes I have observed over time.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Bill Spohn » Wed Dec 14, 2011 2:53 pm

I dunno, I am prepared to withold judgement, Covert.

Some men go gaga over Pamela Anderson types (the female equivalent of big fruity in your face wines) and never veer from that path, while others come to appreciate the more subdued classy elegant sort (I'd say Audrey Hepburn but that would betray my age, so maybe Kate Beckinsale?)

It is hard to predict with any certainty where someone is headed based solely on their early thoughts about these things.
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Re: Bordeaux - What's the Big Deal

Postby Ryan M » Wed Dec 14, 2011 3:28 pm

Covert wrote:My guess is that Ed will never find a Bordeaux to be great, just by comparing his speak with other people with whom I have had experience and whose oenophilic outcomes I have observed over time.


I'm afraid I don't agree with your logic here Covert. Show me a single wine-lover whose tastes never evolved from their intial preferences, and maybe I'll acknowledge the possiblity that you could conceivably be right. My own beginnings in wine were quite humble, although it is true I was always curious and receptive to new regions and styles. Ed seems to show a healthy vinous curiosity, and he wants to learn. I certainly wouldn't write him off regarding Bordeaux . . . . or any other wine for that matter.
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