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Bordeaux 2006 too close to call

The 2006 En Primeur season has none of the certainties of the blistering 2005 – except that it was a vintage that depended on constant work both in the vineyard and in the cellar.

The feeling here in Bordeaux is that the right bank is looking very strong, with Pomerol and Fronsac producing some superb, balanced wines.

‘The St Emilion is rather edgy, with drying tannins – the Pomerol is better,’ Mark Wessels of major US importer MacArthur Beverages said.

The jury is still out on how the left bank Cabernet is faring – it is definitely the earlier-ripening Merlots that have done best.

On the right bank and in the Graves those that harvested before the rain in the middle of September managed to get ripe grapes in and avoided the problems of dilution – and rot – that bedevilled the Merlot on the left bank.

At the same time many are saying this is just too close to call. Jonathan Maltus, owner of Chateau Teyssier said there was ‘no pattern’ in 2006.

‘We were harvesting the sandy and gravelly parcels in Pomerol at the same time as St Emilion parcels, which are normally much later. We couldn’t see a pattern last year.’

Florence Cathiard at Smith Haut Lafitte – where the Merlot was finished by mid September and the Cabernet by the end of the month – said quality depends on those who did the most work in the vineyards. ‘We had to select almost as if it was Sauternes,’ she said. ‘It was a very expensive harvest.’

As for the whites, there is more optimism for the dry whites than the sweet. David Peppercorn, who tasted Sauternes yesterday afternoon, confessed to finding only a handful that he liked. Stephen Brook said he was ‘disappointed.’

The dry whites of the Graves are causing a good deal more excitement. ‘They are looking pretty good,’ one journalist said. Smith Haut Lafitte – one of the acknowledged stars of the Graves – has produced a white of ‘wonderful balance’.

As for prices, there is no doubt that 2005 has concentrated minds.

Sudouest, the newspaper of record here in Bordeaux, has said that it doesn’t look as if ‘sensible pricing’ is going to happen: producers and negociants had too good a campaign last year.

‘To come back down to the more sensible prices of 04 doesn’t seem to be in the air. 2005 strengthened Bordeaux. The negociants did very well but if they try to be too ambitious with the 2006 campaign it will damage what is now a healthy market.’

But some producers will admit to the jitters. ‘It’s going to be a difficult campaign,’ Eric d’Aramon at Chateau Figeac said. ‘In 2004 the prices were too low and in 2005 they were too high. We need to find a happy medium.’

So those who priced sensibly in 2005 are most confident this year. Nicolas de Bailliencourt at Chateau Gazin said that while their 2004 was €17, their 2005 was €25, so ‘we can’t really go any cheaper.’

In the end it looks as if 2006 is going to be more of a political year than any other. Everybody compares. Bertrand Nicolas at Chateau Conseillante, for example, said, ‘It’s going to similar to 2001.’ He wasn’t referring to quality, but to the relationship with what went before: 2001 followed the great 2000 – just as 2006 is following the great 2005.

‘It’s difficult to come after a great vintage,’ he said.

But while it may seem that producers constantly refer to the past, others in the industry reckon the Bordelais have shorter memories: or they remember only the good times.

There’s no chance that they will go back to 2004 prices or near them, Mark Levin, Bordeaux buyer for Southern Wines and Spirits, the biggest US distributor said.

‘They’ve forgotten 2004. Not the wines, but when they talk about prices they don’t mention 2004: they compare prices to 2005 – the same thing happened in 2001 against 2000 – they feel they have set that benchmark.’

Written by Adam Lechmere and Panos Kakaviatos in Bordeaux

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