The SOMM Journal

December 2014/January 2015

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 45 of 119

46 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2014/2015 { letter from London } SUCH WAS THE TITLE OF THE 26-page overview of the Bordeaux 2012s in the June 2013 issue of Decanter magazine, based on the visit by Jeannie Cho Lee, MW, James Lawther, MW and myself in early April for the annual en primeur tastings. Eighteen months later, with the wines safely in bottle, the Union des Grands Crus (UGC) began their tour of the major cities in Europe with a tasting at the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden. This is one of the tasting calendar's "must attend" events, as not only are most of the wines from the 133 members present—though many fewer Sauternes this time, as the vintage was so small—but so are their owners. The wines will show whether they have matched the potential that they anticipated when only six months old, and the owners can be questioned on the current 2014 vintage (good to very good in both quality and quantity), on the 2013 vintage still in their cellars (small in quantity of only quite good quality) and on the general state of the market. When asked the following day to make a comment for Decanter's website, it was "still much to like, but at the right price." With over 110,000 hectares in the Gironde department that benefits from a moderate maritime climate, Bordeaux is the largest, most historic and therefore benchmark producer of red wines from the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot grapes and also the benchmark producer for Sauvignon Blanc (and a little Gris) and Semillon dry whites and Semillon and Sauvignon (and a little Muscadelle) sweet whites. The quality of these wines have set the standard for these varietals all over the world, but in the last decade quality has been less talked about than price. The top 5% of Bordeaux châteaux, always promoted as a good investment by merchants to their clients, have recently been the object of frenzied speculation, reaching its peak with the back to back "vintages of the century" 2009 and 2010. The system practised by the Bordeaux négociants, referred to as La Place for their central role over the centuries in set- ting the market price, is to offer the wines of the latest vintage en primeur following the tastings in late March/early April. In the distant past, the châteaux themselves were often short of funds, and were forced to offer their latest vintage at a discounted price to what might have been its true value, just to cover the expense of running their estates. The merchants were in control until the excellent 1982 vintage aroused world interest and the châteaux began to assert themselves with the great 1989s and 1990s, only to retire hurt following a frosted 1991, a rainy 1992 and a dull 1993 and 1994, being saved by the 1995s (Hubert de Bouard of Saint-Émilion's Château Angelus, recently ennobled with Château Pavie to join Ausone and Cheval Blanc as 1er Grands Crus Classes "A," was quoted later as saying, "If we hadn't had 1995, most of the neighbouring estates would have been for sale") and were only able to re-position themselves with the turn of millennium 2000s. With the superb 2005s, the producers were in control of prices, the merchants willingly accepting their function as the essential middlemen for the national and interna- tional market. A difficult 2007 and a light but elegant 2008 saw prices come down from a height many considered exaggerated—in my view 2008 was the last "bargain" vintage in Bordeaux—only to be wildly exceeded by the impressive 2009s and even these out-priced by the more clas- sic 2010s in a cynical "my wine is worth more than yours" campaign by the top estates that dragged on into the bi-annual Vinexpo in mid-June. So far, so good, and the châteaux owners (only the top 5% as usual) were flush with cash and only reduced prices by about 20% for the very dull 2011s, just a little more for the rather nice 2012s which found a few takers, and a touch lower for the short-term 2013s, which found no takers at all. The key to the en primeur system is that everyone, from merchant to consumer, can benefit by buying a wine at six months old, two years or more before it can be delivered MUCH TO LIKE, BUT AT THE RIGHT PRICE by Steven Spurrier Bordeaux 2012 The 2014 Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting at the Royal Opera's Paul Hamlyn Hall in London.

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The SOMM Journal - December 2014/January 2015