Wine writers and members of the wine trade descended on Bordeaux this week for tasting samples of the 2012 vintage, which was a difficult vintage. Even though the malolactic fermentations have barely finished and the final blends are nowhere near completed, the Bordelais pre-sell each vintage (en primeur) two years before it is actually released.
The events set off a clusterschnook on Twitter about whether en primeurs are simply marketing at this point. Guy Woodward, former editor of Decanter, expressed his pleasure at not having to attend the “increasingly futile” and predictable events for the first time in a decade. He described the process thusly: “Critics taste unfinished wines (non-blind) earlier than ever but only one verdict counts; producers feign humility & refuse to discuss price…Don’t doubt most critics’ good intentions, but is now primarily a marketing exercise.”
Howard Goldberg’s tweet sparked the longest and possibly most productive wine thread to ever appear on Twitter: “Britain’s wine-writing Establishment is again plunging headlong into en priemur to play willing handmaiden marketing advisor to chateaus.”
Skepticism warranted? Goldberg again: “Primeur: All that wine, that food and subsidized socializing, that flattery, that don’t-leave-me-out.” Mike Steinberger: “even major figures like Jancis and Tanzer are questioning the value of the whole exercise.”
Are tastings too early? Steinberger: “But don’t you think it’s now mostly a race to be first, to get the scoop on the competition?”
What’s the point? Goldberg: “I bet many barrels are confections. I bet some lower-rank writers feel a need to inflate grades.” Robert Whitley: “I question it too Is it worth the expense and time as US consumers push away from BDX.”
Does anyone’s opinion matter other than Parker’s? Steinberger says no: “For the chateaux–[Parker's] ratings alone dictate the prices…
Blind tasting? James Molesworth: “I haven’t dined w/ Bordelais all week. Am tasting blind alone. Moueix released prices before scores. Cmon guys.” Tom Matthews: “It’s true that not all chateaux will submit barrel samples for blind tastings. Some we taste, noting “nonblind” in the note.” Mike Steinberger: “If all wines in Bordeaux, Burgundy, etc. tasted truly blind (i.e. not segregated by peer group), top growths would not come out on top nearly as often as they do; it is statistically impossible. Not as much an issue for WS as it is for others who don’t make any effort to taste blind.” He asked Tom Matthews do you “…organize it by peer group–1sts, Super 2nds in one flight, etc?” Matthews didn’t reply.
Guy Woodward offered this forecast as to what would be said: “Producers: ‘A pleasant surprise’ but ‘the market sets the price’. Critics: no 1st growth under 96 (18/20) even those tasted ‘blind.'”
But one question didn’t come up on the thread: will en primeurs collapse post-Parker?