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…
SPIT and SIPPED: Bordeaux 2008
After better-than-expected but still largely tepid reviews, Bordeaux 2008 took a shot in the arm form Robert Parker who raved about it. All the action is summed up nicely, with charts of price action, on FT.com’s Alphaville blog. Quotage from Simon Staples, aka BigSiTheWineGuy and a buyer at Berry Bros and Rudd in London: “He [Parker] went crazy about 2003 (all on his own) He missed 2005 (everyone else loved it) He’s now potty about 08(a few very nice wines)Plot?Lost?”
SIPPED: wine growing
Wine in London, yes. But vines? Apparently so. But a terroir de double decker diesel may be avoided: Decanter reports that a horticultural college about 10 miles north of St. Paul’s has planted 1,500 vines.
SPIT: red wine stains
A South African winery blog posts with the results of their tests on various red wine stain removers. The winner: hydrogen peroxide! It’s a cost-effective result considering hydrogen peroxide costs something like 99 cents a gallon at Duane Reade. [ht: Tasting Room]
Wolf Blass, an Australian producer, announced two new wines in plastic (PET) bottles that resemble a traditional glass bottle.
SIPPED: fighting garden thievery
The BBC reports that Hugh Johnson, renowned wine writer and avid gardener, had “a late 17th Century astronomical sphere and urns [stolen] from his historic garden.” He has posted a £1,000 reward for information leading to the return of the items.
Rivalries and conflicts simmer throughout the world. At least one was resolved peacefully last week in a historic vertical tasting of the wines of the two Pichons.
Around 1850, faced with the inheritance laws of the Napoleonic code, Baron Pichon split his Pauillac estate among his five children: his three daughters got the larger share of the property but his two sons inherited the chateau itself and two-fifths of the vineyard. This action not only set up a rivalry between the two properties but also doomed legions of wine consumers to confusion between the two adjacent estates now colloquially known as Pichon-Baron or Pichon-Lalande. Read more…
SPIT: corks in Champagne!
Champagne house Duval-Leroy has announced that they will be replacing the cork with a “revolutionary” metal cap. Full details will be announced next month. The BBC reports that it will “still produce the familiar “pop” and spray beloved of generations of racing drivers on the winner’s podium.” But how will this affect the Japanese corkslinger?
SIPPED: wine as a tax revenue source
New York State will raise the excise tax on wine sold or made in New York from $0.18 a gallon to $0.30 a gallon, effective May 1. This rate increase of roughly two cents a bottle may be too little to pass on to consumers thus may fall to producers or wholesalers. In order to avoid channel stuffing, there will be a “floor tax” levy imposed on warehouse inventory as of May 1. So will there be mega sales in NY wine stores between now and then to draw down said inventory? [NYT]
Fraudsters posing as buyers for British wine retailers have bilked French producers out of an apparently large amount of wine. Sad. [Decanter]
SIPPED, surprisingly: Bordeaux 2008
If in 2008 grapes were, in the words of Jancis Robinson, “swollen with summer rain,” vineyards are “ravaged by mildew and threatened by rot,” would that make for a good vintage in Bordeaux? Despite all odds, Robinson in the FT and Elin McCoy on Bloomberg attest to finding some surprisingly good wines. McCoy asks the money question: “But dropping prices dramatically in a good vintage? It’s not in the Bordelais DNA.” But some have gotten the message as she quotes Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, owner Bruno Borie: “We have to go back to basics, go back to the consumer, instead of the speculators.” Subsequently, Decanter reports several releases down 20 – 40% from last year’s prices. What will happen ultimately to the weak and expensive 2007 vintage? A caution against buying wine as futures…