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Bordeaux 2011: On Your Marks…

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.

10 Responses to “Bordeaux 2011: On Your Marks…”

  1. Chris

    Do you mean that prices should be below release prices of 08 or current prices? If current prices, aren’t they considerably close to the release prices of 09?

    Parker, publicly has had a tough start of the year, who can blame him wanting to taste away from the influence of the Bordelaise and his peers whispering of his impending retirement. At the same time a victim of his own success, and holds sway on Bordeaux far too easily.

    Heyho, the silly season is upon us again!

  2. Chris, I hope that you will also take the opportunity to taste a good sample of those under £200 a case second wines and cru bourgeois. The real test of the vintage will be how the likes of Moulin Riche, Cambon La Pelouse, d’Agassac, and (Parker’s latest favourite) Senejac do; and at the next level up the likes of Fleur Cardinale, Moulin St Georges, Fieuzal, Ferriere, and their ilk.

  3. Hi Dids. Below 2008 prices now; it is this that will drive consumers to buy, rather than historical prices (although that makes for interesting comparisons). Current 2008 prices are lower than current 2009 prices. If current 2008 prices are close to 2009 release prices (I haven’t checked) then that only reinforces the need for a big drop in release prices in 2011, doesn’t it?

    Silly season it is. I’m in it, but I hope I don’t look as though I get swept away by it. If that ever appears to be the case, please shoot me,

  4. Hi Mark. I will do what I can, but I won’t be able to cover all bases, although this applies to big names (always miss some out on a tight schedule – unlikely to get to Latour, Le Pin or Ducru this year) as well as the little guys, so I hope I’m evenly distributing my attention. This year I’m heading out a day and a half earlier but that hasn’t afforded me a lot of extra tastings but I should get some exposure to smaller châteaux at Sunday négociant tastings by doing this. Also more coverage of Sauternes I hope, which could well be the stars of the vintage.

  5. Will we all buy this year, or will we just read the reports and hope; whistfully mind, that the prices stabilise to sensible levels.

    Personally I’ll just do as everybody else does, wait and see to look at the reports and see what the prices are like.
    What do the Bordelais do with all the unsold wine ?, anybody fancy a swim in the wine lake ?. Surely they lose money by storing the wine for years and hoping the price picks up. I think somebody needs to translate and explain the phrase ” a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” into French.

  6. Chris,

    I always enjoy your en primeur reports and will still read your 2011 reports avidly too. As for buying, unless I really *can’t* help myself I am giving Bdx2011 a complete miss for the first time since 2003/2007. Put simply, I am lucky enough to have a cellar that is chock full of fabulous 2005s, 2009s and 2010s, as well as a handful of 02s/04s/08s. I just don’t need any more Bordeaux right now!

    My only exception will be if a load load of 2011 Rieussec gets dumped for stupid prices on the market again (as per 2010, where it ws going for £220 a case) or Monsieur Thienpoint decide to release his always fabulous (in my opinion anyhow) VCC at a silly price that I simply can’t resist e.g. £600 a case, which is still far more than the 02 and 04 I bought.

    This is a very odd situation for me as I usually really look forward to the campaign. But this is a direct result of what you have been talking about – decent cru quality from Bordeaux is now priced to compete with the very top wines from Germany, the Rhone or parts of Italy. And I have bought the hype and really stocked up on the last two great vinatges as well as 05.

    P.S. I’m really looking froward to your new Magbook as well as I’ve read a few of your page proofs (full disclosure, I work for Dennis Publishing, the publisher of Chris’ work in print!) and they look great. I am certain we will be the first book to come out with the 2011 included.

  7. Hi Richard. The system is complicated, and if the 2011s don’t sell it will be the négoce that take the hit, the middlemen that are almost obliged to buy to maintain allocations. There must surely be some middle ground though as it isn’t in the proprietors interests to load all the risk onto the négoce so much that one goes bust. I think also the profits from selling 2009 and 2010 will protect them a little. Although I think there is still a lot of 2010 in the system what did sell sold for a high price, and 2009 sold very well, with a further flourish with RP’s recent notes.

  8. Hi James. Well I think we may see some good buys in the Sauternes category, as they are much more cautious about increasing prices (traditionally anyway…although who knows with 2011?). And the quality could be very good indeed. As for the reds, it sounds like you’re fully stocked anyway. Unless the prices are bargains, I think there will be very little incentive for you to buy more. Glad you like the proofs!

  9. I bought eight cases each of 09 and 10 red: nothing too pricey (max 260), just wines that I want to have in the cellar and so I have my allocation, My view of 11 is that I will buy 2-3 cases of sauternes if the prices are down, and perhaps 2-3 cases of red including maybe something I could not afford in those vintages, but again only if it comes back withing my maximum spend and if the quality is at the top end of the spectrum. For reds, I’m potentially interested in the right bank, as the alcohol levels are down, and I bought left bank in the other two vintages.

  10. I have lost my interest in Bordeaux during the last years, just crazy prices, I have switched to Italy : more diversity and price-setting is more stable

    I will turn back to Bordeaux as soon as the prices have come back to earth 😉 and fortunately I have a nice stock of 2005,2006 (I think this vintage is unterrated) and 2008

    I didn’t buy anything en primeur in 2010 and I don’t think I will buy in 2011

    looking forward to your notes 🙂

    PS : don’t you need anybody to carry your suitcase in Bordeaux? 😉