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Michel Bettane threatens to boycott en primeur over ‘early tasting’

French wine critic Michel Bettane has threatened to boycott en primeur if Bordeaux does nothing to clamp down on critics releasing scores before the main tastings take place.

Michel Bettane (right) with Thierry Desseauve

Bettane has published an open letter to the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGC) in which he describes as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘disrespectful’ the practice of allowing selected journalists to taste and publish wine scores before the official start of the en primeurs week.

‘For over 20 years I have loyally agreed to taste the new vintage at the same time as my colleagues. Since the earliest days, chateaux have allowed certain American journalists, and more recently French, to taste separately, earlier than the rest, and then to publish their scores without respecting the official rules.’

The practice has now got out of hand and if nothing is done to curb the practice then ‘this will be the last year that we play the game’, Bettane says, referring to the various publications he runs with his colleague Thierry Desseauve. Both were formerly critics on La Revue du Vin de France.

He specifically draws attention to James Suckling, who has been posting videos and scores from his en primeur tastings since last week, but he may also be implicitly criticising James Molesworth, the new Wine Spectator Bordeaux critic, who has also begun publishing a few scores.

Suckling was unrepentant. ‘I don’t see the problem,’ he told Decanter.com. ‘Does TF1 bitch to the BBC or CNN when they get scooped? The consumer wants to know as soon as possible how good are the wines in a great vintage in Bordeaux and other places for that matter. I want to fulfill that need the best I can.

‘The 2010 vintage is a great one. The weather has been fabulous. I hope it’s the same next week for the others.’

Robert Parker has visited Bordeaux in advance of the en primeurs for years, but is usually one of the last to publish his scores, at the end of April.

Bettane also refers to jancisrobinson.com, where the critic suggests scores are used by merchants and chateaux owners to justify high prices.

Robinson writes, ‘I do increasingly feel like a pawn in a game designed to part you (the consumer) with as much money as possible.’

The Bordeaux En Primeur barrel tastings start on 2 April. Decanter.com will publish its complete report on the vintage on Wednesday 13 April.

Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux, and Adam Lechmere

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