First, Lafite announced that the mandarin character for “8,” considered a lucky number in China, would appear on bottles of their 2008s.
Now, Mouton has announced that art by the Chinese artist Xu Lie will adorn their 2008 labels. The signature Mouton ram is sandwiched between two halves of a moon adorned with grapes.
According to decanter.com, prices of the wine were £1,800 a case last fall before the rumor of a Chinese label. Now, they say, prices are £6,000 per case (about $10,000; a search wine-searcher free version yielded only results for Mouton-Cadet).
Who’s pulling the wool over whose eyes?
Above – Patricia and Pierre Bernault from Chateau Beauséjour whose wines are now available in the US market for the first time as of five days ago. On the left, Pascal Collotte of Chateau Jean Faux.
Enthusiasts of French wine often either love Burgundy or Bordeaux. For Daniel Johnnes, who imports many Burgundies as well as organizing the annual celebration of fine and rare Burgundy known as La Paulée, it’s pretty clear where his allegiance lies. The only catch: he’s just started importing Bordeaux.
I stopped by his tasting on Tuesday at Terroir Tribeca where the handful of new wines he’s importing were on display. Of note, the charismatic vigneron Pascal Collotte makes a solid red (merlot-cabernet franc) and a rosé from his 30 acres in the Entre-Deux-Mers region; The Bernaults, of the 30-acre Chateau Beauséjour in Montaigne-Saint-Emilion, make a merlot-cabernet franc blend from 45 year-old vines.
Here’s how Johnnes (right) describes his new venture, sourcing Bordeaux from outside the traditional négociant system.
“My goal was to break away from the pack that is bashing Bordeaux. The cool thing now is to love natural wine from the Loire. I’ve seen some sommelier friends do high fives over the fact that neither one has been to Bordeaux. But not all natural wines from the Loire are good, just as not all Bordeaux wines are bad.
These Bordelais are small growers, with a similar respect for the land as in Burgundy. They act as minimally as possible: the wines are unfiltered, low yields, with minimal handling and sulfur.
That’s hard, especially at these prices–you’re not going to get this level from California at this price ($12-$30).
I’m not going over to the dark side, I’m just saying “open your eyes and keep an open mind.”
Robert Parker posted his reviews of Bordeaux 2009 yesterday on his subscription web site, erobertparker.com. In an article entitled “Once Upon a Time (1899, 1929, 1949, 1959, 2009),” he lavished praise on the vintage, particularly the cabernet blends of the left bank, and on many wines individually: 21 wines received scores of potentially 100 points. He wrote, “For some Médocs and Graves, 2009 may turn out to be the finest vintage I have tasted in 32 years of covering Bordeaux.” Many were accompanied by an asterisk, which indicate that they are the best wine from the estate that he has ever tasted as a barrel sample. For the number-obsessed, Bordeauxoverview has put together a grid of all the critics’ scores.
Of course, tasting is a matter of opinion and others have expressed their views (captured, in part, in our tweet roundup). Writing in the Financial Times, Jancis Robinson compared the ripeness and high alcohols she experienced to California, remarking “I have never written the word “Napa” so often in my tasting notes.” Parker, by contrast, praised the best Medocs for being “powerful and concentrated” and hailed them “historic.” He dismissed reports of high alcohol as being mostly “absurd.”
Tim Atkin, a British writer, put together a very skimmable report (here as pdf) calling the vintage “great but not uniform.” John Gilman had a similar view, adding that 2009 was a “fantastic” vintage for Sauternes. In his subscription newsletter, Gilman observed two stylistic camps among the top reds, one epitomized by Lafite that is suave and seductive from the get-go, and another, more structured style requiring bottle aging, embodied by Latour and Petrus.
There is a great deal of consensus about the first growths Lafite-Rothschild, Margaux, Latour and Haut-Brion. Mouton-Rothschild was a notch below for most tasters; Tim Atkin compared it to a Chilean carmenere and gave it 94 points.
However, some flash points have emerged, most notably Cos d’Estournel. Parker gave it a score of 98-100 with an asterisk calling it “extraordinary…one of the greatest young wines I have ever tasted” while Neal Martin who also writes for the Wine Advocate, lamented the alcohol level, compared it to a wine from the Douro, and scored it 89-91. Tim Atkin noted the 14.5% alcohol on the label, called it over-the-top, compared it to an Australian shiraz and gave it 95 points. John Gilman wrote that the was “one of the worst young wines I have ever had to taste, as it displays an utter contempt for both the history of its region and the intelligence of its clients…I cannot imagine having to drink it. This is a train wreck of monumental proportions. 67-68 points.”
The prices on futures will roll out in the next few weeks/months. Hit the comments with your thoughts on Lafite!
Only, it’s not so cynical according to Mike Steinberger’s posting from yesterday on Slate. While he admits he really likes some Bordeaux, he finds the charm and character of the smaller scale vineyards of Burgundy more rewarding at many levels, including in the glass.
In a nutshell, he says: “In Burgundy, wine is still wine; in Bordeaux, it has been reduced to a number…all those Pomerols and Pauillacs could just as easily be pork bellies. This may be the reality of Bordeaux, circa 2010, but I find it pretty dispiriting.”
I am sympathetic. How about you?
One of the 2009 wines that generated favorable comments at last week’s en primeur tastings in Bordeaux was Pontet-Canet in Pauillac. Over on Twitter, there was some confusion about the status of their Biodynamic certification. So I asked Alfred Tesseron who sent in a clarifying response that follows after the jump.
Given that Pontet-Canet is one of the rare properties in the Médoc (and Bordeaux, generally), I also asked the Twitterverse for their theories on why there isn’t more grape growing in the region done according to Biodynamics (a sort of homeopathic method guided by the celestial). Here are their <140 character replies, in chronological order of response:
@mrmansell: maybe bordeaux doesn’t need the gimmick to move wine?
@TimAtkin: It costs money. And would reduce profitability. Also it’s seen as Burgundian.
@JancisRobinson: In BDX commerce rules – v anti beard/sandal ethos. Plus, Atlantic rains bring extra problems. Ask A Tesseron at Pontet Canet.
@JossNOTJosh: Size of properties. 0.5 ha of Pommard much easier than 50 ha of Pauillac.
@waterintowino: maybe bordeaux wines arent as transparent and nuanced to show diff in biodynamics
@newbordeaux: I agree with Jancis and Joss – size of estates and climate here make it very difficult. But there are increasing numbers trying.
@kcoleuncorked: Because it’s not an area known for on-site, hands-on vignerons & small estates.
And the note from Alfred Tesseron of Pontet-Canet: Read more…
Over the past month, critics and wine trade buyers have been on the ground in Bordeaux, tasting the 2009 vintage before they go on pre-sale (as “futures”) in the coming months. Even though the wines, now in barrel, have yet to finish their aging and the blend will likely be adjusted between now and bottling, the outsiders flocked in record number this year. Before the grapes were even harvested, some commentators and industry participants had hailed this vintage as superb, everyone making parallels to 2005 and some even invoking the storied 1947.
So how did things pan out in the glass? There is always a dash to opine first and Twitter has allowed that to happen in real time. But before turning to the tweets, this past weekend saw the first summary article, in the WSJ. Freelancer Jacqueline Friedrich writes up a thoughtful piece. In it, she expresses how difficult it is to taste unfinished wines, calling them “raw, hard, closed, astringent and achingly tannic.” Also, instead of handing down iron-clad truths to her readers, she is honest in suggesting uncertainty, “no matter how discerning and experienced the taster, the verdict can be wrong, or wrongish.” Her summary comment as to the overall quality is that they are “pretty damned good, and the best may be mythic.” She then invokes a similarity to the wines of the Rhone and lists five wines–Cos, Pontet-Canet, Palmer, Leoville-Barton, and Valandraud–with no point scores!
Bordeaux prices may be coming down sharply. But then will they be going up?
Diageo Chateaux & Estates was a major buyer of Bordeaux futures for the better part of the last three decades. In fact, according to one California wholesaler quoted in an AFP article, their buying (along with Costco), created “an artificial level of implied demand from the US — the wine estates set their prices based on this perceived demand.”
But things changed. The wines of the rainy 2007 vintage received weak reviews on the whole and demand slackened for pre-buying during the recession. Diageo Chateaux & Estates had committed to the vintage as they had in the past. Now, they are left with a large inventory of wine that needs to be significantly discounted as it arrives in the US. According to the AFP story, they are dumping the 2007s and previous vintages on the US market to such an extent that trucks are even coming from Mexico to scoop up bargains!
While lower prices sounds like good news, the AFP story neglects the question of future vintages. The low prices of the 2007s may be fleeting because Diageo has now decided to get out of the Bordeaux futures business. As of the 2008 vintage, US retailers have had to pursue different, smaller scale strategies for buying Bordeaux wines as futures to the extent that there has been demand. Now the 2009 vintage has gotten huge advance praise and financial markets have rallied, replenishing the bank accounts of some Bordeaux consumers. So while the demand side for future vintages may be coming back, the economies of scale that DC&E had on the supply side have been removed making a tempting conclusion that prices will move higher.
However, if the Diageo demand was “artificial” as witnessed by the current dumping, the prices could remain lower for several years. And with so many lavishly praised recent vintages already available in the market, Bordeaux buyers may think twice about the need to buy futures on unbottled wine. Indeed, American buyers are “skeptical” according to a recent article on Dectanter.com.
For any retailers out there, what is your recent experience with Bordeaux futures and how will Diageo’s bowing out affect the way you do business? And for consumers, is it “game over” or “game on” for Bordeaux futures?
On Wednesday evening I attended a tasting of fifteen wines from Bordeaux 2005. The vintage was widely hailed as superb and pre-recession demand drove the prices into the stratosphere. Aside from the outrageous apparent quality of the wines, the tasting had two other attractions: the ability to taste some of the top wines blind and to do so in the company of Robert Parker.
Over 100 of us packed a room in a midtown hotel for the event, organized by Executive Wine Seminars. I arrived fifteen minutes early and it was already hard to find a seat at a table. Five wines were pre-poured into five ISO glasses, and there was some bread and cheese. At my table were people who had come in from Chicago, Wisconsin, Delaware and Napa. And they had paid a lot of money too: $795 each (I was fortunate enough to have gotten a ticket from someone who couldn’t attend). The air practically buzzed with anticipation.
Even though the tasting was blind, everyone knew the lineup of wines and it included some of the most heralded wines of the vintage as the Parker scores (in parentheses) indicate:
Angelus (98) • Cos d’Estournel (98) • Ducru Beaucaillou (97) • Haut Brion (98) • Lafite Rothschild (96+) • La Mission Haut Brion (97) • Larcis Ducasse (98) • Latour (96+) • L’Eglise Clinet (100) • Margaux (98+) • Montrose (95) • Pape Clement (98) • Pavie (98+) •Le Gay (95) • Troplong Mondot (99)
In addition to my excitement about tasting these wines, I was eager to see Parker engage in a blind tasting. Blind tastings are incredibly challenging, of course, and can humble even the most accomplished tasters. On the other hand, Parker is known to be a formidable taster, and he has made some impressive claims about his own tasting abilities. In the famous profile of Parker published in The Atlantic (that Parker displays on his web site) back in December 2000, the author wrote that Parker “stores the sensation of each [wine] into a permanent gustatory memory. When I asked him about the mechanical aspects of his work, he told me in a matter-of-fact way that he remembers every wine he has tasted over the past thirty-two years and, within a few points, every score he has given as well.”
2005 is a vintage that is obviously very fresh in his memory (and he has said it is the greatest Bordeaux vintage he has experienced in his storied career), and given his apparent total recall of the wines he tastes, I was obviously very keen to see how he’d fare in a blind tasting–particularly one involving his favorite wines of the vintage. Read more…