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Pierre Gaillard, 2010 Vintage

Following on from this week’s Wine of the Week, the Pierre Gaillard Asiaticus 2010, here are notes on four more wines from Pierre Gaillard, all from the 2010 vintage.

I liked these wines; they show rather primary varietal characteristics at present, but they also show good harmony on the palate on the whole, with ripe and integrated structures, freshness and style. The Asiaticus was undoubtedly the most striking, but I woudn’t shy away from any of these, especially the Clos Cuminaille which looks like good value to me.

Although only two were marked tiré sur fût looking at the Pierre Gaillard website all his Northern Rhône cuvées spend at least 18 months in barrel so I have assumed all are barrel samples, hence the ranged scores. I have also included prices for cases, in bond, from stockist Bancroft Wines.

Pierre Gaillard, 2010

Pierre Gaillard St Joseph 2010: A moderate concentration of varietal Syrah fruit on the nose here, showing good character and suggestive of some concentration, but also rather blunted and difficult to define around the edges. A nicely rich substance on the palate though, with a light grip underneath the fruit, showing some biting structure in the midpalate and end. A nice weight to it, with firm and rather punchy acid and a light tannic backbone. Attractive if rather soft and low key at times. 14.5-15.5/20 (April 2012) (£125 per case, in bond)

Pierre Gaillard Saint Joseph Clos Cuminaille 2010: Dark, rich and spicy fruit on the nose here, very classically varietal in some of its tones, especially the blackberry fruit with that typical Syrah vein of sweetness, presented in a soft and slightly diffuse fashion, but certainly identifiable. There is a slightly woody, bracken-like quality to it as well. The palate is soft, gently polished, not especially deeply fruited or rich, the fruit a touch hollow at present, muted by the oak somewhat I think. Where the wine shows its mettle is in the finish, which has better definition than through the midpalate, showing a little grippy tannin and refreshing acidity. Very primary at present, but very harmonious and certainly showing some potential. 16-17/20 (April 2012) (£165 per case, in bond)

Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2010: A darkly coloured wine, concentrated but not opaque, and red-black in terms of hue. The nose is very muted at first but with time it reveals rich fruit aromas reminiscent of blackberry, with such a creamy, sweet intensity that it suggests blackberry purée swirled with vanilla ice cream. And yet alongside this there is a sooty, savoury note which steers the wine away from mere sweetness and simplicity. The palate is full, opening out over an hour or so, with firmly structured fruit and moderately grippy tannins through the middle of the wine, and gentle fresh acidity to the core. The fruit character isn’t quite as well defined as on the nose, but there is some frame to it, and there is certainly some substance to the finish. A wine with some good potential here. 16-17/20 (April 2012) (£260 per case, in bond)

Pierre Gaillard Côte-Rôtie 2010: Great primary fruit character on the nose here, all blackberry with the very typical sweet, buttery, crumble and vanilla ice cream character that comes with young Syrah, and underneath that there is a dark and savoury seam of aromatic, smoky, roasted meats. A good substance in the palate, similarly primary as the nose is, but with a good definition and flesh. Rich, full, more savoury than the aromatics suggested, with a dry and biting finish. Later, this settles down into a really savoury and harmonious balance. A very good style here, with really super potential. 16.5-17.5/20 (April 2012) (£310 per case, in bond)

DWWA 2012: Loire Day 3

My third day of judging on the Loire panel at the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards has drawn to a close; it has been another long day of tasting. Keeping me company today were panel chair Jim Budd, and two figures already seen this week, Nigel Wilkinson (who judged with us yesterday) and Ken MacKay (who judged with us on Monday). Despite this being the third day our room (shown below, one of many) was as busy as ever, full of tasters looking at everything from Bordeaux and Regional France, to Port, Maderia and the wines of the Middle East and Far East.

We kicked off this morning with yet more Sauvignon Blanc. I guess that is hardly surprising; from a commercial point of view, Sauvignon Blanc – wearing a myriad of different appellation labels from the grand to the obscure – is of great importance to the Loire. Regular readers will know it is not these wines that draw me to the Loire, but the less commercial – and yet infinitely more interesting – wines of the Loire heartlands, Touraine and Anjou, and in more recent years Muscadet too. Nevertheless I’m certainly up for judging these wines, dishing out criticisms or medals as appropriate. Apart from a flight of wines from Cheverny (all Sauvignon and Chardonnay blends) and a single Cour-Cheverny (an appellation purely for Romorantin) this morning was entirely devoted to 2011 Sancerre.

We finished up with several flights of reds (just a small selection shown above), all Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon, from the famous Touraine appellations (Chinon, Bourgueil, St Nicolas de Bourgueil) as well as Anjou (straight Anjou and Anjou-Villages). These were (like the Sancerres) rather variable in quality, although here there were a number of different vintages involved, including 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

That’s it for this year as far as I am concerned, although I know Jim, Nigel and two as yet unnamed Loire experts will be exploring the delights of the Loire’s sparkling wines, pink wines, older white Sancerres, red Sancerre, Gamay and probably other obscure oddities tomorrow. Naturally I will be thinking of them. With a sense of envy, obviously.

DWWA 2012: Loire Day 2

So day two of my stint on the Loire panel at the Decanter World Wine Awards has drawn to a close. It was another good day of tasting, and joining chairman Jim Budd and myself on the panel today was a Loire DWWA stalwart, Nigel Wilkinson (below, left) of RSJ Restaurant, who has judged here many more times than I have I am sure (I’m also quite confident he has tasted many more wines from the Loire than I have!). The fourth member was from the trade, another strong character as far as the Loire is concerned, Jason Yapp (below right), of Yapp Brothers. For readers outside the UK, Robin Yapp (Jason’s father) was an early and dedicated importer of less well-known wines – including those from the Loire – into the UK. Jason now runs the business following his father’s retirement.

The morning was taken up by Sauvignon Blanc again, in fact – other than a few examples of vin de pays Chardonnay – the entire morning was dedicated to Pouilly-Fumé. These showed more strength of character (unsurprisingly) than the generic Touraines, Reuillys and Quincys we tasted yesterday.

The afternoon brought some Chenin Blanc (as seen above – hurrah!), in various guises. These included vin de pays, Saumur, Savennières, Vouvray and various sweet wines, everything from Coteaux de Saumur to Quarts de Chaume. I’m delighted to say standards here were very high; as a panel we are not known for dishing out the medals in a generous fashion, nevertheless this afternoon we awarded several including a few golds and silvers, giving recognition to some really great wines.

Tomorrow – surely some of the Loire’s ever-improving red wines? And I haven’t seen any Sancerre yet, either.

DWWA 2012: Loire Day 1

Judging for the Decanter World Wine Awards began this morning; as usual I’m judging the Loire category, which is – as always – being chaired by Jim Budd (pictured below).

It was an early start for me to be here; my alarm was set for 4am, but for some reason I woke up at 3:30am and figured I might as well get up then! My flight from Edinburgh went smoothly, and I hopped onto (a) the Gatwick shuttle, (b) the Gatwick Express and (b) a Circle Line train, in each case just as the doors slid shut. It was a masterclass in good timing! Why can’t life always be like that?

The morning was taken up by Loire Sauvignon Blanc, the afternoon by Muscadets (as can be seen on the tasting sheet above), in both cases mostly from the 2011 vintage. I was surprised by the results; many of the Sauvignons struggled, everything from issues of ripeness to rot. So I expected worse with the Muscadets, the 2011 vintage having been plagued with rot. But it wasn’t to be; there were a lot of lovely wines here, and we displayed unusual extravagance (for the Loire panel) by awarding two silvers, as well as a small handful of bronzes and commendations.

The panel was of a very high quality; alongside Jim and myself there was Yves Desmaris MS (above left), who works with chef Gary Rhodes, and Ken MacKay MW (above right), who buys for Waitrose (including responsibility for the Loire – so UK readers have him to thank for Waitrose listing the wines of Domaine Huet and Jacky Blot). Clearly I was the weak link in this highly qualified group of tasters – I was lucky to be allowed to sit at the same table! Ken in particular had some great insights and made some very incisive comments on the wines. Waitrose are lucky to have him.

Tomorrow: who knows? Maybe some more Sauvignon Blanc?

Champagne & Disgorgment Dates

Three notes here, on three non-vintage Champagnes recently opened. Although I gave up reporting on non-vintage Champagne principally because there is no connection between wines on which I might provide a tasting note, and those you find on the shelf (because traditionally there has been no way to know whether one non-vintage bottle is exactly the same or radically different to the next) two of the three wines reported on here buck this trend.

Charles Heidsieck have been reporting cellaring dates for years, of course, a practice introduced by the late Daniel Thibault, so no news there. Sadly the old mis en caves designation has now been ditched in favour of disgorgement dates, although to be fair I say this out of sentiment more than anything else, as the disgorgement dates provided are no less informative. A more recent development, however, is the appearance of disgorgement dates on non-vintage Lanson – these can be found in slightly smudgy white printing on the back label, as below. No such move from Roederer, sadly. But the wine itself was the best of this trio I think, as it still has more to give than the Charles Hedsieck which I scored the same.

Lanson disgorgement date

Lanson Black Label Brut NV: Disgorged October 2009 – Lanson now print disgorgement dates on the back label. Some pithy fruit on the nose here, and a fine mousse on the palate, very bright and still youthful. A rather lemony, stony character, a touch raw and primary, although I find the bitter edge to the fruit matching the pithy elements on the nose rather enticing. But this is still very young, and really needs another 3-5 years at least. 16/20 (April 2012)

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV: Disgorged 2008. This is just lovely, and surpasses my expectations which were low, as I did not rate the last bottle very highly at all. White orchard fruits on the nose, with citrus tones and a fine, subtle, nutty nuance. Lightly honeyed and more harmonious than I hoped. Bright, a good mousse, but supple, with a fleshy weight. Clean, with citrus pith, together with wisps of grey smoke and other slightly reductive suggestions. This is just delicious. 17/20 (April 2012)

Roederer Brut Premier NV: Purchased Autumn 2009, other than that I have no clue as to likely disgorgement date or base vintage. The wine itself though has a lovely character, quite youthful, still with a raw edge to the fruit. Certainly some evolution here on the palate, and there is plenty of backbone to this wine, but this still needs another 1-2 years before this is likely to show real harmony. A very promising showing though. 17/20 (April 2012)

Lafite Security: Bubble Tags

I caught sight of one of Lafite-Rothschild’s latest innovations during the primeur tastings of the 2011 vintage, the addition of Prooftag’s ‘Bubble Seal’ tag to the bottle and capsule.

The seal is applied across the capsule and bottle, as shown below, but it is not merely a simple seal to protect against tempering with the capsule. The seal embodies two codes, including a unique bubble code and an associated alphanumeric key.

The silver section at the top is the bubble code, randomly generated bubbles embedded in the prooftag which have an infinite number of possible patterns, and thus guarantee unique codes on all bottles into the future. This code is linked to the bottle, and can be checked against the Lafite database on their website (www.lafite.com – there is an ‘Authentication’ link top right).

Unable to resist I entered the code on the above bottle, which was photographed on the tasting table at Lafite. The droll response to code W61R00A325841 was:

The code entered does not correspond to any reference registered in our database. Please try again and check with attention the number mentionned[sic] on your bottle. If the problem remains, please contact your point of sales.

The response was at first surprising, but then again perhaps not – the only way this bottle could have been sold to me was if it had been pilfered during the primeur tastings – I’m assuming that the bottles go on the database as they leave the château, or are at least earmarked for sale. Nevertheless, the website’s response would of course have me complaining to my merchant, which would uncover whatever fraud had been carried out. But if I had a code that worked, the website would then display the appropriate bubble pattern, and I could check that against the pattern on the tag. If the two match, all is well.

Well, not quite. This will prevent some frauds (not only the invented theft alluded to above, but – for example – a 2011 Lafite-Rothschild being relabelled as a 2010, as the bubble code will uncover this change of identity very easily) but not others (for example, a fraud where bottle, label and tag remain together, but the wine is replaced with another). But it is certainly a step in the right direction.

The system has been in use since February 2012, and will be applied to the grand vin from the 2009 vintage, and Carruades de Lafite from the 2010 vintage, as well as some earlier vintages released from the château in the future.

Lafite Leads in 2011

The rumours about an early campaign this year have turned out to be true. OK, they weren’t really ‘mere’ rumours, as even the first growths themselves said during the primeurs tastings that they would be coming out early this year, with price cuts. Christophe Salin, commercial director at Lafite, was candid with his comments on pricing and his release strategy. Nevertheless, when all seemed to remain reticently silent last week (aside from a few minor châteaux there were no releases – I think the biggest name to come out was Angludet) I think we all began to doubt the words that we ourselves had heard.

But this morning’s news that Lafite is out, with a release price reported as €350 per bottle ex-château, €450 per bottle ex-négoce (it will be even more at retail), shows that Salin at least is true to his word. This is early. I must say I am greatly surprised, as I was still wondering whether they would hold on for Parker’s scores. My main reason for thinking this was how so many of the châteaux were burned with the 2008 releases – they came out early and low, and after Parker’s scores were released prices climbed. It was the same old story for the Bordelais – they watched while somebody else made money on their wine (all complicated by tranches and other facets of en primeur – it’s never simple, is it?). But there is one important (and obvious difference) here – the release price.

The 2008 was released by the négoce at €130 (as was Latour, by the way), and so we’re looking at a release price for the 2011 that is nearly three times that for the 2008 (to be precise €450 is a 246% increase on €130). I think many will be shocked at that, but when you look at the market prices for recent vintages of Lafite back to 2001, it is 2008 that was under-priced, rather than soley 2011 being over-priced. Looking at 2011 against 2010 (perhaps a more commonly made comparison) the reduction is only 25% (2010 was €600 ex-négoce), against pre-release calls for reductions of 40-50% to stimulate the market. Lafite might just sell at this price – stated with the caveat we have yet to see what effect the various margins will have on the price presented to the consumer, of course. It could be quite close to some prices for currently available older vintages. Update: this has translated through as an offer of £5,500 per case on Liv-Ex for the first release from the château. This – importantly – brings it in below the current prices for other comparable vintages, particularly 2008. But that’s still a lot of money – especially (with my UK hat on) once you add duty and tax.

Latour to Withdraw from En Primeur Sales

The rumour filtered through to me Friday afternoon. Latour was, apparently, to cease selling its wine en primeur. I texted a couple of négociants I know and whereas the first could not substantiate the rumour – although he had heard exactly the same thing – the second could. The négociants dealing with Latour were informed, by receipt of letter on Friday 13th April, that the 2011 vintage would be the last that Château Latour would sell en primeur.

There is of course precedence for working outside the en primeur system; Jean-Hubert Delon of Léoville-Las-Cases refused to sell his wine en primeur for some time, and he seemed to do very well on it. The vintages were released typically a year or so later, and for a good price too. But the system that Frédéric Engerer of Latour is moving towards is something different. Latour will not be released merely a year or two after the vintage, but instead as the wines approach their drinking window. For me that would be about two decades after the vintage! That’s not impossible (look at Lopez de Heredia and their gran reservas – the current releases include the 1991s), but it is likely that a much looser definition of ‘drinkable’ will be applied here. I expect we will see vintages come onto the market at 6-10 years of age. It is not quite a first for Bordeaux (Gilette in Sauternes release only mature wines) but it feels like it, nevertheless. The first growth effect, I suppose.

Such a move is fascinating in light of how en primeur sales have developed in recent years. They favour the châteaux more and more, consumers dependent upon notes on unfinished wines from critics with no opportunity to taste the wines themselves, critics ‘bigging up’ the vintage with live tweets and hyperbole, and prices that once gave the consumer a break (the earlier you bought, the cheaper the wines were) now beyond the reach of many. Many of the châteaux clawed back the lost profit taken by others (who sat on wines as they climbed in value) by increasing the release prices. The benefit of buying en primeur was lessened for the consumer. Surely the next step is to stop selling through this system altogether; if the accountants agree (and at Latour they obviously do), weather the financial hit for a few years as your revenue stream sits unsold, but then reap the rewards further down the road. It’s what Latour are doing. The en primeur nay-sayers might be pleased, but this is a double-edged sword; now we can have reliable reporting on Latour – in bottle – before the wine is offered for sale. But, on the other hand, Latour is going to be more expensive than ever.

And this decision may have some knock-on effect. Will others move away from en primeur too? Perhaps, but the further down the food-chain we travel, the less financially capable the châteaux will be, and their ability to weather the loss of sales becomes more questionable. Latour may have the financial muscle to step out of the ring, but what about Cantemerle, or Angludet (first – more or less – to release their 2011 this week), Beaumont, Fourcas-Hosten or similar? If the primeurs lose the support of big guns such as Latour, it may well falter. And whereas some may welcome that, I would not wish the ruination of smaller châteaux to be the price we pay for such a change. And what of the négoce in Bordeaux, and the merchants across the world, who make a huge slice of their annual turn-over on en primeur sales? Once Latour is followed out by its first-growth and super-second cousins, will their en primeur revenue be comparable? Certainly not.

Seven Corney and Barrow Burgundies

I recently stopped off at Corney & Barrow’s Scottish offices; the team there have had the good sense to eschew Edinburgh or other city-centre locations in favour of some rooms within Oxenfoord Castle, in East Lothian. Not only do they therefore have the grandest set of offices of any wine merchant in the UK, they have also just installed a new tasting room. I was one of the first to try it out with this mini-tasting of seven Burgundies from the Corney & Barrow list.

Please consider this something of an olive branch, tentatively extended to all those already bored by Bordeaux 2011….I know you’re out there!

White Wines

Olivier Leflaive St Aubin Premier Cru En Remilly 2009: Nice matchsticky reduction. Soft fruit coming through behind, Quite convincing with a few minutes in the glass. Really rather soft on the palate though. Acidity very gentle and really taking a backseat, verging towards flabby. Nice pith and substance in the finish but lacks the structure I would like. Attractive but not a keeper. 14/20 (March 2012)

Olivier Leflaive Pernand-Vergelesses 2009: A more lemony and chalky style on the nose than the St Aubin. Bright, better defined, a touch more pure than the preceding wine. Very soft style on the palate at first, soft although with a straight, defined, lemony edge to the fruit. Lemon, chalk and stone. Better acidity here, certainly better defined. Quite fat behind it though. Good grip in the end. 15/20 (March 2012)

Domaine Leflaive Corney and Barrow Selection Macon-Verzé 2008: Honey and butterscotch from the oak here. Quiet overwhelming at this moment. The same on the palate, the oak very dominant, the palate showing a slightly fatter oak-infused fruit character behind it. Interesting end, with grip, but it feels wood-derived. There is some acid to cleanse in the finish though. 14/20 (March 2012)

Red Wines

Olivier Leflaive Côte de Beaune Villages 2008: Pale cherry-red hue. Nice style of fruit on the nose, although there is a rubbery tinge of reduction to it. Very soft easy-drinking palate, gentle edges to it, with cherry leafy fruit. There is some grain to the wine on the palate, but it is well covered by the soft character of the wine. 14/20 (March 2012)

Gilles Jourdan Côte de Nuits Villages La Robignotte Monopole 2008: Showing a very slight tinge of maturity here. Rather evolved and gamey nose. Also some toffee elements related to oak perhaps? Smells warm and rather rustic. Very soft and silky on the palate, with more texture than flavour, with just some grip in the finish. Straightforward and mature. Slightly bitter at the end. 13.5/20 (March 2012)

Domaine Trapet Gevrey-Chambertin 2008: Quite translucent wine, a bright and light cherry red. Touch of mushroom on the nose here, slightly wild and savage tones to the fruit here which aren’t unappealing. Very gentle and polished feel, rather more understated than I expected from a Gevrey. Interesting juxtaposition of structure and weight though. Blacker tones to the fruit on returning to the nose. Lots of soft fruit but there is appropriate substance underneath after all. Grippy finish. 15.5/20 (March 2012)

Marquis d’Angerville Volnay Premier Cru Fremiet 2007: Attractive hue, bright tone fading to a clean pink at the rim. Chalky blackcurrant leaf on the nose, notes of cherry skin too. Quite well defined. Attractive palate, quite straight, supple but with a mildly austere grip beneath, quite savoury and mouth-watering. Attractive tension in the finish. Nice wine with some potential here. 15.5/20 (March 2012)

The 2011 Bottom Line Report: A Response to Anthony Rose

In his article Time for a Change, Doctor? Anthony Rose puts forward his argument against several aspects of the way Bordeaux is sold, and why he has been arguing against “the system”. It is a multifaceted argument that stems from objections to the hype generated by the primeurs tastings we have had this week, the way the press assist pawn-like the Bordelais in generating that hype, and how prices are as a consequence elevated. It’s a complex, long-ingrained “system”, and a big piece of Bordeaux to bite off. I admire Anthony for taking a stand against it; sticking to your beliefs, especially when swimming against the tide, is a fine quality.

Anthony picks up on some things that are wrong with the primeurs. The quote in his article Bordeaux 2011 – The Rite of Spring from one journalist who responded to Anthony’s question on Bordeaux 2011 with “As a journalist I’ve been going for 16 years but I never write about Bordeaux en primeur. I’m going for the parties” was hopefully tongue-in-cheek, but part of me does wonder whether this perhaps telling comment reflects a serious misalignment in the system. After all, there are an awful lot of journalists circling round Bordeaux in early April. Having said that, I’ve never met one who writes absolutely nothing; if it’s not a report on the vintage (the path I follow) then it’s a news article or two, either related to the vintage, or perhaps some other parallel Bordeaux story; with so many château-owners on hand and accessible it’s a good time to button-hole them for a story on, say, the forthcoming St Emilion reclassification, the stylistic differences within St Emilion, biodynamics in Bordeaux (not just Pontet-Canet, you know…) and so on. I’ve heard all discussed in the past five days, and many more aspects of Bordeaux. Bordeaux is, after all, a very interesting and significant wine region. It is worth writing about!

Despite Anthony’s assertion that “no-one actually claimed they were going because they thought their readers or customers might be interested in buying Bordeaux 2011 en primeur” many people are interested in knowing whether the wines are worth buying. Anthony just hasn’t asked the right people, as the number of journalists who actually write notes and scores for the wines that guide people to purchase is perhaps a fairly limited field. Nevertheless they are there; Neal Martin, Robert Parker, James Suckling (these latter two tend to avoid the primeurs anyway, coming early, for very different reasons I think), Jancis Robinson (unable to attend this year but Julia Harding will do the same exemplary job I am sure). And these are just a handful of top-drawer English-language writers, there were many other Europeans too, including Michel Bettane – spotted at Pichon-Barondespite his promise to stay away this year. And there are probably dozens more. Did Anthony ask them?

Homing in on the issue of hype that is generated by the primeurs, this is I feel a very valid point. But this is an issue that stems not so much from the existence of primeurs, or of any early tasting of Bordeaux, but from journalistic detachment and style. I would agree with anyone who says it is essential for journalists to maintain a balance between treating the châteaux fairly, because they have wine to sell, and the consumers who will be reading the reports and who look for buying guidance. To cut either off by not reporting achieves nothing, and harms both.

On the latter of these two issues, talking to consumers, I see it as my role to taste the wines, give notes based on the samples I taste, report on my experiences, and give an informed, dispassionate view. If the wines are good, I will say so, and if the wines are poor, again I will say so. Both are true of this “good in parts” vintage. This helps any consumer who wants to pay attention to my notes (and I am aware that I have a tiny following in this respect, but the blog comments tell me there are a few out there who read) to resist being caught up in the frenzy of enthusiasm, either the sales talk from Bordeaux, or those who look to report early, “scoop” everybody and big up the vintage in an act that sells themselves as much as the wine. What I do might empower some consumers, and shows the validity of reporting on weaker vintages, contrary to Anthony’s opinion that “I do think that even with its imperfections Bordeaux en primeur is valid in a really good or great year when prices are such that they give some benefit to consumers. I doubted that that would be the case with 2011 and still do.” I find this a very unusual stance as it implies tasters (including Anthony) should know how the wines will taste and what they will cost in advance of (a) tasting the wines and (b) the prices being released.

I take the exact opposite view to Anthony; in a vintage like 2011, a ‘lesser’ rather than great vintage, which is set for an early release at lower prices, it is more essential than ever that we have early comments on the barrel samples. There may be buying opportunities here (as there were in 2008), and people need guidance. How did I receive this news about an early release? By being in Bordeaux, reporting on the vintage, hearing comments from the horse’s mouth, from Christophe Salin (commercial director, Lafite) and a number of others. Staying away means journalists don’t get this information. The news surprised me (as an aside, I have already written that I thought after being burnt by good scores after low release prices in the 2008 vintage the Bordelais would wait for Parker’s scores) but I learnt in Bordeaux that they seem more aware of Parker’s negative comments on Twitter (open, accessible, known by many in Bordeaux I spoke to), and much less aware of his more recent positive comments on his bulletin board (hidden, behind a paywall, not widely known). In a quick campaign with price reductions where would the consumer be without comments from primeur tastings, enabling them to pick the good from the rough (both exist in 2011 – regardless of generalisations on the vintage)? Would Anthony prefer the consumers to buy blind? In this vintage that would lead to potential disaster – this is a vintage where second and third growths have outperformed firsts, where châteaux I would normally ignore have made good wines, where usually reliable names disappoint with lesser wines, sometimes green, sometimes over-extracted, sometimes just not worth the inevitable first-growth price. Would Anthony prefer primeur sales to not happen at all? Unfortunately the primeur sales do not depend on journalistic reporting, it is the way the business wheels of Bordeaux turn. Revenue must be generated, no matter how rich a small section of Bordeaux has become on the back of the last two vintages.

To boycott the primeurs as a response to recent hype and wealth-generation would, in my opinion, be inappropriate for me. I agree that I would like to see lower prices, perhaps as a result of less breathless reporting, less rampant tweeting of how the barrel samples (not wines….barrel samples….we must keep reminding ourselves of this) taste from one château to the next, and less writers and critics putting themselves on a pedestal (not a comment written with Anthony in mind, as it happens, although he took it as such) and judging the palates of their peers through Twitter. As an aside, it all smells a little of writers talking to (or snipping at) other writers, and not to the public, nevertheless the public pick up the vibes. The problem is that to try and kill the hype-inducing side of the primeurs by killing the primeurs altogether is akin to liberally spraying vineyards with glycophosphate; you might knock off a few unsightly weeds, but you would lose so much more in the process. And although this might (although I’m not convinced it would) bring down prices for the big names (I think confidence may be riding too high for this) what other effects would it also have? Look beyond Ducru, Pontet-Canet, Cos d’Estournel and the like. What about all the little châteaux who need scores to sell their wine; Poujeaux, Gloria, Beaumont, Brown, Rivière, Fourcas-Hosten, Sénéjac, and so on. Do these châteaux deserve a boycott? I think not.

Ultimately, to boycott the primeurs serves nobody. Yes, there are changes that if made would benefit the consumer. Yes, the reporting could be more measured. But in my opinion the best way to influence the system, and induce such change, would be to work within the system. The only way to score a goal is to be on the team. Otherwise you’re just shouting from the sidelines.

My Bordeaux reports, deficient of breathlessness, begin on Tuesday next week.