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Bordeaux En Primeur: An Alternative Guide for Critics

It’s not long now until the frenzy and fury of Bordeaux 2011 kicks off. I will be there, tasting the barrel samples, my seventh year tasting and reporting on the nascent wines at this early stage, my fifth year of travelling to Bordeaux to do it. But for some, I know it might be an exciting first trip to the region to taste. So here’s my eight-point guide to would-be critics – perhaps those looking to fill the shoes of Robert Parker, who must surely retire sometime in the next thirty years – on how to make their mark.

(1) First up, you need to get out there as early as possible. Make sure you hit the primeurs week, and don’t go a week later, all the châteaux will be boarded up. Go earlier, at least a week before everybody else, to make sure you taste the wines first; this will be useful when it comes to point 2, below. If possible go several months earlier, and taste the fermenting must. Even better, make your predictions from a trip out last September, just from tasting the fruit; that way you can be certain your report was filed first. If you missed that opportunity, then consider this; the primeurs visit might be a good opportunity to pass your judgement on the 2012 vintage as well. File next year’s report now!

(2) In your report, use the word “Scoop!” a lot. Remember to include the exclamation mark, this is an integral part of the phrase. Use the word “Scoop!” when reporting your scores, via Twitter if possible. If you are so inclined, and don’t have your own scores, just regurgitate Parker’s. Just be sure to use the word “Scoop!” when you do so. Remember: with every score, there’s a “Scoop!”.

(3) Ignore naysayers who criticise you for travelling out early to “Scoop!” everybody else. Michel Bettane was the main critic of this practice last year, as reported by Decanter here. Fortunately, as the practice is here to stay and Bettane said last year that if it continued “this will be the last year that we play the game” then it seems he won’t be there to bother/criticise you anyway. Provided he sticks to his word, of course.

(4) In your report, there are several key ingredients that cannot be omitted. The first is a comment on the weather during the tastings. If fine and sunny, say so, and comment that this is great for tasting, thus implying your notes and scores are the best and most reliable. If dull, cloudy and wet, make sure the reader is clear just what hard work this has been for you, and how much you have striven to make sure your notes and scores are still the best and most reliable. This is despite the fact that the effect of a change in atmospheric pressure on carbon dioxide solubility – the usual mechanism by which weather is said to affect the taste of wine – is so small as to render such comments absolute drivel. See here for more detail on this.

(5) The next key ingredient of your report is to mention horses, but this must only be done in the context of a visit to Pontet-Canet, or at least driving past Pontet-Canet, or perhaps looking at Pontet-Canet from a distance, from the tasting room of Grand-Puy-Lacoste perhaps. Yes, I know you will see a few horses dotted about the region in other vineyards, on both banks, but you should realise by now that these are rented by the châteaux for primeurs week to fool the visiting journalists. There is a reason the race course in Pomerol was ripped up you know; it’s because the Bordelais were so entertained by their “How many journalists will mention that horse I rented for a week in their reports” sweepstake that nobody was visiting the real horse races.

(6) By no means should you mention how attractive the many attendants at some of the châteaux are, or imply that those châteaux that employ the most beautiful girls might make the best wines. Neal Martin has that aspect of en primeur all sewn up, and you need to make your own mark.

(7) You must, at least twice in your report, mention that there is much more to Bordeaux than the grand cru classé châteaux, that the region is full of unsung properties and overlooked appellations which deserve our interest. And that the region should not be criticised for ludicrously high prices, because that only pertains to the top 1% of the region. Stress that many of the smaller winemakers are struggling to avoid bankruptcy. When it comes to reviewing the wines, however, only taste grand cru classé châteaux. Do not report on little châteaux. That would be a waste of your time. Besides, all the best lunches and dinners are provided at the big-name properties. You aren’t going to be inundated with platters of foie gras and Sauternes if you choose to taste and take lunch at Château No-Name in Blaye, are you?

(8) Finally, on the matter of scores, you must use these. Make sure you score out of 100, as everybody knows Bordeaux drinkers don’t understand anything else. Yes, there are drinkers out there who get the idea that scores themselves are a blunt and flawed tool, and are not an inherent flavour detected in the wine, and there are even some that can get their head round the 20-point or five-star systems, but all these people drink Burgundy so you must not cater for them. Remember to give at least 100 points to two wines – especially weaker wines – as that way you are bound to be the critic with the highest score for those wines, meaning you will get quoted the most. Oh, and remember to write “Scoop!” at the end of your 100-point notes.

That’s my guide; stick to these eight basic rules, and you will be a famous Bordeaux critic in no time.

13 Responses to “Bordeaux En Primeur: An Alternative Guide for Critics”

  1. Thank you, that makes it clear to me that the whole Bordeaux system is as loathsome as I suspected.

  2. Haha! This was a very enjoyable article to read 🙂 I don’t doubt it at the least!

  3. David, nice to see you here. The Bordeaux en primeur system is about as loathsome as one of your fish’n’egg sandwiches I think. 🙂

    Christian, thank you for that comment!

  4. Chris – RAUCOUSLY funny. Thanks for the scoop(!).

  5. Hi Chris,
    quite an acidic article there. The whole EP “get the first and get there big” thing is getting somewhat old anyway, I wonder how the reports from the hoardes of journo’s will translate into Mandarin or Russian ?. Or is that translate from Mandarin 🙂 ?


  6. Hi Marc – thanks for that comment.

    Hi Richard – acidic? Perhaps, but all meant in jest, let’s hope nobody out there gets *too* upset by it! 🙂

  7. Chris,

    One thing you forgot is that you also have to ensure that you quote range scores and then two years later raise those scores beyond the original scores to ensure that your own prescience is confirmed by none other than yourself. And whilst we are on the point you then sub contract your work to others but still publish your scores under your own name so that you cover the whole wine world with very little effort.

    The only problem is, and we have examples of this on both sides of the Atlantic, that your website becomes a horrible mish mash of nothing in particular. Long live Kissack and Meadows but only in their present form !!

  8. Dear Chris,

    If the 2010 (and the remaining 2009) bottles were already sold, 2011 would be a nearly perfect year, considering the long cellering time the 2010 will need and that for a price discount (unbelievable!) of 10%.
    Now there is a minor problem in Bordeaux with millions of unsold bottles, so 2011 is programmed to be only quite nice and very good (!) for the year, considering all the problems in the vineyards. Not the tasting notes of the 2011 are interesting (I won’t buy a bottle) but the irrelevant stories of chateau owners to support the primeur sale at prices far too high. Every price not lower than 50-75% of the 2010 primeur sale will be a shame.



  9. Give extra points to the chateaux who drive you from the car park to the tasting room in an electric golf cart so you don’t have to get your feet wet in the rain. Especially if driven by an attractive young woman.

  10. Thanks for these comments. Already my advice list for new critics is lengthening considerably.

    Howard, a very good point you start with. I do find the relationship between the ranges and the ultimate scores amusing, but also the relationship between your own scores and Parker’s is important. The advice should be perhaps to always ensure that you draw attention to wines which you have scored the same as Parker on the 100-point scale; then say of these wines “I nailed it!”. Even better, something like this:

    Scoop! Château X: me 98pts, RP 98pts. I nailed it!

    No chance of Winedoctor scores and notes being sub-contracted out. Who wants a contract with no pay cheque? 🙂

    Frans, good points, although I don’t see the unsold 2009s and 2010s as a problem – the Bordelais can release in dribs and drabs over the years, bringing in revenue when they need it. And they are rich in profit at the moment – no problem building a new cellar to house a few thousand cases of valuable stock; this looks very good on the balance sheet too.

    Frank, brilliant, thank you. I think it’s OK to score extra points on that basis, but you have slipped up and mentioned the attractive woman. Remember, that’s Neal Martin’s job. 🙂

  11. Chris, you forgot to mention the obligatory references to “sleeper of the vintage” …… when mentioning the wine of course

  12. I’ve already called 2012 after the intense frosts – another best ever with all those pesky vineyard bugs killed!

    Buying wine from a score is akin to deciding what your favourite music is from an album review by a snotty 20-something music critic in the NME.

    That being said, I shall be following your posts again this year as one of many sources. Keep up the good work.

  13. Thanks Alan. Yes, when confident the new critic should refer to one or several wines as “Sleeper of the Vintage”. Choose a safe bet such as Beaumont, Angludet, Chasse-Spleen or some other estate non-label and non-points drinkers have been buying for years, give it 93 points, and watch it fly out of merchants’ stores into the cellars of drinkers (and watch the price gain 50%).

    Thanks Mark. Agree with your comments. You weren’t thinking of Château Senejac when you wrote that, were you? Many thanks for following my Bordeaux primeurs posts – I knew there was someone who did.