May 2010 Editorial- Bordeaux on Trial

POSTED ON 01/05/2010

First the action, then the reaction. Now the interlude before the prices come out. Yes, welcome to the Bordeaux 2009 en primeur circus, ladies and gentlemen. Are you sitting comfortably? I hope so because now that the sound and fury of the tasting week of the new Bordeaux from cask has died down, the curtain is about to rise on the next phase of the action. Yes, the châteaux have shown their wines and the critics have had their say, so it's back to Bordeaux for producers to set their opening prices. When wine merchants in the UK set out their own stalls over the coming weeks, only then can we know for sure, or relatively sure at least, which wines will be worth buying, which to stay away from and which will be out of reach anyway. So let's just recap for a moment.


In the immediate aftermath of the tastings in Bordeaux before Easter, opinion was divided. I'm not talking about differences of opinion over the vintage or the wines themselves so much as the wisdom of en primeur itself, handing over cash today, that is, for wines that haven't yet been bottled and won't be delivered for two years. Most of those who'd tasted the wines were blogging and tweeting away with opinions and scores. Many who hadn't were questioning the entire relevance of Bordeaux en primeur. According to one tweet, 'Disconnect. 09 BDX at this point =intellectual pursuit; interests mags but not real people, who'd rather talk @ available wine'. Here's another: 'Bordeaux en primeur campaign is a type of #wine porn - the high-class call-girls of the industry, invested in before trial. Risky business?'

If the Twitterverse was divided as to the relevance to wine drinkers of Bordeaux showing samples of its wines from the barrel two years before they're actually bottled, then I can only assume that our membership too will have its fair share of voters for, against and floating - and I'm not talking elections. Are you a Gang member who's been eagerly awaiting reactions, scores and prices? Or are you an irritated, frustrated and bored 'who cares', because the wines you want will be too expensive, because you can't take delivery of the wine for two years, because when you do you'll have to find room or money to stash the stuff away for a few more years and because you think the potential risk is too great?

It's worth re-stating that the point of en primeur, at least as far as wine lovers are concerned, is that paying up front should enable you to buy a delicious wine at a discount to its eventual price on a wine merchant's list. And in my view 2009 should give us all ample opportunity to do this. Let's forget for a moment the grand first growths and their ilk. The top wines we tasted risking life and teeth in Bordeaux in the process are investment-candy likely to come out at astronomical prices (think £5000 a case plus). Even then you probably couldn't get your hands on them unless you were a regular buyer or were uncommonly close to your wine merchant. No, the prime targets for wine lovers in this vintage will be those classified châteaux, second wines and crus bourgeois that have made their best wines ever.

And the risk? The Bordeaux 2009 en primeur campaign attracted the usual hype that a good vintage does, but 2009 is not just good. Leaving aside caveats and controversy for a moment, and the vintage is not uniform across the board, 2009 is nonetheless an exceptional vintage. Cabernet Sauvignon played a starring role in the Médoc but Merlot took the best supporting actor in parts of St Emilion and Pomerol. Fraud clings to this sort of success like a leech, but you as a buyer can do a lot to mitigate any risk by considering the reputation of the wine merchant, asking if they offer guarantees or insurance, checking if prices are competitive and getting assurances that the wine is identified as yours as soon as you're legally entitled to it. The bottom line is that if you buy at a reasonable price from a reputable merchant in a great vintage, the risks are minimized. If you take the plunge, buy well, and buy wisely. This isn't the last you'll hear from us on Bordeaux 2009.

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