What is a Négociant, and Why Should You Care?

Posted July 01, 2015

Jeff Davis


Daily wine deals emailed to your inbox.

Today let's review a fairly common French wine term that's not always widely understood and that can provide useful information in the quest for wine value.

What does a négociant negotiate? These French merchants (and their international counterparts) purchase grapes, juice or bulk wine from small farmers, which they then produce, bottle and market on a larger scale under thenégociant's label.

Some firms, particularly older and traditional businesses, will use the double-barreled term négociant-éleveur couple of words that don't translate very well ("shipper-improver" might be a fair shot at it). In theory, a négociant simply buys, bottles and sells wine from outside sources, while an éleveur "improves" the wine by making it from grapes or freshly crushed juice. I've found, though, that the distinction is fuzzy in practice, and the terms are pretty much synonymous.

Assuming savvy shopping, the result to the consumer can be wine of good value, if for no other reason than that négociant wines are generally more lightly regarded than the "estate-bottled" and "single-vineyard" wines made on the premises by producers who grow their own grapes.

If you're willing to trade off the cachet (and the price) of estate-bottled wines and don't insist on top-rank style for everyday drinking, you'll find that négociant wines - particularly those from companies you've learned to trust - can offer a good, characteristic taste of a region and its grapes, without the expense of the more sought-after estate-bottled wines.

There are a number of well established negociants who have been selling wines here for years. In Burgundy, Louis Jadot, Louis Latour, Joseph Drouhin and others represent the older  more establishment negociants. A more recent phenomenon are the newer, smaller negociants like Alex Gambal, who focus on buying great fruit and making smaller production wines.  

If money is less a concern, these companies all have estate vineyards as well, and it is here where they are all making world class wine. Same can be said for other companies who do both; the Rhone Valley's Jaboulet, Guigal and Chapoutier come to mind.

George Dubouef makes thousands of cases of Beaujolais Nouveau and Villages. It could be said that he created the market here in the US for Beaujolais.  That said, if you want to have your mind blown, taste a cru Beaujolais from a smaller artisinal producer like Barbet.

Along with wines such as Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuisse, Dubouef has become a brand like Santa Margherita.   We're happy to sell you them but you can do better. Profound wines? Hardly. remember........you're paying for their glossy ads.

Bottom line be careful who you choose. Negociants serve a purpose, but choose wisely.

Product Label.

Barbet Fleurie Chateau De Fleurie

91 Josh Raynolds - Vinous Media

Item: 87805

750 mL

Retail: $19.99

$15.98 per btl