As many of the world's top wine critics descend on Bordeaux for en primeur tasting week, chateaux are expecting to show the best vintage in four years, but market data suggests rising financial pressure on merchants to entice more consumers to buy.
(Image: A drinks reception at Chateau Guiraud ahead of en primeur week)
There have already been several attempts to label Bordeaux 2014. Olivier Bernard, head of the Unions des Grands Crus Classes (UGC) and owner of Domaine de Chevalier, called it ‘great vintage of the Indian summer’, powered by the third hottest September on record in the region.
In an interview with Decanter.com, consultant Denis Dubourdieu, owner of Chateau Reynon and Doisy Daene, called 2014 the vintage of acidity – particularly for dry whites – due to a prolonged cooling off period during the summer.
None of those things are mutually exclusive, but the general consensus among chateau owners is that this vintage is set to go down as the best of the last four years. Of course, one must be wary of the quagmire of generalisation, and everyone will know more once the major UGC tastings have finished.
Nicolas Glumineau, general manager of Roederer-owned Pichon Lalande, told Decanter.com a month ago that he agreed 2014 was better than 2013, 2012 and 2011; all of which have so far failed to generate significant excitement among consumers. Many called 2013 the most difficult Bordeaux vintage for more than 20 years.
‘I’m not saying that 2014 is another vintage of the Century,’ Glumineau added, slightly tongue-in-cheek at the Bordelais’ reputed propensity to use that phrase a little more than every 100 years. No one is expecting 2014 to compete with a 2010 or 2009, but hopes are high that critics will see an above average vintage this time around.
Dubourdieu said a relatively low yielding year for Sauternes and Barsac – where nerves were tested in the dry, September heatwave – has still produced top wines. He compared some of the wines to the ‘golden age’ of Sauternes in the 1920s. There are high early expectations at the top estates, but also concerns about low quantity among some.
Of the reds, Dubourdieu said Cabernet was easier to handle in 2014, because its later ripening characteristics benefited from the September sun. Merlot was in general more affected by the cool summer.
If there is greater optimism in the chateaux for 2014, there is also rising pressure at the business end of Bordeaux en primeur.
Many wines from the past five vintages cost less than when released en primeur, trading exchange Liv-ex said in a market report released last week.
‘There is an oversupply of young Bordeaux,’ it said. It added that, for negociants, ‘sales and margins are under pressure and balance sheets have deteriorated’. It estimated that average Bordeaux negociant profit margins fell from close to 7% to 4.4% over the past three vintage campaigns.
Merchants outside of Bordeaux have publicly called for a drop in prices for the 2014 vintage to help persuade consumers to return, even if the overall quality is better than in recent years.
There has been speculation that greater numbers of American buyers may come back to Bordeaux for this vintage, but several experts believe US consumers are still wary. ‘Prices have to come down for people to step up,’ Per Holmberg, head of wine at Christie’s in New York and a company vice president, told Decanter.com in Bordeaux.
Others argue the present euro currency weakness is likely to make 2014 wines more enticing for UK and US consumers. ‘We have to get the price right for the Eurozone countries,’ said Olivier Bernard. ‘If we do that, then it will be a gift to England,’ he said at a Chateau Guiraud reception, in reference to the exchange rates.
Read all the news from Bordeaux 2014 en primeur week, including the first impressions of the key appellations, on Decanter.com over the next seven days.