2007 年，八十八歲高齡的英國小說老將萊辛（Doris Lessing）終於捧回諾貝爾獎桂冠；彷彿為打破「諾獎是死吻」的魔咒，她日前快筆交出新著《艾佛烈與愛蜜莉》（Alfred and Emily）。果真老當益壯筆力雄健，新書虛實交錯，寫小說也寫回憶錄，展示萊辛穿梭現實與想像的高超技法，活力咄咄逼人，探觸文學的極至，證明諾獎不是 送給老作家蓋棺論定的封印。
書名中的艾佛烈與愛蜜莉，原來是萊辛的父母：愛蜜莉出身中產家庭，功課好本可進大學，但她和父親唱反調，改讀護士學校。艾佛烈是鄉下人，離開父母到銀行工 作，不料一次大戰讓他斷送一條腿。在醫院他認識照料傷兵的愛蜜莉，當時她的醫生未婚夫才在英倫海峽意外喪命。兩人隨後結婚，都想擺脫原生家庭，大戰後到波 斯（伊朗）求發展，生下萊辛；舉家又遷到羅德西亞（辛巴威）。萊辛艱困的不快樂童年，在黑暗大陸度過，父母冀圖靠農耕賺錢回英國，但命運捉弄，愛蜜莉精神 崩潰臥床一年，艾佛烈患糖尿病，最後連下田都不能。
萊辛早前出版多本自傳，這些往事並不新鮮，1994年《內在的我》（Under My Skin）書裡說：「多年來我一直揣想：如果沒有戰爭，我的父母後來會如何？」新書落實想法，前半虛構大戰未爆發，兩人迥然兩般的際遇：他們因板球賽邂 逅，但並未共結連理。做護士的愛蜜莉嫁給心儀的醫生，沒有生育子女；艾佛烈豪邁又顧家，如願當了英國農夫，娶太太生下雙胞胎兒子，快樂終老。
婚後失去自我的虛構愛蜜莉，感受婚姻的冰冷，對照真實愛蜜莉在羅德西亞荒野的無援和挫折。「她不愁家用，華服要多少買多少；先生要她打扮漂亮。但她仍是 苦，尤其先生把裝錢的信封交給她的時候。十八歲就自力更生，如今婚姻許多讓她不快樂的事情中，就是他笑著給她錢最讓她惱恨。」丈夫死後，愛蜜莉發現自己有 說故事給小孩聽的才華，憶起書在童年何其重要，用丈夫的遺產成立慈善機構，在貧窮區設學校。儘管她不快樂，卻成了群眾景仰的名人。
新書一分為二，下半部真實悲憫地回顧挫敗父母一生的戰爭傷痕：艾佛烈常夢到死去的戰友，不停說著壕溝、坦克和炮火的慘烈，想擺脫揮之不去的恐懼陰影。愛蜜 莉親見無數傷兵死去，「我們無能為力」。戰爭粉碎了他們的夢和靈魂，讓他們在非洲困陷磨難和絕望，「母親身上沒有傷疤，但她和可憐的父親同是戰爭的受害 者」。一戰給父母的痛苦影響萊辛的世界觀，「那戰爭像活在我的回憶裡」。
到底寫的是血緣親人，書中萊辛難得真情流露，艾佛烈癡想發財回英國務農，但羅德西亞的田地「小得存不下一毛錢」。愛蜜莉原以為殖民地少不了聚會應酬，帶了 大批衣飾，全沒派上用場。愛蜜莉看到屋前飛過的鳥會輕嘆：「啊，燕子就要去英格蘭了，牠們比我們先到。」父親想法比較正面，他對著非洲清澈的星空感懷： 「這在英國看不到，有時候我覺得這樣的夜色就值得了。」
新書還有母女間永恆的戰爭，「那句老話『她為了逃離母親而嫁人』是真理」。萊辛不諱言對母親反感，「我那時痛恨母親」。她仔細描繪母親無用的衣飾，試圖揣 摩母親的不快樂深刻感人；但誠實無隱的筆觸藏不住她怒氣未消，她直言對母親自怨自艾的氣惱：「到現在我還能感受當時的憤怒。」萊辛常抱怨她被誤解或狹隘界 定為女性主義作家，《艾佛烈與愛蜜莉》隱然可見女人要投入工作、不要窒息在婚姻裡的主張，但更深入鑽探切割自我認同與家庭、國族及歷史認同的掙扎，「我想 要逃離那段可怕的過往，想要自由」。
Bitter taste for Scots distillers as Japanese whiskies take world titles
The whisky, distilled near the city of Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido, beat dozens of other varieties, including last year's winner, Talisker 18 years old, produced on the Isle of Skye.
Suntory Hibiki, the brand advertised by the washed-up actor played by Bill Murray in the film Lost in Translation, scooped the award for the world's best blended whisky.
Rob Allanson, the editor of Whisky Magazine, said: "Hopefully this will make people sit up and realise that the Japanese are producing some phenomenal stuff. While they don't have a particularly strong toehold in the UK, they are making great gains which the British market should take note of."
The Other Extreme: Low-Alcohol Beers
KELLY TAYLOR was tired of the limited choices of beers he found at bars: either insipid lightweights or staggering powerlifters.
“There was no middle road,” he said. “We wanted to make beer where you could have a few and not have to go take a nap.”
So Mr. Taylor, the brewmaster at Greenpoint Beer Works in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, which brews for several local companies, started the Kelso of Brooklyn label in 2006 to make the quaffable beer he craved. Last year Kelso introduced a Fall Session ale. At 3.5 percent alcohol, it is full of flavor and less alcoholic than Bud Light (4.2 percent).
While many craft brewers are trying to quench the nation’s growing thirst for extreme beers pumped with alcohol, Mr. Taylor is one of a small but growing number of brewers, beer experts and importers who are applying the brakes and turning toward well-made low-alcohol beers.
“A bunch of guys talk in the market,” said Don Feinberg, a founder of Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y., and an importer for Vanberg & DeWulf there. “We’ve all been saying the same thing for about 18 months now, which is, enough of the high octane.”
Mr. Feinberg imports boozy Trappist and farmhouse ales, but in April he introduced a brew from another Belgian tradition: bières de table.
“When I lived there in the late ’70s and early ’80s,” he said of his time in Belgium, “everybody drank it for lunch, from grandmothers to kids.”
His new import, Brasserie Dupont’s spicy, yeasty Avril, is all of 3.5 percent alcohol. By comparison, the brewery’s more famous farmhouse ale, Saison Dupont, is 6.5 percent.
Tom Peters said Avril was selling well at his beer bar, Monk’s Café, in Philadelphia.
“Most people equate Belgian beer with big body and high alcohol, so having something like this seemed like an anomaly,” Mr. Peters said. “First, I had to educate my staff, and now they’re totally behind it. They really like to serve beers without being concerned they have to tell someone who’s drinking 8 or 9 or 10 percent alcohol, O.K., you’ve had a couple, so we have to slow you down now.”
For him, he said: “If I just want one beer, that high octane is stellar. If I want to drink several pints, I want something where I can still have a conversation.”
Other lovers of low-alcohol beer turn to Britain, where a long history of pub culture combined with a system that taxes beer according to alcohol level keeps ales at about 4 percent alcohol. Among British microbrews available in New York, Harviestoun Brewery’s grapefruity Bitter & Twisted, Orkney’s ruby-hued Red MacGregor and Daleside’s mild Old Leg Over exemplify the low-alcohol, full-flavored tradition.
“My brother and I lived in Europe, and we loved English milds because you got a lot of flavor, could have a lot of them, not get drunk, not get full, and really enjoy the taste of beer,” said Jason Ebel, an owner of Two Brothers Brewing Company in Warrenville, Ill. For the opening of their tap house this year, he and his brother, Jim, brewed a nicely hopped 3.9 percent ale, Mild, that was so successful they shipped kegs of it to New York. It has sold well at Bierkraft in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“I think there’s a good chunk of the bigger players in the craft beer world that are starting to look at this,” Mr. Ebel said.
In fact, some bigger craft breweries already bottle beers that are below 4.5 percent alcohol. Shipyard has included a mild brown in their samplers for years, and Harpoon introduced a Brown Session Ale last year. There are also low-alcohol summer wheats like Magic Hat’s Hocus Pocus.
Last year on his blog, Seen Through a Glass (lewbryson.blogspot.com), Lew Bryson, a beer writer, began championing session beers: well-made low-alcohol brews meant for long nights at the bar. “Unfortunately, we have come to associate low alcohol with low flavor,” Mr. Bryson said in an interview.
That attitude frustrated David Pollack, owner of the Diamond, a bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “It seemed silly to me,” he said, “because I knew of really delicious session beers.” So he took on a mission to increase awareness of them.
The clientele at the Diamond on a recent night seemed to appreciate his efforts, which included a detailed list of his finds in the 3 percent to 6 percent range next to his regular beer board.
“If you order off the session list, you’re not going to go home and have a fight with anybody,” said Kevin Vincent, who sipped his way through a Reissdorf Kölsch (4.8 percent alcohol), then a Tröegs Sunshine Pils (5.3 percent). “And you can get in a few different flavors.”
Liz Geisewite was enjoying a Hop Sun (4.5 percent) from the Southern Tier Brewing Company after a fitness class because, she said, the description said it was light and easy. “Everything I drink after class has to be light and thirst-quenching and refreshing,” she said.
Ms. Geisewite is the type of drinker Alex Hall is going after. In the winter he plans to open the Nomad Brewing Company in Pittsfield, Mass., which will brew a low-alcohol English mild. “We may even convert some mainstream light lager drinkers who could be attracted by its ease of drinking through a session,” he said.
This taste for session beers will grow even in the face of Americans’ growing desire for double bocks and triple I.P.A.’s, said Ron Barchet, who brews Uncle Teddy’s Bitter (4.2 percent) and Donnybrook stout (3.7 percent) at Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, Pa. “Their lighter body and alcohol are a natural attraction for more mature craft drinkers,” he wrote in an e-mail message.
As Scott Smith, who sells draft session beers in growlers at East End Brewing in Pittsburgh, explained: “People who come for session growlers are like me. They have young kids, so they’ll have a beer after the kids are put to bed. They’re not out on the town. It’s more about the flavor and enjoying a quality beer.”
One sign of changing times is the addition of a session beer category at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival, from Oct. 9 to 11 in Denver. “We realized that the smaller, flavorful, unique session beers made by craft brewers were being lost in the increased interest in extreme beers,” Charlie Papazian wrote in an e-mail message. Mr. Papazian is president of the Brewers Association, which operates the festival.
Microbrewers are experimenting with session beers as much as with big beers. Kelso’s fruity Fall Session is brewed with orange pekoe tea. Mr. Smith’s session series has included such esoterica as kvass, a fermented Russian beer made with bread.
Christopher Leonard, owner of the General Lafayette Inn, outside Philadelphia, said it was a test of his skill to create Lafayette’s Escape, a beer in the style of bière de table, at his inn’s brewery. It is only 1.9 percent alcohol.
“I was looking for a new challenge,” Mr. Leonard said. “I thought, Let’s go extreme the other way.”
He came up with an amber ale that has the peppery, herbal notes of Belgian yeast. “The beer had a residual sweetness, heft and density that made it taste like something that had more alcohol,” he said.
But although attention to low-alcohol beers is growing among craft brewers, there is still “not a lot out there,” said Mr. Pollack of the Diamond in Brooklyn. Because beer with less alcohol does not travel or keep as well as stronger brews, session beers are often available only in draft editions that do not make it to New York.
Moreover, whether beer drinkers will give up the stronger stuff and embrace beers with a low alcohol by volume, or A.B.V., remains to be seen.
On a recent evening at the East Village Pub in Manhattan, the owner, Bill Mackin, was fretting over the Victory Donnybrook he had listed next to Sixpoint Craft Ales’ 6.6 percent Diesel stout.
“The heat hit in the summer; I thought Victory would be more sellable,” he said. “But the Sixpoint outsells it, 2 to 1.”
As if on cue, Pat McCann, in a rumpled softball uniform, plodded in and ordered the Diesel. “I wanted a stout, and I don’t want a 3.7,” he said. “We lost by 12 runs tonight.”
“See?” Mr. Mackin said. “People lose their jobs, they don’t want a low A.B.V. People lose at baseball, they don’t want a low A.B.V.”
That may be the case, but according to those who champion session beer, if you’re at the top of your game and want to stay there, a low-alcohol beer may be your poison.
葡萄酒好喝的祕密 Making sense of wine
《葡萄酒好喝的秘密》給了我們一個很重要的提醒：葡萄酒是大地的傾吐，是產地土壤與葡萄品種的唱和。書中把很多有關葡萄酒的神話一掃而光。為什 麼餐廳侍者會在開瓶後把軟木塞拿給我們瞧一瞧？每當這個時候，我們又該做些什麼？另外，有所謂「正確」的葡萄酒杯嗎？雖然克拉瑪的答案基本上是否定的，但 他依然會告訴你，什麼樣的酒杯才分別是喝紅酒、白酒和香檳時的上選。
克拉瑪告訴我們，最初，葡萄酒給他的觀感是「派頭十足、盛氣凌人， 加上它那令人望而生畏的複雜性，還是敬而遠之為妙。」不過，後來他發現「一種葡萄酒的是好是壞，存在著一定的客觀標準，而不只由各人口味決定。」 「葡萄酒以最明確無疑的方式吐露出它們的原產於何地，讓我們有機會竊聽到土地的呢喃。終於，我們有了一本奇書，在書中發現了葡萄酒好的秘密！
Buyers and cellars
Aug 21st 2008
From The Economist print edition
Bordeaux starts to look a bit bubbly
A WRINKLED nose from Robert Parker, a masterly American wine critic, used to be enough to send wine prices down deeper than the Bordeaux cellars where he does his tasting. The popular grape-based alcoholic drink is developing as an asset class, and investors have started to trade derivative products in the form of en primeur, a type of wine future. But a new breed of rich investors and wine drinkers in China, India and Russia have sent en primeur prices so high that not even Mr Parker’s nose can bring them back down.
En primeur is the French term for wine before it is bottled. Speculators are allowed to buy a portion of the stuff in the hope that the wine proves to be a hit with the retail and investment market two or three years later. Every spring a group of investors, wholesalers and wine critics descend on a few established Bordeaux wine producers to taste the fermented grape juice. The system has been employed for years by producers as a way to complement their main source of income. They can earn money while their top wines wait to be bottled and sold. These days, all eyes are on Mr Parker, who sniffs and sips and then awards the wine a score out of 100, which the buyers and sellers in the market use to establish a price. Better wines get higher scores and are more expensive.
But the most recent round of en primeur trading has set a precedent. The vintage was not good but the prices remained high. Mr Parker awarded a relatively low 90-93 points for the 2007 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild en primeur, but cases still went for £2,500 ($4,900). Three years earlier he gave a similar score to Chateau Lafite, and the cases only sold for £950.
Money has flooded into the wine-investment market, routed through some former City traders who have set up wine funds. The Liv-ex 100 Index, which charts bottled-wine prices, has shrugged off the credit crunch and outperformed global stockmarkets. The index is up 9.5% over the past 12 months, though it dipped a bit in July. Meanwhile, the tax on imported wine in Hong Kong was scrapped in March, after dropping from 80% to 40% last year, further boosting Asian demand.
Some suspect that the new consumers sometimes care more about the brand than the quality. (Lafite, for example, is particularly popular in China because of its status.) They also claim that Bordeaux risks alienating its core group of European and American investors and drinkers with high en primeur prices. The old traditions are beginning to change. Some négociants, the wine wholesalers that link the chateaux to the traders, have boycotted this year’s vintage because of high prices. This is a bold move. Refusing to buy up this year’s wine will mean they forfeit access to next year’s vintage. The old-schoolers now find themselves wishing for both a run of bad vintages and a downturn in the emerging economies. Only then, they say, will sobriety return.
アサヒ飲料、プレミアム果汁炭酸飲料「三ツ矢サイダー 日本品質 青森産ふじりんご PET500ml」を発売
「フレッシュクオリティ製法」は、アサヒビールグループの最新技術であり、飲料業界初となる画期的な製造方法で、果汁炭酸飲料の製造工程で、殺菌 された中味（液体）および容器（ボトル・キャップ）を高度に衛生管理された環境で充填することによって、従来は充填・密栓後におこなっていた加熱処理工程 を省略した点が特長となっている。この製法の導入によって、（1）おいしさの向上、（2）環境負荷低減、（3）コストアップ抑制－－の3つが実現できたと 説明する。
「三ツ矢サイダー 日本品質」シリーズは、厳選された国産果汁のみを贅沢に使用し、「製法」のみならず、「素材」にもこだわった“プレミアム果汁炭酸飲料”として、「三ツ矢 サイダー」ブランドがこだわりつづけている「おいしさ」と「品質」をより進化させた商品。シリーズ名の「日本品質」とは、同商品の「おいしさ」と「品質」 へのこだわりと自信をストレートに表現したものとなっている。
シリーズ第2弾となる「三ツ矢サイダー 日本品質 青森産ふじりんご」は、りんご生産量日本一を誇る青森県で、りんご出荷量の約半分を占める人気ブランド「ふじりんご」の果汁を20％使用。新技術「フレッ シュクオリティ製法」導入によって、「三ツ矢サイダー」ならではのすっきりした爽やかなおいしさに加え、完熟した「ふじりんご」の華やかな香りを存分に味 わえる仕立てとなっている。
How a battle over the ranking of St. Émilion chateaus may change the way we value wine.
BELLS PEALED, echoing through the ancient limestone village and out over the sea of grapevines that surrounded it. With thousands of spectators, I watched as men and women draped in scarlet robes processed up St. Émilion’s main street. They were members of the Jurade, the local winemakers’ guild, whose main function seems to be to promote St. Émilion’s expensive wines with the occasional burst of pseudomedieval pomp.
But there was little the Jurade could do on that sunlit September morning to dispel the legal cloud that hung over this winemaking region in Bordeaux. By coincidence, one of the people responsible for hanging that cloud turned up next to me in the street. A slender middle-aged man in a double-breasted blue blazer, he waved at the Jurade members as they passed, his sad eyes seeking their attention.
Some of the scarlet-robed grandees ignored him. Others smiled weakly and turned away. Things have not been easy for Guy-Petrus Lignac since February 2007, when he and eight other vineyard owners filed an infamous lawsuit that rattled the global market for Bordeaux wine and set the normally peaceful village of St. Émilion at war with itself. “He’s a good friend of mine,” said the St. Émilion winemaker Laurence Brun, when I interviewed her last year, “but it is impossible to deal with him now. He is fighting with everyone.”
Lignac has deep roots in Bordeaux. As his middle name — Petrus — suggests, his family once owned several local vineyards, including Château Pétrus, whose wines can retail for $2,000 a bottle. These days, however, all that remains of what might have been Lignac’s inheritance is Château Guadet, 13.6 acres of vines just outside the village boundary of St. Émilion.
Guadet is no Pétrus, but for the past half-century it possessed the distinction of being in the classification of St. Émilion. A classification is a kind of order of nobility for vineyards: a ranking of the top properties in a given area (or of those that produce a certain type of wine) according to historic prestige and price. So it came as a sickening shock when, in the spring of 2006, the government commission charged with updating the St. Émilion classification tossed Guadet out of the ranking, citing poor scores on a taste test.
“Being declassified was very, very difficult,” Lignac says. “My mother told me if my father were still alive he would take a gun and shoot himself.”
Lignac and five other winemakers who were demoted at the same time sued. Their goal was to be reinstated in the classification. Instead, they set off a series of court cases that ended last month when the local court in Bordeaux declared the 2006 St. Émilion classification invalid and canceled it. Since then, the French government has stepped in with an emergency law that reinstates the 1996 classification for a few more years. After that, the future is uncertain.
“The court’s decision came as something of a bombshell,” admits Jeffrey Davies, an American who is a high-level wine exporter based in Bordeaux. “Chateaus are confused about what they should put on their labels now, and it’s hard to know what the best way forward is for St. Émilion.”
THREE DAYS BEFORE the Jurade’s parade, I joined Lignac on his morning walk through his vineyard. The vines, bright green and jaunty, marched in rows up the hillside, but September is always an anxious month, since winemakers must choose the perfect time to pick. Harvest too soon, and you lose the final days of sun that impart fullness and complexity to the grapes. Wait too long, and the same sun will bake the life out of your fruit.
Lignac bent down and snapped a single merlot grape from a tight, purple-black cluster hanging low off the vine and popped it into his mouth. It was sun-warm and sweet, and the seeds imparted the pleasant mouth pucker produced by what wine buffs call tannin. “We are fighting the rain all this year,” Lignac said, referring to the soggy summer of 2007. “But we have sun in September, and I think it will be right to harvest in six or eight days.”
Satisfied that all was well, Lignac walked back up the hill, past the traffic circle at the edge of St. Émilion, to the stone town house on the village’s main street where he was raised. The house has an austere beauty. Centuries old in places, it has been allowed to decay in a way that suggests old-fashioned good taste. Lignac, who is 59, is better preserved. Compact, with a full head of graying hair, he is an energetic, cerebral man of deep emotions that he plainly struggles to contain.
Unlocking the heavy wooden door of his house, Lignac made his way through the cool, narrow building to the backyard. There, not 50 feet from the street, was the equipment for sorting grapes, fermenting juice and aging it in barrels. This modest setup produces around 25,000 bottles of wine a year. Lignac wouldn’t open his books, but he did say the vineyard nets just enough to support one nuclear family. That is common in St. Émilion, where the average vineyard is about 17 acres, and it is why Lignac heirs have always sought their fortunes elsewhere before returning to the vineyard in middle age.
Lignac himself took over in 2000, when he was 51. “Year after year, my father would say to me, ‘Next year the vineyard is for you,’ ” he recalled. “So I worked for a pharmaceutical company and waited, but my head was always with the vines, thinking of what I would do.”
Lignac is proud of his vineyard, his lineage, his wife, Catherine, and the four grown children they raised. But these days his pride is marred by anxiety. He seems haunted by conspiracy theories, all of which swirl back somehow to the demotion of Guadet from the classification. Lignac suspects fellow winemakers of cheating at competitive tastings by doctoring their wines. He also sees bias in the fact that a friend of one of the administrators he sued over the estate of the great-aunt who owned Château Pétrus sat on the commission that judged wines for the classification. “He should have recused himself,” Lignac told me.
THE CONTROVERSY over the St. Émilion classification is a classic village squabble, but it is a village squabble with global implications. It is a fight over who has the authority to declare quality in the wine world, a clash between 19th-century agrarian tradition and 21st-century administrative law and a sign of the growing rift between the handful of superelite vineyards in Bordeaux and the less prestigious vineyards just beneath them. It may also signal the demise of Bordeaux’s 150-year-old tradition of classification.
St. Émilion is but one of more than 50 different wine growing areas, or appellations, in Bordeaux, a region in southwest France that is home to more of the world’s established high-end vineyards than anywhere else on earth. Until all the trouble started last year, Bordeaux had five classifications. The oldest and best known is the Classification of 1855, which ranks sweet white wines as well as the top 61 vineyards in the Médoc and Graves areas, commonly known as the Left Bank, into five categories, from “First Growth” to “Fifth Growth,” and contains in its first rank such famed vineyards as Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion.
It is no insult to Lignac’s vineyard to say it lacks the kind of international reputation enjoyed by the very top Bordeaux vineyards. In the United States, Guadet retails between $25 and $40 a bottle, far below the hundreds or even thousands fetched by elite Bordeaux wines. Most distinguished small properties in St. Émilion, an important area on the Right Bank, fall into this category. They are rarely reviewed by the important critics. They don’t come up at the big wine auctions. The winemakers aren’t personalities; they are artisans, producing an agricultural product whose biggest selling point is where it comes from rather than a brand name recognized by much of the wine-buying public.
While Lignac’s wine might not have had a global reputation, it did have an internationally understood credential. Its membership in the St. Émilion classsification was signaled on the label by the words “Grand Cru Classé.” Seated at the small metal table underneath the squat palm tree in his garden, Lignac told me that he applied for the 2006 classification with confidence, assuming that tradition and the numerous improvements he had instituted in his vineyard would win the day. (Unlike some of the other Bordeaux classifications, whose rankings never change, St. Émilion’s version resets every decade. A government commission accepts written applications and bottle samples from vineyards and puts together a new ranking for the next 10 years.) “I had no idea anything would go wrong,” Lignac said. “My parents, other people in St. Émilion, said this wine has always had the classification. There is no problem.”
But in 2006 the telephone rang in Lignac’s cluttered office on the ground floor of his town house. A French journalist was calling to ask how Lignac felt about having his wine stripped of its ranking. A few days later the letter arrived from the government. Roughly translated, it read, “A great number of the vintages tasted were judged to be insufficient by the members of the commission.” A total of 11 chateaus were demoted, Lignac’s among them. “I was amazed,” Lignac said, putting his hands to his forehead, “and I was very, very upset. I had done all of this work. We had many years of history, and it was for nothing.”
This winter, while he was waiting for the Bordeaux court to render its judgment, Lignac told me that he would be content to see the entire classification canceled, if that would lead to the creation of a fairer version. This attitude was not shared by many of Lignac’s colleagues. Again and again, people in the Bordeaux wine business told me that losing the classification, even for a year or two, would be a blow. Without it, no one would know what to print on their labels, and some vineyards wondered how they would price their wines.
It was said around Bordeaux that Lignac and his allies had no right to sue. They didn’t have to be in the classification, the argument went. They had applied for the privilege. So why should they complain about the results now? Anyway, their wines weren’t up to par. “The case was brought by four properties who produce rubbish,” the noted St. Émilion winemaker Nicolas Thienpont was quoted as saying in Wine Enthusiast magazine last year. “Whatever the tribunal decides, they will still produce rubbish.” Lignac professed to take this criticism in stride. “If we decide to sue him, no problem,” Lignac said of Thienpont. “We would be awarded money. But I decide, ‘No I won’t pour gasoline on the fire.’ ”
LAST MONTH, after the court canceled the 2006 St. Émilion classification, the French government reinstated the one from a decade earlier, which will be valid until 2009. In theory, this will give St. Émilion time to write a new one; whether that’s possible remains an open question.
There are those, especially on our democratically minded side of the Atlantic, who would be glad to see the end of the classifications. They regard them as a bit of Gallic fustiness designed to wow the impressionable and help France’s patrician farmers avoid competition with less-ennobled vineyards at home and abroad. In “Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wine,” Robert Parker includes a section mockingly titled “Who’s on First” that argues the Classification of 1855 is now largely of historic value.
It is true that much has changed since 1855. Bordeaux and Burgundy are no longer the only sources for elite wines. New World wines and wines from upstart vineyards across Europe also attract attention and fetch big prices. Vast new markets have emerged in Asia and the former Soviet Union; the growing power of critics and the Internet allow obscure vineyards to rocket to fame in scant months. Yet, as Parker himself admits, the 1855 classification continues to assert a strong influence. There have been informal classifications in Bordeaux since at least the 18th century, and the prestige they confer is recognized worldwide. “I’ve had winemakers tell me they long for the kind of advantage the classifications give Bordeaux,” David Milligan, the noted U.S. importer says. “The classifications lend a legitimacy no one else can match.”
As Lignac can testify, the consequences of losing classified status can be swift and harsh. After the wine was declassified, one local wholesaler who distributes Château Guadet refused to take Lignac’s calls. Most declassified vineyard owners find that their vital distribution lines have dried up, and the market will take their wines only at a discount of 30 to 50 percent. With his revenue dropping, the owner of a demoted vineyard must decide whether to accept his new lowly status — and thereby sink into greater anonymity and lowering prices — or gamble big money on a 10-year program of upgrades that may or may not get him back into the classification.
It is a gamble complicated by the problem of land value. The day a vineyard is declassified, its worth as real estate plunges. For many vineyard owners, this is the real tragedy of declassification. Yearly profits from winemaking are not high in Bordeaux; 3 percent is considered good. But the value of vineyard land has skyrocketed over the past 30 years. A winemaker stuck with a declassified vineyard that he can’t afford to whip into shape — or with a vineyard co-owned by nervous family members who want out — may be forced to sell for a fraction of the land’s potential price. Shortly after being declassified, Lignac was contacted by bottom feeders, hoping to acquire his land at a big discount. “I have received three offers,” he sniffed. “They know the earth is good.”
In France, as in much of Europe, wine is thought of more in terms of soil than in terms of grape type, say, chardonnay or pinot noir. Tied up in this is the idea of terroir, the notion that topography, soil and climate can make two wines taste different, even if those wines were made from the exact same grape and grown within a football field of each other. There are those who doubt the concept of terroir, but it is held in wide esteem; the classifications are an implicit endorsement of a vineyard’s terroir. Alexis Weill, a banker specializing in high-end vineyard sales and acquisitions for the Rothschild Group in Paris, told me that a classified St. Émilion acre is worth between $800,000 and $1.2 million in today’s market. If the land were declassified, it would be worth a third as much.
Many people in the wine business seem conflicted about the classifications. Clearly, they mean something: they affect the price of land and wine, and people are eager to spend time and money for the status they confer. On the other hand, almost everyone plays down their importance. It seems there is no constituency in the wine world willing to admit the classifications’ power, perhaps because they would prefer to reserve that power for themselves. Critics and sommeliers typically argue that their taste buds are more reliable than any classification. Vineyard owners and wine retailers and wholesalers will argue for the primacy of the market. “The market is logical,” one Bordeaux wine trader told me. “A good wine will find its price over time with or without classification.”
Still, the classifications have always been part of the conversation. The first, the Classification of 1855, was prompted by an international trade fair in Paris. In order to mount an exhibition of Bordeaux wines, the region’s wine brokers drew up a list of the best Médoc and Graves vineyards, based on price records and informal rankings dating back centuries. Since then — apart from the addition of a Fifth Growth vineyard in 1856 and the promotion of Château Mouton Rothschild from Second Growth to First in 1973 — the 1855 classification hasn’t changed, but it has grown in importance. In the 19th century, there were classified vineyards that didn’t even bother to mention their status on their labels. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the 1855 classification’s impact grew. This was especially true after World War II, when the small, English-dominated market for fine wine first went global and new buyers, many American, looked for a way to determine quality.
At that time, 50 years ago, St. Émilion was a relative backwater. The wines that attracted all the money and attention were made in the Médoc, where the 1855 classification reigned. St. Émilion’s village elders hoped a classification of their own would draw attention to their wines. St. Émilion based its initial 1955 ranking on several criteria, including terroir and the market value of the wines, relying on such sources as the wholesale prices the Germans negotiated with Vichy France during World War II. “We used the prices the Germans paid,” says a 90-year-old local winemaker, Thierry Manoncourt. “Those were the best records we had.”
There have been five St. Émilion classifications since 1955; each has produced controversies among vineyard owners. But this has not deterred St. Émilion’s leaders from making the classification ever more rigorous. There were 84 vineyards classified in 1969. In 2006 that number was brought down to 61. “We want a classification that is serious,” says Hubert de Bouard, proprietor of a classified and critically acclaimed vineyard, Château Angelus, and the local representative of the French government’s wine regulatory body. “It is done for the protection of consumers.”
And, as de Bouard and others argue, it has worked. By updating their classification every 10 years, St. Émilion’s elders hoped to encourage competition while maintaining a recognizable St. Émilion style. And, indeed, St. Émilion has become one of Bordeaux’s hottest regions today, with wines blended with cabernet franc and merlot, among others, that, most expert tasters agree, retain a distinct local flavor.
But for those who dislike the idea of classification, the opposite is true. In their eyes, St. Émilion has grown in stature thanks to the so-called “garage wines.” These are made by tiny wineries that have popped up in the past 30 years, which produce small quantities of wine, using the latest winemaking techniques. While Bordeaux is known for making perfumed, restrained, food-friendly wines that are reasonably alcoholic and capable of long aging, garage wines are known for being intense, higher in alcohol, ready to drink and, for some palates, too brash for pairing with most foods. (In recent years, there has been talk that the fad for garage wines is coming to an end. But some of these rich, opulent wines continue to do well on the market, particularly because critics, notably Robert Parker, often reward them with high scores.) Since garage wines operate outside the classification system and can sell for prices that exceed all but the very top classified wines, they are cited as proof that classification is a dated idea. “Now people buy wines according to many reasons,” Stephan von Neipperg, a German count who makes various renowned St. Émilion wines, including two classified wines and a garage wine, told me. “Who needs the classification?”
Well, some answer, St. Émilion’s numerous small, traditional vineyards do. The few dozen superelite Bordeaux wines that sell for hundreds or thousands a bottle (classified historic vineyards and top garage wines alike) have benefited from globalization. Luxury goods of limited supply, they are now in greater demand than ever. But globalization has been rather unsettling for the wines just beneath this exalted category, a group that would include most of the Grand Cru Classé wines of St. Émilion.
How can 17-acre, family-owned vineyards, making a more traditional style of wine, compete in a global marketplace? Such vineyards have been snapped up by international beverage companies and some winemakers have discarded traditional styles in search of high ratings from critics. Vineyards in North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa benefit from reliable weather, lower production costs and less interference from government regulations. Year in and year out, they can turn out drinkable wine at lower cost. In France, by contrast, the weather is more fickle, and every aspect of wine production is subject to regulation, down to whether a winemaker can irrigate a field or introduce a new grape variety into the blend of a certain wine.
“If the classification vanished, the problem will be for the less-known chateaus,” says Laurence Brun, the St. Émilion winemaker. “They are little; they are not structured to be a brand; they need the protection of classification.”
De Bouard agrees: “The classification is the chance for a small vineyard to show what it can do. Maybe it doesn’t get a good score from Robert Parker, but it is classified, and maybe people will taste it and buy it.”
Lignac’s critics say he produces wine that just isn’t good enough to compete in the global marketplace without the crutch of classification. Lignac argues the classification is a bulwark that allows him to compete in a marketplace that might otherwise be indifferent to his wine’s considerable charms. “I don’t like the wines that taste like they could have been made anywhere,” Lignac says. “I want to make a St. Émilion wine.”
EVEN THOSE WHO would like to see French winemaking relax its traditions would concede the courtroom is not the ideal place to effect that change. When the lawyers for the demoted vineyards sued to have the 2006 classification annulled, they focused on procedural and legal arguments that had little to do with the relative qualities of their clients’ wines. They argued that the commission was composed of people with conflicts of interest and others who weren’t qualified to judge St. Émilion wine. They pointed out that the commission’s methods were unfair: some vineyards were visited in person, and others weren’t. As Lignac’s lawyer, Philippe Thevenin, later admitted to me, the strategy in such cases is to throw all available arguments at the wall and see what sticks.
The commission that assembled the St. Émilion classification had nine members: some were experts in St. Émilion wine with ties to the village that might influence them; others may have been less qualified to judge the local wines but were not from the area. The members met around 40 times over 18 months. At each meeting they reviewed a certain number of vineyards by tasting 10 years’ worth of wine. The tastings were blind, meaning the bottles were covered and presented by French government officials who were not on the commission. After the wines were tasted and graded, the names of the chateaus were revealed, their written applications scrutinized and the new ranking voted on.
Public sentiment in Bordeaux is that the commission did a good job. Not perfect; there were flaws. But as good as you can expect in judging wines, which is an inherently subjective activity. “It was done well,” says Nicolas Thienpont, who at the time managed three St. Émilion chateaus: one demoted from the classification, one raised from the lowest to the middle rank and one that held onto its ranking.
In the end, the three-judge panel in the Tribunal Administratif de Bordeaux, the court charged with deciding the case, tossed the 2006 St. Émilion classification out on the grounds that the tastings were unfair because wines that were in the 1996 classification were tasted separately from those that were not in that classification. According to Lignac’s lawyer, this separation into two categories violated some general principle of fairness in French law. Lignac hailed the ruling as vindication. “Our position was correct,” he told me last month by phone from France. “The classification was not right.” But even Lignac’s lawyer called the ruling a narrow, technical one. “It was a question of form and procedure,” Thevenin said. “The court didn’t say the classification was bad.”
Hubert de Bouard says that St. Émilion is hoping to write a new classification after the 2008 harvest. But he cannot or would not tell me what form he thought the new classification might take. The problem facing St. Émilion now is both legal and political. The Bordeaux court’s recent decision in the St. Émilion case didn’t really prove anything about the quality of St. Émilion’s wines. What it did prove was that an entire classification can be brought down by legal technicalities. The fear is that rather than a new, even better classification, there may be none at all.
That is what happened last year. In a case strikingly similar to the St. Émilion affair, the classification of the cru bourgeois, or midlevel, vineyards of the Médoc was declared illegal by a judge. As Thierry Gardinier, president of the Crus Bourgeois Association, put it: “Tradition has come up against modern law, and the law has won. We are following the American system. You need lawyers and lawyers and lawyers. Voilà! That is the modern world.”
Given the classifications’ current legal precariousness, the difficulty in writing a new one lies in figuring out how to keep vineyard owners happy while creating a ranking that stays current. This is the puzzle being worked on by the former cru bourgeois vineyards. According to Gardinier, the new classification they are drafting will be overseen by an independent company, to remove the appearance of conflict of interest. More important, the new classification will be reviewed every year; the period of potential demotion would be so short — one vintage — that the incentive to sue would be greatly decreased. Gardinier played a major role in writing these proposed changes, but he said what he and his colleagues have come up with isn’t really a classification in the traditional sense. “A classification is an order of nobility,” he told me. “It doesn’t change much over time. If you change it every few years, you no longer have a classification exactly; you have a form of certificate.”
Toward the end of my stay in France, I spent an afternoon with two lawyers who represented disaffected winemakers in the cru bourgeois and St. Émilion cases. Alone among the major players in all of this, the lawyers were pleased. They took on high-profile cases and were much more successful than they imagined they would be. At the end of the meeting, we went out to lunch.
When I first asked them if they could think of a way to challenge the famed Classification of 1855 in court, they scoffed. It was the first, they said, the one that established the others, and it had the advantage from the legal standpoint that it doesn’t change. Then over duck breast and a nice Bordeaux wine, they began to work on the problem. Eventually, they saw at least a way in. The 1855 classification was given legal status by formal government decree in 1949. But when Château Mouton Rothschild was raised to First Growth in 1973, it was done with a lesser form of government proclamation called an arreté.
In French law, an arreté can never modify a decree, so the lawyers said that an argument could be made that the Classification of 1855 in its current form isn’t exactly right. “There’s always a way,” I said to Eric Agostini, who represented the disaffected vineyard owners in the cru bourgeois case. Agostini smiled. “Yes,” he said, “There’s always a way.”
Edward Lewine, a frequent contributor to the magazine, is working on a book about wine.