So Bordeaux en primeur 2009 trundles along at a ridiculously lethargic pace with estates I rarely purchase even on bin end in my local Cost Co being released. Even these are only being drip fed onto the market with less than 5 releases a day. So why are we waiting this long?
Most believe that the Bordeaux market are hoping perhaps in desperation for the Chinese to purchase in droves and with the setting of Vin Expo 2010 in Hong Kong, in the last week of May, it seems everything has been placed on hold until the meetings, tastings and general schmoozing at this event is complete.
Decanter has reported that is was very busy http://www.decanter.com/news/298433.html and in conversations with my negociant suppliers, they also found it successful yet most established merchants still feel that it makes little sense to expect China to suddenly buy en primeur from top to bottom.
I have another concern which is how brand Bordeaux is being affected by this sudden increase of demand from a relatively nascent Chinese market. Bordeaux is certainly not just about price, yes the wines are expensive and always have been but the quality is fundamentally high and it is this that sets the prestige. It is a region that when on song can produce true vin de garde, wines that can improve for between 15 – 50 years and as such have graced the finest dining tables throughout history. They are wines that are complex, serious full of intrigue and as such require a slow, dedicated, learned appreciation. It may be nice to open a bottle of Lafite at a whim but I would far prefer to slowly build up to this point through years of drinking from; Cru Bourgeois, 5th growths, 3rds, super seconds, right to left bank and across great vintages of 1982, 1989, 1990, 2000, 2005 and more location specific vintages of 1988, 1998 to try those which drink early such as 2001 or understand that en primeur is sometimes a faulty mechanism for buying such as 1997 or more often the only way to get wines at their best price as was true in 2000 or 2005.
2009 will be a stunning vintage for one overriding factor which is how nature and winemaking has brought forward numerous wines which will drink impressively young but at the same time offer exceptional ageing potential. In the last 2 great vintages of the noughties 2000 & 2005 there were great wines from top to bottom but most were tannic and as such demanded time. In 09 the advances in viti & vini-culture have allowed us to have wines with high levels of tannin but incredible finess, balance and integration. This is a dramtic leap forward as many customers are still put off by needing to keep a wine for 10 years before even considering approaching it.
For this the Chateau must be commended and they fully deserve to price the wines accordingly but it is paramount that relationships with established wine buying customers are protected. They are the basis on which Bordeaux heritage is built and are part and parcel of the journey from vine to glass. These established markets know how to behave during en primeur, what to buy, when to pay, how to ship, where to store. Their customers often know about the wines, when to approach and drink, how to decant, drink, food match, enjoy and share. However insatiable one’s desire is to learn, and this is in no way a bad thing even if just a fad, it just isn’t an overnight thing! Wine is a complex beast, which surprises even the wisest of sage but it is precisely this which makes it so rewarding.
Entering into emerging markets is great, the wider the wine community becomes helps everyone but brands however dominant are still fragile especially those built with such care over such a long period of time. It is precisely this aspect of time which leads me to believe that the status quo should be protected. The current trading system imparted by Chateaux and negociant is a careful balance between acquiring new customers and satiating existing demand. In general everyone is encouraged to look at the vintage as a whole and make purchases across the Grand Cru Classe and selected Cru Bourgeois. Partly this is so that premium Bordeaux is protected and grows as one but also as a by product it encourages the consumer to purchase and discover Bordeaux across a range. As such I find little reason for a system which is 200+ years old and works to be radically altered. All new customers, markets etc should be warmly welcomed but there are merits to doing it the tried and tested way although perhaps that is a conservative view and needs a dash of liberalism!