3 Apr 2011

wine of the week: what price is right for a very good wine?

The problem with looking down on the wines of a particular region for some time is that you tend to lower your expectations of them, and so the level of price that you are prepared to pay for them. Now I have never actually looked down on the wines of any region, including those of Provence. This is a region capable of producing some very fine reds and whites, often the equal of those from its neighbourong Rhône valley. I will not mention the rosés, which are in a sadly huge majority and which sell quite easily by themselves with no help from me (and some are very good too!).

I recently tasted a range of red wines from a Provençal estate called Château Grand Boise, and they attracted my attention for a number of reasons. There were four different wines and all were quite different one from the other. Two used cabernet sauvignon, blended with syrah or with grenache and syrah. The other two were blends of syrah and grenache, or syrah, grenache and carignan. One of the wines had a ridiculously heavy bottle designed, presumably, for weightlifters. All the wines were good, but one of them stood out for me. It is a cuvée called Jadis, and it is presented in a Burgundy-type bottle, which is quite unusual (but not unique, as the excellent Château de Roquefort also uses this shape) in the region.

Château Grand Boise, "Jadis" 2008, Côtes de Provence

I feel that the choice of the bottle shape of this cuvée is not accidental. When tasting it, I was constantly reminded of the finesse and sensuality of very fine red Brugundy. Naturally it carries more of a southern, sunny accent in its warmth, due both to its climate and its grape varieties. This wine uses grenache, syrah and carignan, apparently from very old vines. The grapes are hand picked and fermented in whole bunches (no de-stemming) in small tanks. The juice is not pumped over, but drawn off from the tank daily into vessels and then poured over the must, thus avoiding oxydation and ensuring that the extraction of tannins and colour is fine and gradual.  After its fermentation and maceration it is aged in large barrels for 18 months. 

tasting notes
Reasonably deep but not excessive colour (I should say that I attach slight importance to the colour of a wine). A fine and delicate nose with aromas that reminded me successively of fresh red fruit, wild herbs and mild spices, plus a slightly earthy touch that made me think, as well as its type of fruit aromas, very much of Borgundy in a warm year. This finesse is much in evidence on the palate, which is incredibly silky in its texture, with fruit flavours that also show freshness and focus. It feels warmer than a Pinot Noir, but is perfectly balanced for its type and has a lovely finish that tapers away gently: soft, smooth and elegant.

Now for the price aspect. When one tastes a wine as fine as this, one tends to forget the price factor for a while, remaining concerntrated on the sheer sensual pleasure. I suppose that if I was pushed into putting a price on this without knowing where it came from, I would say between 25 and 50 euros, as price depends so much on the reputation and market of a region or the individual producer. Now knowing that this wine comes from Provence, I may well have gone for 25 euros, simply because I am used to wines from this area that cost between 7 and 20 euros, but rarely above. This is of course unfair in a way, as I know that I would be paying upwards of 30 euros for this kind of quality in Burgundy. Yet Provence does not have the reputation and recognition of Burgundy for its red wines, and I was surprised to learn that this bottle is priced at a hefty 36 euros. Is it worth it? That will depend on your point of view. It certainly gave me as much pleasure as the most refined of good burgundies, say at a Premier Cru level. So, in that sense, it is worth its high price. Yet will the market follow its palate? It may be a little early for this kind of price level in Provence, however much I can recommend the quality of this wine. 

Take a look at their web site. As well as producing very good wines, Château Grand Boise also looks like a really nice place to stay, with views over the Mont Sainte Victoire



  1. Forewarned is forearmed, David, and you had given me advance notice.
    The whole of your explanation is fair. There are, however two small comments I might want to add: (i) the local customers will make rather more comfortable prices easier to keep in Provence, as the happy few and the well-off tend to villegiate down there; (ii) there is a history of “more expensive” wines in that region if you look at the Ott range, for example, or at wines that used to be connected with l’Oustau de Baumanière (Ch. Romanin, is it?), or at Château Simone, or around les Baux-de-Provence, at Trevallon, or closer to Italy at Ch. de Bellet etc ...

    Finally, different studies with apparently well-defined criteria and methodology have shown a wine-bottle may indeed actually “cost” as much as 15 € to produce. If you add taxes and a “normal” margin, you’ll end up around 30 € ex-winery retail price. I would still consider this a decent price and would buy the bottle – that is, when dosh will be at hand.

  2. I did post a comment on your last article about Provence’s prices. It appeared as “posted” at the right place on your blog and now it is ... gone. It was not particularly provocative (in fact not in the slightest way), not insulting, not even humoristic. I don’t think it has been censored.
    Has it disappeared altogether ? Can you trace it back?
    PS: Orange (i.e. the internet connection of France Telecom) has been refusing access to the addresses memory for the last 36 hours. Therefore, I can’t get hold of your mail-address.

  3. Luc, I have just spotted it (and this message) in the spam box of my blog. I do not filter comments at all (soince I have not had any problems so far), but the blog system seems to have decided by itself to place 2 of your comments in the spam box, having previously publised all. A mystery!
    Now rectified with apologies from me.

  4. On your pricing remarks: agreed in general. I accept paying up to 30/40 euros for some exceptionally good bottles (if I have the cash, which is not that often). But no more. And, if one selects carefully, the quality does improve as one moves up the price scale within those limits. For the most part, above say 50 euros, we are simply in the realms of scarcity and speculation.

  5. Odd things DO happen with posts, especially when you forward them from here, in France.
    This of getting dropped in the Spam box, I blame on my habit of writing my posts first as a Word document (in order to edit them easily), and then transfering them into the blog’s frame.
    As for the pricing, some transparency could be useful. I accept that a heavy bottle, sturdier cardboard, let alone wooden cases, labels with expensive dyes (gold and so on), better corks or more reliable screwcaps ... can increase the price of packaging from 70-80 cents as bottom value to a mere 1.50 €. And vineyard labour can amount to some 6.000 € a year per ha if you do everything by hand and use no “black” manpower. I also accept the taxes you owe the State are much higher on “la Romanée Conti” than in “vin de pays des Côtes de Thongue”.
    Still, anything above 15 € a bottle – as I previously said – covers other items than “cost of goods”. This translates into 15 € x 133 75cl-bottles = 1995 € per hectoliter.
    Let’s add 133 x 1.50 € for packaging, or another 200 € per hl. Then accept 5 % of free samples as standard practice for promotion (on the high side).
    Of course, yield is an all-important feature – to the producer, but not so relevant for the client.
    In my mind, two cardinal elements are: promotion and publicity on the one hand, investments for keeping or developing the property on the other hand. If you fly-in dozens of eager journalists, greedy importers, esteemed buyers .... you spend a lot of money. If you keep both landscape and buildings at the level of a seventeenth century pleasure garden and castle, you’re also in for some expenditures.
    Still, I remember “Les Carruades de Lafite » 2007 valued at 4.400 € a case on Jim Budd’s blog, this being only the estate’s SECOND wine. We all clearly see there remains a margin for profit.
    If ever you address the issue of the multiplying coef. in restaurants, useful comment could come to mind as well, although it is by no mean an easy subject.

  6. Thanks for this input Luc. I will certainly tackle the subject of restaurant margins some time, with a few suggestions in that department.

  7. And this discussion brings to mind the comment of a fairly well-known Australian winemaker who, when asked why he sold his top-of-the-range wine for so many bucks, answered: "because I've got a heck of a lifestyle to maintain"

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