UK merchants are more upbeat about the vintage than anticipated, though by all accounts it's a sleeper. The sticking point, of course, is price. The chateaux have had their poker faces on, giving no indication of whether they'll hold or fold. And the problem with 2008 is not 2008, say the merchants, it's 2007. Maggie Rosen reports on what is proving the strangest en primeur campaign in memory.
UPDATED 9 APRIL
Sebastian Payne MW, chief wine buyer for The Wine Society, concurs that it will be price that will determine the success – or lack thereof – of this year’s campaign.
‘I’m not sure all the producers understand this,’ he said.
‘Certainly the brightest producers do, and I predict that there will be dramatic reductions over 2007 – and the sensible first growths will lead the way.’
He hopes this will happen sooner than later, recalling that last year’s prices were released very slowly and rather higher than they should have been.’
Payne has no patience for chateaux that can’t admit the current realities of the marketplace.
‘If those like Jean-Guillaume Prats [Cos d’Estournel] are happy to continue hanging on to the 2007 and 2008,’ he said, ‘I don’t mind, he can keep it all in his £30m cellar – I won’t buy a drop.’
As for the quality of the 2008s, Payne said it’s highly variable.
‘I went to the Union des Grands Crus tasting, and there was a marked difference between the top names and the rest,’ he said.
‘This year’s vintage is a modern version of 1998 – classic Bordeaux in the “correct” sense, but slightly riper. The wines are typical of a long growing season with plenty of rain, and no excessive heat. Only those with the means to sort well were able to make good wines.’
While he won’t name his favourites just yet, Payne considers the best wines he tasted to be better than 2007, but still not a show vintage.
‘They just don’t have the sex appeal of the 1982s, 1990s or even 2005s,’ he said.
‘But some producers – like Chateau Figeac – have made their best wine in years.’
Simon Quinn of Bordeaux Wine Investments has found plenty of good to very good wine in Bordeaux, but nothing exceptional.
‘As many have said, quality is not the issue,’ says Quinn.
‘There is plenty to recommend, from every commune – if the wine comes in at the right price. But it’s all from the names you’d expect, there are no real surprises, nobody has outperformed their status.’
Quinn was more impressed with the reds than the whites, both dry and sweet. And he is cautiously optimistic about the possibility that prices will be realistic.
‘Everyone with whom we spoke has acknowledged the world is very differnt this year, and they realise they need to make an effort to work with us,’ he said.
‘I think there will be significant drops but whether this will be attractive enough remains to be seen. So far, Angelus at 40% less than last year has not had much of a response.’
Quinn believes it will take a first growth to give a more accurate view.
‘Angelus is a good wine, but not a market-mover.’
Having done the rounds in person, the armit tasting team has noted a high degree of variation in the vintage – but also some ‘wonderful wines’.
CEO Ian Ronald advises that armit will be offering the wine – subject to pricing, which will have to be lower than any ‘comparable vintage’ – 2001 and 2004, for example – still available.
Upon return from Bordeaux, Berry Bros‘ Simon Staples made good on his commitment to choose a handful of wines – 42 out of about 400 tasted; but he will only sell them ‘if the price is right’.
That may prove difficult, as he says the best of the vintage will come from the big names, while the wines at the cheaper end of the market ‘are really mean’. He insists Berrys won’t be holding any stock unless the pound appreciates.
UPDATED 8 APRIL
Having stayed away from Bordeaux this year, Steven Browett of Farr Vintners advises that he’s nevertheless offering Chateau Angelus (at £725 a case) to customers on the say-so of others. Angelus was first off the mark this year, releasing its price two months earlier than in 2008.
‘We have not bought any Angelus yet but have options to do so. We will be tasting it on 20 April,’ said Browett.
‘We’ve spoken to Jancis Robinson, James Suckling, Derek Smedley and several other tasters. We’ve made an offer to our customers without a Farr Vintners tasting note but with one from Suckling.’
Browett has heard rumours that one of the first growths may release next week at 50% of its 2007 price.
‘A few weeks ago we had feedback from several producers that they would release 2008 at the same price as 2007,’ he said, ‘but I think that they are beginning to realise now that this cannot happen.’