If you think of Bordeaux as “Bored-oh” then prepare for hibernation, as the primeurs are upon us. Twitter is already alive with comments and teasers from a number of critics who have deemed it appropriate to head out to Bordeaux before the official week of tasting (they obviously read my guide for critics). These individuals include James Suckling, who is always one of the first to taste, Neal Martin, Jeannie Cho Lee and a handful of others who are perhaps less vocal on Twitter. And of course Parker has been out there already, tasting from the weird seclusion of his hotel. And in general the comments seem more positive than negative; the vintage clearly has to be viewed in the context of 2009 and 2010, which everyone seems to agree wil not be matched by 2011, but the wines are not receiving universal derision. Even Parker, who tweeted a week or two ago “HEADING BACK TO BORDEAUX NEXT WEEK TO TASTE 2011s-ABSOLUTELY NO INTEREST IN THIS VINTAGE IF MY instincts are correct” (the capitals are his – don’t ask me why), a strange judgement considering he had never tasted any of the wines, has made a volte-face with his more recent comments on his bulletin board, where he wrote “the bottom line is that the vintage is better than I expected“.
I would argue that the bottom line is that it is important to taste before judging. It’s not really rocket science is it? Regardless of what anyone might think of Bordeaux, the winemakers and the wines at least deserve that. Indeed, every wine deserves individual and considered analysis, and with that in mind I leave for Bordeaux on Saturday, and will spend five days tasting the latest vintage. Longer would be better, and I already know I won’t be able to taste every big name, but I’m certain I will get a good overview of the vintage and enough tasting experience to report on Bordeaux 2011 commune by commune.
Nevertheless, the news with Bordeaux 2011 is most likely to centre around pricing rather than quality. Those in Bordeaux have likened the vintage to a variety of other recent years, including 2001, 2006 and 2008. If this is the case the prices need to come down in a massive drop from the ridiculous levels seen with the 2009 and 2010 vintages. If the vintage is comparable to – let’s take 2008 – then it makes sense that the prices need to come down to below the level of the 2008s in order to sell, otherwise why would anyone buy 2011 en primeur when they could buy the very similar quality 2008, a finished wine in bottle, for immediate delivery, with the same/better notes and scores, for less money? I doubt, however, that we will see such a price drop. The Bordelais remember all too well the 2008 vintage, which they viewed quite negatively but which I thought good (but not amazing – nothing like the subsequent primeurs tasting 2009 or 2010) and which they priced relatively low (I say relatively because for me most Bordeaux – even after a price drop like we saw in 2008 – is over-priced). Then, mid-campaign, Parker came out with effusive notes, high scores and all of a sudden the prices climbed and primeur sales woke up. Those estates that went early, at a lower price, got burnt. A few wines now trade at many multiples of their release price, but pretty much all climbed in price to some extent. A lot of potential profit was lost.
And in this vintage there is no doubt; Parker has made clear, through his bulletin board, that he is not going to trash the vintage. Comments such as “tasting 2011s was more fun than I thought” and “very rewarding to those who got it right” clearly indicate that, to Parker’s palate, there are some very good wines in this vintage. No proprietor is going to release early at a massively reduced price when there is a potentially high score in the pipeline. I suspect we will not see a hurried, sell-this-drinker’s-vintage-quick campaign, but rather one which waits for Parker more than ever. Most tweets concerning price clearly indicate prices will come down, but the Bordelais are cagey when it comes to how much. I expect a 10-20% drop; I do not expect the levels will come down to 2008 levels. Indeed, Jean-Guillaume Prats of Cos d’Estournel, one of the few who has given some real indication of how he intends to price his wine, has already stated his price will not come down to 2008 levels. Oh dear.
Enough of what others are saying, let’s get back to Bordeaux and Winedoctor. My own plan will be to begin my Bordeaux updates the Tuesday following my return (as for next week, a few blog posts, and no wine of the week on Monday, sorry). My writing will be hectic because as well as updating the Winedoctor site I will be putting the finishing touches to my forthcoming book, a pocket guide to Bordeaux (the title, not yet agreed, may well be something like “A 2012 Pocket Guide to Bordeaux” – imaginative, huh?). This will include a short chapter on Bordeaux 2011 alongside other vintage assessments, Bordeaux news and gossip, château profiles, a regional guide and so on. I’m very excited by it, and have been proof-reading a few chapters this week. One news item I have included is the influx of Chinese investment in Bordeaux in recent years, and with that in mind I have updated two profiles of minor châteaux today, both of which have been acquired by Chinese buyers; these are Laulan-Ducos and Lezongars. It seems so peculiar that, when we spend so much time talking about Bordeaux and the high prices of the wines, in much of the region near-unknown proprietors struggle to sell their wine and run in a near-bankrupt state. When Asian investors walk up with an open chequebook, who can blame them who selling up? As Gavin Quinney wrote on his blog recently, the recent string of acquisitions by the Chinese in Bordeaux to a “get out of jail free card.“