En Primeur Round-up
Last night I was privileged to attend the most wonderful party held in the Gallery of Bordeaux’s Grand Opera
, hosted by Pierre Lurton, the boss of Chateau d’Yquem. The only wine being poured was Chateau d’Yquem (and the dry Ygrec)
, and every detail was organised to perfection, from the elegant hostesses in their black silk haut couture business suits highlighted with a discreet sash of golden yquem coloured Thai silk, the colour coordination went on to include the golden tulips and stunning spring flowers, the gold leaf columns of this magnificent room matching the brilliant hue of the 1989 Yquem
So it is with the sweet aftertaste of this wine that I conclude the week’s blog with a round-up of impressions, thoughts and conclusions on the vintage, the market and the wines.
En Primeur presence
As ever, it is absolutely vital for me and my buyers to have come to Bordeaux this week. Firstly, we need to get a first-hand feel and in-depth understanding of the quality of the vintage and which chateaux’s wines have performed well this year.
That’s because there’s no substitute for tasting in situ. I and my team need to know which are the winners and losers in 2009 so that when we are talking to our clients around the world we can give them our honest assessments about the style of any particular chateau as well as how it will age and develop. And of course, we can advise whether it is a good buy when the prices are released over the next few weeks.
State of the market
Another reason to be here is to gauge the state of the market. Only by talking to the top players like Pierre Lurton at Cheval Blanc, Paul Pontallier at Margaux and Herve Berland at Mouton can you get an inside track on their perceptions of how the campaign will unfold – how much wine will be released in each individual tranche and at what price. Naturally, they aren’t giving too much away and are keeping their cards close to their chests, but I was able to get an insight into the way they are thinking thanks to some useful private conversations.
Of course, their pricing will also depend on what the market is telling them. And this year, it has been fascinating to see who has come to Bordeaux. Whilst there has been an Asian presence at many of the tastings I have been to, it certainly didn’t strike me that mainland Chinese buyers are out here in force. Nor have I heard too many American accents over the last three or four days. Will China and the States be up for the 2009s. I doubt whether the Chinese are yet ready to grasp the principle of buying something that you can’t have until two years after you’ve paid for it. And, I am sure that that and the fragile economic conditions will certainly influence the way the chateaux will price their wines. My view is that prices will be high, but will come out at less than 2005 release prices, but the amount of wine sold by the chateaux en-primeur will be a smaller proportion of their production.
And, it is always incredibly useful to talk to old friends, colleagues and competitors about their perceptions on the vintage and the market. The fine wine world largely revolves around Bordeaux and this is a multi-million pound industry with a lot to play for. All the major players come to Bordeaux for this annual event. So if you are serious about fine wine, you have to be here.
However, whilst it is a serious and intensive three days – it’s also terrific fun. There’s always a buzz about the en primeur tastings which I thrive on and compensate for the paucity of sleep.
And it’s also a chance to catch up with old friends and drink some great wine. For instance, last night following the “Yquem aperitif party” 30 of us dined together at Chateau de Sours with host Martin Krajewski
pulling out yet more stunning wines from his cellar including double magnums of 66 Mouton and 82 La Conseillante plus vintages of 86 Latour, 76 Mouton and the grand finale, 1990 Leoville Las Cases. It was quite a night!
Thoughts on the 2009 vintage
Two things stick in my mind from my visits to Bordeaux in 2009. One was the hail in May in St Emilion which wreaked such massive havoc in the space of a few short minutes. For instance at Chateau Balestard La Tonnelle
, the crop was decimated in the blink of an eye thanks to corridor of hail the size of golf balls. I could only feel the utmost sympathy for the owner, Mr Cap de Meurlin.
Some vines were able to re-bud. But the hail has undoubtedly reduced the volume of the Merlot crop. But perhaps most importantly, it has made it much more difficult for right bank winemakers to make a good selection in 2009.
Unfortunately, the Merlots
have had a tough time this year regarding the ripening process. The problem as I mentioned my earlier blogs was that the grapes ripened early in terms of sugar levels, but that winemakers then had to wait for phenolic ripeness - which took another two to three weeks as sugar levels continue to climb. They had the almost impossible choice of picking late and making wines with unusually high alcohol or picking early and making wines with green and harsh tannins. So, many have been caught between a rock and a hard place, I am afraid that a number of Merlot based wines on the Right Bank are not entirely successful.
In contrast, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc
have done particularly well this year. Rain at the right time also assisted the Cabernets leading me to think that many of the top wines are to be found on the left bank. Tellingly, many of the best wines in Margaux, Pauillac and St Julien have increased the quantity of Cabernet and cut the percentage of merlot in their 2009 blends.
As a result, I have been surprised by the 2009s. I came here having heard all the advance hype about the 2009s both from the press and winemakers who told me how good it was. Consequently, I came expecting a relatively homogenous profile of quality. Whilst there are a high proportion of magnificent wines, I don’t see the quality as being homogenous. Some of the wines simply have too much alcohol or the right level of alcohol with green unripe tannins.
It’s difficult to know how a winemaker resolves this problem, which may be a symptom of global warming. Having asked numerous winemakers about how they controlled the ripeness and alcohol, in almost every case they told me there is nothing they can do – except by selection from micro-terroir.
In other words, it is all down to terroir and climatic conditions. This was a dry vintage throughout the year with warm (but not hot) days and cold nights. Moreover, the extended growth cycle of 2009 meant that end of the harvest wasn’t completed until the end of October. Consequently, particular micro climates of individual terroirs were absolutely key. For instance, at Las-Cases and Latour, the vineyards back onto the Gironde river and therefore benefit from higher night time temperatures. This meant that they were able to harvest sooner rather than later and bring in ripe grapes with good acidity levels and perfect phenolics. And you can clearly taste it in the wines.
In conclusion then, which are my favourite wines?
The Firsts and Super Seconds, in particular, have produced exceptional wines in 2009 and I think some are as good as the legends of the past including 1982, 1990, 2000 and 2005. But there are also some great value wines which are well worth seeking out.
Here is a list of my top in terms of sheer quality and my top ‘value’ wines, both of which will provide enormous pleasure over the coming years.
Top quality 2009s
La Mission Haut Brion, Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Mouton, Las-Cases, Cheval Blanc, Palmer.
Top value 2009s
Clos de Marquis, Pavillon Rouge de Chateau Margaux, Potensac, Forts de Latour, Petit Village, Pichon Lalande, and a petit chateau in St Emilion Clos de la Madelaine.