Bordeaux 2019: The New Normal

In last week’s Twenty Years of Winedoctor blog post I mentioned my new normal. My kitchen has been recommissioned as a full-time tasting room. Having defoiled, uncorked, poured and tasted hundreds of Bordeaux 2019 barrel samples over the last two or three weeks, followed by disposal of waste wine and stacking up the bottles and packaging for recycling, I have developed a new respect for anybody involved in organising, running and most especially manning the stands at a wine tasting. I have already broken one corkscrew last week, and another one looks to be on the way out this week.

With the Bordeaux primeurs postponed because of Covid-19, I now spend at least half of every weekday tasting through Bordeaux 2019 barrel samples at home; the only respite is going to answer the door for the next delivery. A sequence of texts received from carriers today tells me that after this morning’s two deliveries, I have another six expected before sundown, and more to come tomorrow. I am now on first-name terms with my area’s DHL driver (I’m not kidding – John seems like a sound bloke who likes delivering here as on the way he can pop into the nearby distillery – maintaining social distancing, obviously – to pick up a bottle or two of single malt). With three other very large consignments expected from regional bodies and a Bordeaux consultant in the coming week or two, it looks like John’s whisky rack is going to be very well stocked.

Being in receipt of these samples does not, as I suspect you already know, make me unique. You only have to glance through some wine-themed social media channels to see that independent critics and those in the employ of the big-name wine publications are also taking in a steady stream of Bordeaux 2019 samples. So there is nothing special about a few hundred bottles coming my way.

What has surprised me is how broadly this new normal seems to have been accepted, both by the critics themselves and by their followers. Perhaps I have missed some uproar in a dark and dingy corner of the internet, but this new system – temporary as it surely is – deserves some appraisal, does it not? We all know the criticisms which are laid against the tasting of barrel samples in Bordeaux, many of which have are valid. But when a social media post opens with the line “And on my tasting bench this morning, barrel samples from some top châteaux” and the author is not posting from Pauillac, or Pomerol or Puisseguin-St-Emilion, but from the USA, or some other far-flung corner of a distant continent, some questions should surely be asked (and some answers offered). How did that sample get there? How long did it linger in transit? What are the consequences of that for the sample itself and the environment? Is there any point to all this?

These are questions I have been asking myself over the last couple of weeks, and continue to do so as fresh samples arrive. I think it only right I look at this in more detail in a little series of blog posts (as subscribers already know, I never use ten words where two hundred will do). I will start tomorrow by considering whether or not there might be advantages to tasting samples sent to my home in Scotland, rather than flying out to Bordeaux to do so. Before moving on to consider the disadvantages later in the week. Before I do that, however, I had better pop out to buy myself a new corkscrew. I think it counts as “essential travel”.

Comments (2)

  • Bryan Davies RIBA

    Dear Chris
    I’ve popped into the website to see if you are making pubic notes on the 2019 Bordeaux chateaux from all those primeur bottle samples which have been delivered to you after, presumably, a torrid travelling ‘Round-Robin’ across from the Bordeaux environs of South-West France, over La Manche and into, and through, the UK to your back door?
    I see that Pontet-Canet has stolen the limelight this morning by making its 2019 offer price at some 30% below their 2018 release price (what a joy) but with only James Suckling’s tasting note at 98-99 (usual high flying note) it is not comparable to anyone elses.
    Looking forward very much to your own notes as usual.
    Bryan Davies

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