Prices of Bordeaux 2006 – at least on the right bank – will be set between the levels of 2004 and 2005.

At a London tasting of the 2006 vintage given by the right bank grouping Cercle Rive Droite last night, Dr Alain Raynaud – who masterminds the 40-property collective – said, ‘there will be no increase in prices.’

Raynaud acknowledged that he has something of a reputation for price hikes: his own Saint Emilion Grand Cru Chateau Quinault L’Enclos raised its 2005 price by 85% on 2004.

But referring to the very high prices charged across Bordeaux for the 2005 vintage he said, ‘We can’t have the same increase as last year. We want to stay reasonable.’

He suggested that on the right bank, in St Emilion and Pomerol, properties would probably charge about 25% less than 2005, and about 20% more than 2004. This would mean a release price of between €15 and €22 for Quinault.

However, this attitude may well not prevail throughout Bordeaux. ‘People are crazy,’ he said.

Reactions to the quality of the vintage, three weeks before the world’s critics descend on Bordeaux for the En Primeur tastings at the beginning of April, were mixed.

David Peppercorn MW said, ‘I am surprised by the lovely fruit quality. There is good harmony.’

Other merchants and critics variously described the vintage as ‘not great but good’, and said they were ‘pleasantly surprised.’ One compared it to 2001, a year in which Merlot fared best.

It should be a right bank year, various proprietors at this (right bank) tasting said. There were excellent growing conditions in June and July, which gave way to a cool and damp August followed by heatwave in early September, then rain. The earlier-ripening Merlots benefitted in that they could be harvested before the rains took hold, thus avoiding the danger of botrytis that afflicted the later-ripening Cabernets.

While the wines are showing good fruit and in some cases well-developed ripe tannins, there is little doubt that this will be an early-drinking vintage.

Raynaud agreed to this, at the same time hedging his bets. ‘This will be a vintage to drink quickly,’ he said. ‘But in many cases it will be one to keep 10 years.’

Jancis Robinson MW, on her website jancisrobinson.com, mentioned the ‘inky, rasping tannins’ in the more modest appellations, which gave way to ‘more obviously ripe fruit’ as a counterbalance in the more prestigious areas.

She concluded, ‘The current vintage is still a bit of a shock after the sumptuous pleasure and perfect manners exuded by the 2005s – these are rude boys.’

The vital factor in this vintage, in the end, will not be weather, or ripeness, but the shadow of its illustrious predecessor. After bank accounts have been emptied by 2005, wine critic Robert Joseph asked the pertinent question, ‘Why should anyone want to buy Bordeaux 2006?’

Or as Raynaud put it, ‘Problems? There weren’t any. Our only problem now is to find a market.’

decanter.com will carry comprehensive tasting reports by Steven Spurrier, James Lawther, David Peppercorn and other key critics from En Primeur week, beginning 1 April 2006.

Written by Adam Lechmere