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Malcolm Jolley: Bored with Bordeaux? Don’t give up on the once-classic yet

Commentary

Last summer, I wrote about a certain Bordeaux wine, Château Cissac, and the joy of raiding my father-in-law’s cellar. Sadly, I will not have the pleasure of tasting that wine with him again, as he passed away over Easter weekend. In the days since, I have been looking for Claret, as the English traditionally call red wine from that part of France, in a kind of self-indulgent remembrance.

Bordeaux dominated world wine culture in the last half of the 20th century. Specifically, in the sense that the most famous wines, like Château Lafite, were typically classified as growth Bordeaux, but also figuratively. Wine farms across the world decided to fashion themselves as Chateaux, or at the very least ‘estates’.

Times have changed. The most sought-after luxury red wines are now just as likely to be from Burgundy. When wino types show off on my Instagram feed, the shoulders on the bottles in their photos are much more likely to be slouched than square. And the established trend of the 21st century is to emphasize the lieu-dit, or the specific vineyard, or even parcel within, when promoting a wine, whether it’s Barolo or Barossa.

Last December, Jancis Robinson wrote a column entitled “Whither Bordeaux?”, which lamented the decline of everyday Bordeaux, citing a year-end report from Live-Ex, a platform for trading fine wines. It showed the region’s finest wines had their worst volume of trade ever in 2022, while  Burgundy had its best.

Boredom with Bordeaux has also, I think, trickled down from the high rollers spending big money on crus classés en primeur. Or maybe boredom is the wrong word, at least for those of us who started getting interested in wine from the 1990s on. You can’t be bored with something you don’t think very much about.

My father-in-law started drinking wine in the late 60s and early 70s in England. A glass of red wine then must certainly have almost always meant a glass of something from Bordeaux. Wine was a signifier of class, and very much a minority taste. Thirty years later, a young wine drinker looking for something made from Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot might just as likely try a glass from a bottle made in California or Australia, wherever they might have been in the English-speaking world.

Robinson’s piece on Bordeaux points to another piece, written by the critic Robert Joseph, in Meininger’s Wine Business International, a trade journal and website published in Germany. Joseph, a veteran British wine journalist and editor, that Bordeaux producers, from lesser-known areas and less-famous estates as the classified growths, missed their opportunity to develop their own brands, relying instead on goodwill generated by the big players.

The good news for consumers at the moment is there are lots of good Bordeaux in the market, and since supply is outstripping demand, some good deals. Joseph writes: “There is lots of very good wine produced every year in Moulis, Listrac, and Fronsac, but there are no real star chateaux and, outside Aquitaine, few wine drinkers other than very keen Bordeaux buffs or [Master of Wine] students, would reach for a wine from any of them in the way they might for a St Emilion.”

The bad news, which spurred on Joseph’s column, is that a lot of Bordeaux growers are struggling to find a break-even price for their fruit. The mitigating news is Bordeaux makes more wine than all the other regions of France put together, so it’s unlikely that they will run out of wine to export very soon.

One group of Bordeaux producers who don’t need a lesson in branding, and who Joseph praises by name, is the Sichel family that owns Château Palmer, a Third Growth Classified wine located in Margaux. Prices for late vintages start around $500. Luckily for hard-working wine columnists the Sichels own more than just the one winery, and their name caught my attention when their Ontario agency used social media to promote Château Argadens.

The 2019 Château Argadens Bordeaux Supérieur is $20 at my local provincial government liquor retail monopoly. It’s from the Entre-Deux-Mers, the part of Bordeaux that lies between the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, which is enjoying an improving reputation.

If I hadn’t got the tip from the promotion, I might not have paid attention to the Argadens for the bigotry of price snobbery. In my experience, the quality-to-price ratio of red Bordeaux makes a leap over $25 and makes for a safer bet at $30. Though, had it been more expensive I might also have looked over the Argadens for its relative youth, imagining it would need a few more years for the tannins to soften.

As it is, the 2019 is a wine with fine tannins, which complement its dark red to black fruits. The wine is from the Merlot-dominated Right Bank, and is made with 63 percent of the grape, which tends to be softer than Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes up the remaining 37 percent. It has enough structure to be put down for a few years, but drinks just fine if it’s opened an hour or so before serving.

The Argadens went to dinner with what the English food writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall calls The Full Monty: standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, and a veg for garnish, in this case, green beans. The Claret was perfect for the meal and perfect for toasting our dear lost father, father-in-law, and grandfather. I think Bill would have enjoyed it even if it wasn’t Cissac.

Trevor Tombe: Capping oil and gas emissions is a bad idea

Commentary

Putting a price on carbon emissions was once the backbone of the federal government’s climate policies. Today, it is anything but.

In its latest budget, for example, the federal government lists its climate priorities and the tools it will use to achieve them. Interestingly, pollution pricing is rarely mentioned. And when it is, they are mostly referring to the system that large industrial emitters face rather than the one individual Canadians doSee the main figure on page 74 that details “Canada’s Plan for a Clean Economy” and note the absence of the broad retail carbon tax..

The government, it seems, is rapidly moving away from market-based approaches to lower greenhouse gas emissions and instead opting for more targeted initiatives, such as subsidies for hydrogen projects, carbon capture and storage, and clean electricity generation. Altogether, Budget 2023 might offer the equivalent of $70 billion over ten years in such tax-funded incentives. 

It’s also turning to stricter regulations, such as on fuel suppliers and vehicle sales. And there is more to come. The government appears set to soon announce the most significant departure from efficient climate policy yet: a cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector.

This is a very bad idea.

First, greenhouse gas emissions have the same effect on our climate regardless of which sector or region they come from. A tonne is a tonne is a tonne.

To impose higher burdens on some activities but not others increases the cost of lowering emissions beyond what is necessary. Why incur $100 in costs to avoid a tonne in one activity when you could avoid a similar tonne for $50 somewhere else? For this reason, a cap would force emissions reductions at potentially significant costs.

With Canada’s productivity growth already lagging, achieving our environmental goals efficiently should be a very high priority. And that means broad-based and uniform incentives to lower emissions are generally best for the simple reason that the government does not know what or where low-cost emissions reduction opportunities are. Creating an incentive that we all face equally leaves such decisions in the hands of individuals and businesses, who often know best what the cheaper options are.

Second, a cap risks further undermining the strength of the government’s own case for putting a price on carbon in the first place. If we can lower emissions without a tax, the argument may go, why have one at all? We are already seeing such arguments mount significantly following the recent subsidy-heavy U.S. climate billAvid listeners of The Herle Burly podcast will be very familiar with this..

And a cap effectively invites Canadians to place blame upstream, which reinforces the misplaced idea that some emissions are more damaging than others. That goes against the entire rationale for carbon pricing, so may weaken public support. 

A cap on oil and gas emissions could also undermine the government’s own legal argument for its authority to price carbon in provinces that don’t want to, as University of Alberta professor Andrew Leach noted in recent testimony to a House of Commons Committee. The consistency of prices across Canada was a key aspect of the government’s argument. A cap on oil and gas emissions detracts strongly from that.

Third, a cap on oil and gas emissions is unnecessary to achieve our emissions reduction goals. 

The latest modeling by the federal government has Canada already on track to achieve our original Paris target of 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. 

It is true the government has recently moved the goalpost and is now targeting 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, which—putting aside the wisdom of moving our targets prior to ever achieving one—may require a more stringent policy. 

To be clear, specific emissions targets like these may be a misplaced goal and, in any case, are incredibly difficult for a small open economy like Canada to meet. GDP growth, population growth, oil prices, and so on, have massive implications for future emissions. The difference between the government’s own low-growth and high-growth scenarios for 2030 is roughly 50 million tonnes—more than the current emissions of the entire electricity sector.

But that point aside, we can lower emissions further and strive to achieve these more ambitious goals if we want by improving current policy rather than layering on new and higher-cost ones. 

Québec, for example, is a laggard when it comes to certain climate policies. In that province, the most recent results of the carbon permit auction within their cap-and-trade system had prices that were less than half of the $65 per tonne price that prevails elsewhere. Before inefficiently ratcheting up costs on certain targeted sectors, we could first ensure those lagging behind are brought in line. 

I recognize that minimizing economic costs is not the only criterion policymakers are (or should be) concerned about. No party fully embraces market-based approaches. And Canadians themselves may prefer costs to be hidden, even if that means total costs are larger.

Pricing emissions also does not always make sense, even economically. Regulations to lower methane emissions—which, interestingly, may be the biggest near-term driver of emissions reductions in the oil and gas sector—are for several reasons fairly low-cost and sometimes difficult to price.

But to effectively and efficiently lower our greenhouse gas emissions, our priority should be consistent treatment of emissions across all regions and sectors. A cap on oil and gas emissions moves us further from this basic principle. And it comes with a high cost.