I took 4 days off from work this month to taste 2015 Bordeaux great growths. This was a fantastic experience and despite living in Bordeaux for many years, I still find it thrilling.
The experience is as much about people as wine: meeting château owners, technical directors, etc., as well as members of the wine trade from all over the world.
The organization of en primeur tastings is quite incredible. Hats off to the Union des Grands Crus for receiving hordes of professionals and even providing everyone with gourmet lunches at famous estates. The system in Bordeaux is well and truly unique in the world of wine. It also creates a lot of jealousy, especially since the price increases at the most famous estates since 2005…
The whole en primeur system is presently being called into question. This is because older wines from fine vintages can often be found at the same or even lower prices than futures. This has left consumers bewildered or even bitter. They ask themselves “What’s the point”? This has led to much naysaying, as well as predictions that “the bubble will burst” and that the great growths will be brought to their knees. Color me sceptical on that count… I have seen this happen only once in my (considerably long) lifetime, in the 1970s. However, I do not think it will occur again now.
For a start, it is well-known that exports to China declined significantly in 2013/14. However, word does not seem to have spread that the 2015 figures were up by 31% in volume and 25% in value. China’s interest in Bordeaux is here to stay. The market has become more mature and the Chinese are buying more intelligently. But they are still buying. Massively. And they remain Bordeaux’s number one export market.
You have only to see the wry smiles on the faces of winegrowers when asked “What vintage does this remind you of?” or “Do you think that this is more of a Left Bank or a Right Bank vintage?”. So many people don’t seem to understand the sheer size and complexity of Bordeaux, and the fact that making generalizations is like walking on eggs. Still, in this age of “Wine for Dummies” pronouncements will be made. But not by me!
There is an urban myth that samples are doctored to make them more flattering to journalists, critics, and major buyers. In fact, this is not totally false. Several château owners freely admitted that the wines we were tasting were blended to give a better idea of what the wine will be like down the road. And that they were not the actual final blend at the present time. This is only worrying to the extent that one places blind faith in how representative such young wines are, or should be…
In the past, the en primeur tastings were spread over a 3-month period. Now they take place very early and in a short time span. And, as we all know, leading critics give numerical scores at this early date – ones that have a huge effect on the market. One can disagree with the very premises of scoring systems, but they are inevitable. People like to quantify things that cannot be quantified, and be made to feel secure. So be it.
I will be posting my (non-numerical) notes, for what they’re worth, in the near future.
All the best,