Editor’s note: Check out the detailed sources below for further reading, including the officialy press release from Bordeaux.com about the newly approved varieties. See our current course offerings of the Wine Scholar Guild’s French Wine Scholar.
Even well in advance of its oft-anticipated harvest reports, the Summer of 2019 belonged to Bordeaux. That’s when the wine world’s virtual water-cooler was abuzz with the news that France’s highest-profile fine wine region was taking the unprecedented step of permitting the inclusion of seven new grape varieties (four red, three white) in its blends.
What’s more, the new grapes approved by the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur Association (and now awaiting a final okay from France’s National Institute of Origin and Quality, or INAO) are mostly varieties with which few consumers will be familiar. They include Arinarnoa, Touriga Nacional, Castets, and Marselan for reds, and Liliorila, Petit Manseng, and Alvarinho for whites—varieties that traditionally have more in common with the Iberian peninsula than Bordeaux.
For the collectors among you, before you start frantically calling your Bordeaux Futures investment house in a panic, there are several aspects about the changes that wine lovers need to keep well in mind. As Decanter’s digital editor Chris Mercer puts it, “Don’t expect to see a blur of shovels hurriedly digging up Cabernet and Merlot vines from Médoc to Saint-Émilion.” The changes, while important, aren’t nearly as radical as they might first appear.
This Isn’t New News
The combination of an historically steadfast region opening up its Appellation regulations in the first place, and to relatively under-the-radar grape varieties in the second, is understandably newsworthy in the usually cautiously conservative fine wine business. But the news isn’t exactly new; investigations by Bordeaux into grapes that could resist increasingly extreme weather conditions began over 10 years ago, and hit renewed vigor in 2017 after the region’s harvests were hit particularly hard by frost. The changes have been in development for some time, and for now are a practical response to the challenges facing Bordeaux’s grape growers.
Your favorite Second Growth Bordeaux is safe from these new changes. If approved, the expanded regulations would permit the newly-included grape varieties in Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellation wines only. You won’t be seeing any varietal Bordeaux Petit Manseng anytime soon, either—the “new” grapes can only constitute no more than five percent of a producer’s vineyard plantings, and make up only ten percent of any final blend. Plantings wouldn’t begin until 2020 at the earliest, with bottled wine made from those plantings still a few more years away.
Bordeaux is Making a Statement
Given that limited scope, the boldest thing that Bordeaux is doing with these changes is making a firm and resolute statement about the reality of climate change and its impact on the future of winemaking in one of fine wine’s most storied regions. “This move shows how climate change is really concentrating minds in Bordeaux,” notes Mercer. “This decision is designed to give winemakers more tools to adapt to climate change, which itself poses threats to Bordeaux’s signature styles.”
Calm Down, and Drink Your Claret
For now, Bordeaux lovers can expect fascinating discussions around that virtual wine news water cooler, but little actual impact on their favorite beverages. As Mercer summarizes the news, “the new grapes symbolize a willingness to loosen notoriously strict appellation rules to help winemakers test solutions, and it will be fascinating to see how that trend develops. Châteaux in the top appellations will be watching developments—despite staying out of it for now. We are many miles away from ‘First Growth’ Touriga Nacional; if I were a Futures buyer, I’d be much more worried about the exchange rate and release prices!”
See our current course offerings of the Wine Scholar Guild’s French Wine Scholar.
- Interview with Chris Mercer