Nick Alabaster, London, England
|Interesting responses to this essay from wine lovers around the world. A broad selection of these
are printed below. Where I had something to add to the debate I have also included my reply.
Thanks to everyone who took the trouble to respond.
Good piece Tom, lucid and provoking as usual. There is something in the instant gratification in PN that you
don't get in Bordeaux. Good bottles of PN rarely have a chance to hit the sides, let alone time
to intellectialise. The difference is apparent in cooking. Who can live without a main course ? Yet who wants to
miss out on the chocolate mousse?
Still, this is my favourite wine :- gorgeous, animal, beautiful, rich, silky, sumptuous, beguiling,
classy, intriguing, intense, lovely, focused, pure, great.
It's a Rhone of course, Jaboulet La Chapelle '90!
Mark Levesque, New Hampshire, USA
I quite agree with the premise that Bordeaux's appeal is to a great extent intellectual, but I would contend that it
can be sexy as well. I also have a great love for fine burgundy, and
would have to concede that it is perhaps the sexiest wine around, but that does not mean
that it is the only sexy wine around. Burgundy is a great deal more accessible and is more flexible in
terms of wine and food pairings, but Bordeaux also has its opulent and hedonistic wines. Some of the
'89s were extremely voluptuous right out of the gates, with silky tannins, decadently ripe flavors and
exotic aromas, especially those from the right bank. I consider such wines, wines that offer such immediate
and considerable gratification to be sexy and not quite so intellectual as their more austere and firm peers,
such as the Médocs of '88 and '86.
Bordeaux will never be a wine of such easy pleasures as Burgundy. But it certainly has a great sensual
appeal, even if its greatest expression requires more of the wine drinker to appreciate.
Bernard Leak, High Wycombe, England
|My response to Mark:|
I totally take your point that though it doesn't have the immediate in-your-face appeal of (some) Burgundy,
Bordeaux can of course be sensual, seductive, charming - all elements of "sexiness". Maybe I
don't make this entirely clear and I have actually put an extra line in the "Conclusions" section to reflect
more closely what I really meant to say.
You probably realise that I do play Devil's Advocate to an extent in these essays, and am deliberately
over-simple at times, all to encourage debate (I'd soon give up if the essays elicited NO responses whatsoever!)
I find that I distinguish between "raunchy" and "seductive" as possible interpretations
of "sexy". Claret, of full age (as we in England reckon it), can be more seductive than any other wine I know. Madeira
may be more efficient ammunition for merely human seduction ("Have some Madeira, m'dear"), but that is another matter.
Claret does not merely leave the drinker wrestling with its difficulty, as it can when young, but steps forth, a helpful
guide, and draws the drinker graciously in. Such polish of manners! Such address! Such an invitation to trust, with
such a smiling countenance! Only one with nefarious intent would labour so hard to be winning. Burgundy, by contrast,
is raunchy. It does not attempt to lull your mistrust, but vamps directly. The Prince of Darkness is a gentleman,
and lives in one of the great houses overlooking the Gironde. Over in the east, Big Maggie is - but we know about her
Heading farther, I suppose that Massandra ought to be the spiritual home of Catharine the Great, and damn the dates,
but that's a speculation for another day.
Victor de la Serna, Madrid, Spain
|My response to Bernard:|
I agree wholeheartedly about the ditinction between "raunchy" and "seductive". You realise that by the time one gets to
Big Maggie, Massandra and Catharine the Great, most people will suspect you are completely off your trolley?
I take your point and Jancis', Tom, and it's one we've all fiddled with and there are many reasons to validate the
intellectuality of Bordeaux. One of them, however, is nicely hinted at by Cazes: Bordeaux as a city, and its
neighboring "communes", have an excessively disrespectful attitude towards fine food, which certainly is not
Burgundy's case. And there's the tannins, and the austerity of certain vintages... (Then again, how about the a
1987 in Burgundy!)
But there's also many arguments in favor of Bordeaux' sexiness:
1. Great claret is the finest red wine in the world. No way are you going to find the finest of any
pleasure-related product that isn't sexy.
2. There are vintages like 1982 or 1990 that are by definition sexy in their opulence.
3. There's the Médoc and the northern Graves, which if one insists in oversimplifying could be construed to be
"intellectual" areas. But there's the Right Bank too! Sexiness is frequent around St.-Émilion and Pomerol...
Ruth Blakely, Alberta, Canada
My response to Victor|
I cannot disagree with any of your points. The whole approach to eating and drinking in Bordeaux/the Medoc
is a million miles removed from Burgundy and most of Southern Europe. In these regions food and wine is a
cause for celebration, where the social occasion is more important than either. Good food and wine, however -
in plentiful quantities - is the glue that holds family life, friendships and even business partnerships together. If
you can accuse the Bordeaux region of being relativly "stuffy", then this attitude extends to its wine and maybe
that's a tag they are landed with. And yes, I agree that there are seductive and voluptuous exceptions to the
more austere clarets - I am playing Devil's Advocate a little in my essay.
I think it's as personal as each individual's taste.
I tend to think of a great Bordeaux as elegant. Maurice Chevalier was elegant, and to me, very sexy, but not to
everyone (do you think a long lanky blonde is sexier than a curvey brunette...everyone is different).
Maybe bordeaux does tend to be more restrained, but that's part of the appeal, the mystery.
A long answer when a simple "yes" would do?
Thomas Neufang, Germany
My response to Ruth|
Very nicely put! Sexiness, like beauty, is most definitely in the eye of the beholder. To clarify what I meant by
my question about Bordeaux, I should draw a distinction between sexiness which is "raw" - offering instant
gratification - and a gentler, more subtle form of seductiveness. Fine Bordeaux certainly has the latter, though
rarely the first in my experience.
my girlfriend votes for Burg, concerning sexiness. After all, that is, what counts ( at least for me ):)
Colin Baxter, Ontario, Canada
I enjoyed your essay, nice site too.
Although I haven’t been drinking wine all that long (10 years or so), the wine that I’ve found to be the most
reliable in giving me lots of pleasure is good Bordeaux. This may be because it is so analyzed and reviewed by
others that there is a wealth of information about it and the classification system is (relatively) easy to
understand. For a wine novice this makes it fairly easy to select a very nice wine. I’m not sure, but I don't think
I agree with you that Bordeaux isn’t sexy (although I’m certain that it is seductive.) Perhaps it is a matter of
timing. You’ve obviously had a "thing going" with fine Bordeaux for quite a while, maybe you should think back
to your initial impressions when the excitement was still young.
I have trouble isolating the wine from the rest of the experience when I'm drinking it. When I drink Bordeaux it
is usually with my wife, a nice dinner, candles, soft music, kids in bed, which may be why I think of it as sexy.
(Are you reading this dear? ).
One of my favourite wine reviewers is Bill Munnelly who puts out a newsletter on "best wine buys at the
LCBO" here in Ontario. He has an essay on Cabernet Sauvignon. In his
introduction he states: "My wish is to see Cabernet put back in its proper place, which is in the formal
restaurants, clubs and cellars of the world." Basically his point is that prestige, not pleasure, is
what drives the wine business. He thinks that there is far too much cab sauvignon being produced because of
the reputation of Bordeaux wines. He’d definitely agree with you that Bordeaux isn’t sexy but for different
reasons. He says: "most of the time the wine is too serious. Bordeaux elegance comes with an austerity and a
dryness that is popular with stern, aloof British wine types".
Bob Henrick, Kentucky, USA
My response to Colin|
I think you have made a good point about the sheer volume of words that have been written about Bordeaux
wines - there is so much information, opinion and statistics out there that the subject can't help but seem a little
dry, analytical and academic at times - not at all what wine should be, and definitely not sexy. Wine - of
whatever class or cost - should be about drinking pleasure. If it stimulates you intellectually, then so much the
better, but let's not lose sight of the main point here!
No, I don't think I have lost initial enthusiasm for Bordeaux - not at all. But maybe, as I have drunk more and
more wines of differing characters, I've come to celebrate the diversity that's out there a little more.
I think Bill Munnelly maybe goes a little too far in his criticism of cabernet sauvignon - it doesn't need to be dry
and austere to be great!
You ask a question that isn't easily answered with a short reply. I think of Bordeaux as
sexy in (at least) two different interpretations. First it sometimes has a coy sexiness about it, a sexiness that need
to be coaxed from the glass. other times Bordeaux is full blown, overtly sexy, almost like a street walker. Sometimes
it is almost lustfully sexy (one can hardly wait to get at it). I realize this doesn't adequatley address your
question, but this is how (good) Bordeaux affects me (when I can afford it).
Jim Verlautz, Minnesota, USA
Tom, I think I'm a little more in your camp than some of the other respondants, although Ruth hit upon the
defining question for me.
Usually when I use the word "sexy," I'm thinking of something that produces a very emotional, instinctive
response. This contrasts with an intellectual response. ( The one exception to this for me is when "sexy" is being
applied to a person. In that case, my initial reaction to a person quickly becomes irrelevant,
and sexiness is dependant on the intellectual interaction.)
When I drink great Burgundy, my response is mostly hedonistic. I savor the wine, but I'm less likely to analyze
it. OTOH, for many of the reasons already enumerated, Bordeaux is a thinking wine, requiring some study and
contemplation. To me, who loves a good game of bridge or a philosophical discussion with interesting people,
this is still very pleasureable.
For better or worse, I spend far more time in intellectual pursuits than in engaging in "instinctive hedonistic
activity." Similarly, I drink more Bordeaux than Burgundy. However, when the time and mood is right, there is
nothing better than great ...er.....Burgundy.
Michael Pronay, Austria
My response to Jim|
We're straying here from "sexiness" to relationships I think - where we take time to get to know all the facets of
a person/wine, build up a rapport, and see what lies beneath the surface beauty. That is certainly part of the
point I am trying to make in the essay - that other wines can streak straight to pressing some emotional button,
whereas Bordeaux rarely does; it is usually a more long-term courtship, that leads to something deeper.
When comparing the relative merits of Claret and Burgundy "sexiness" is not the term that would come to my
mind immediately, and not even on the second hand.The first time I ever used the term "sexy" in a tasting
note was back in 1992 in a blind tasting of 82s, where I noted (the wine turned out to be Haut-Marbuzet):
"On palate full-bosomed and sexy" -- now I know what Robert Parker means when he uses that term.
"Sexy" was defined in the context of other 1982s.
Back to Claret vs. Burgundy I would characterize them in quite another way. True, I admit, drinking classed
growth has something stiff and black-tied to it: Michael Broadbent in tuxedo at the Union des Grands Crus First
Growth Dinner at Château Margaux in 1995 comes to my mind. But, on the other hand, family life, rose cheeks,
good food and (if one wishes to have) songs: I would associate this rather with Beaujolais or Hautes Côtes de
Beaune, and not with Grand Cru Burgundy.
For me, fine claret immediately goes to the brains and stimulates intellectual activity. Sharing a fine claret and
talking about the wine is one of the great experiences on earth. But, drinking alone, I would chose fine Burgundy
rather than fine Bordeaux, because Burgundy on the finest level directly goes to the tummy (the "yummm!" type
I remember the situation I had the finest Burgundy in my life: 1959 Grands Échezaux, an obscure Marché aux
Vins à Beaune bottling (a Patriarche subsidiary -- but what a wine!) with my then girlfriend: I poured the wine, we
both leaned back -- and kept quiet, smiling at each other. No words necessary. If Burgundy is great, it's
fantastic and hedonistic.
I am definitely sure: The same situation, repeated with a 59 Lafite or 59 Latour, would immediately have seen us
discussing the merits and the beauty of the claret.
One word to your "collectability" argument: Would Burgundy be available in the same quantities as Bordeaux
(and vice-versa), I am more than sure we all would drink Burgundy. For me it's simply a matter of availability
around the world.
Jean-Michel Cazes, France
My response to Michael|
Thanks for your thoughts. I don't think I have ever used the term "sexy" in a tasting note either - like you, it's
not a term (or a whole frame of reference) that springs to mind!
I would guess your enjoyment of the Grands Échezaux at the Marché aux Vins had a lot to do with who you
were with and what you were doing - the whole experience helped make the wine extra special (you were
lucky by the way - my experience at the Marché didn't produce any great memories!).
As to collectability, I don't know if simply increasing availability would result in a switch to Burgundy - there are
questions of ageability, consistency etc. which also affect the market - and people's perception of the wines.
I found your piece quite entertaining and well written. Isn't wine a great
thing, that can be associated with so many different feelings, and
impressions...that sometimes have not much in common with actual taste or
flavours. It's really an intellectual exercise, and a very enlightening one!
I also enjoyed reading the comments, and your reactions. A good site to spend
a little time on a cloudy week-end. Makes you feel like going down to the
cellar and getting ready for a good bottle for lunch!!