Bordeaux 2009: What the merchants say

Stuart Peskett rounds up the comments from merchants around the UK

7rd April

Bordeaux Index returned from the tastings ‘buzzing with excitement’ over quality. According to sales director Sam Gleave, the 2009 Bordeaux ‘fully warrants its vintage of the century’ moniker.

‘Not only has the vintage over-fulfilled the hype but in 20 years of tasting I can confidently say that the 2009 is the best,’ he reports. ‘This is a benchmark vintage for Bordeaux.’

3rd April

The Corney & Barrow team were disappointed after the Margaux tasting (‘the patchiest of the communes on the Left Bank’). They said that while there are some ‘great’ wines, too many were ‘simply too hard and aggressive to support the fruit’.

At Cheval Blanc, Pierre Lurton tells Stephen Williams, MD of The Antique Wine Company that 2009 is a ‘cashmere vintage’… ‘but not cashmere prices’, his tongue (presumably) in his cheek.

Williams says – with no apparent trace of irony – that while the press ‘may well go crazy’ about 2009, ‘in my book, that simply isn’t the case’.

After a hard week’s tasting, the Berry Bros & Rudd team have declared 2009 ‘a Cabernet vintage’. The ‘consistency’ in Pauillac and St Julien impressed the team, with Pauillac ‘just shading it in terms of class’. But they reserve top praise for Château Latour, going as far as calling it ‘the best en primeur wine we have ever tasted’, with its ‘layers and layers of seductive fruit’, ‘huge power’, and ‘effortless poise’.

The latest Latour vintage also drew gasps from the Bibendum team, who, appropriately enough, made the château their final stop before flying home. ‘Sublime texture, balance and finesse with perfectly captured fruit and exquisite structure’ was how they described it’.

But they’re not getting carried away. This week has shown that ‘this is not the best vintage ever in Bordeaux. It is not uniformly consistent and not all wines are superb. If you come across a random 2009 on a wine list in four or five years’ time, it is far from guaranteed to be good, let alone excellent. Many properties – on both banks – have struggled with high alcohol levels and prominent tannins.’

1st April

Bibendum are confident that the general quality of 2009 Bordeaux is ‘excellent’. ‘There are more hits than misses…you won’t have to spend a fortune to drink good 2009s.’

Special mention is reserved for Super Second Cos d’Estournel. The property is akin to a ‘futuristic film set – a chrome cathedral to impress the world’s billionaires’, and the 2009 vintage is an ‘incredibly impressive wine with a gloss, sheen and modernity that seems designed to match its surroundings’. Bibendum also recommend Bordeaux’s 2009 dry whites, ‘if you appreciate freshness, zest, minerality and fruit’.

But, like others, they were less impressed with the right bank: ‘If we were to draw up a list of the top 20 wines at the end of the week, I suspect well over half would come from the Medoc. Too many right-bank wines were pushy and extracted with dry austere tannins framing overly sweet fruit. A few others seemed to disappear into a black abyss on the mid-palate – all very impressive but not much fun to drink.’

Berrys:

The team arrived at Le Pin, and found the wine ‘fabulous – its alcohol level of only 13.5% is a miracle in a vintage where virtually every Merlot we had tasted was 14%–15%. Beautifully balanced, harmonious and concentrated, yet fresh – this is surely one of the great wines of Le Pin.’

Then, a productive afternoon in Margaux, where Château D’Angludet was ‘yet again superb – another potentially great-value buy’, but their wine of the day was Château Palmer, which they described as ‘simply extraordinary; juicy, succulent, rich and intense yet with wonderful poise and freshness – one of only a handful of wines we have found so far to be a true rival to 2005.’

Corney & Barrow:

After a day spent tasting the First Growths, the Corney & Barrow team report that:

– Latour is ‘typically powerful’ and ‘will almost certainly take 30+ years to come round’

– Mouton ismerely ‘good’ and ‘a notch behind Latour’

– Margaux (and Pavilion Rouge) are’awesome’

Cos, already making waves in this en primeur week, is ‘unquestionably awesome but so utterly impenetrable that one has to ask whether it will ever come round’. Jean-Guillaume Prats would only tell the team that he thought three of the first growths ‘would be 1000 euros a bottle by the end of the summer’.

30th March

Gareth Groves at Bibendum admits that most merchants hail every new Bordeaux vintage as ‘the special one’, but adds: ‘The difference this year is that the 2009 vintage might just be able to live up to the hype.’

And after a sneak preview of four Axa wines at Pichon Baron, the Bibendum team believe it could be ‘a very good week’.

Pichon Baron was ‘bright, ripe and seductive’; Petit Village ‘intense, concentrated and chewy’. Suduiraut was ‘peachy, lush and mouth-wateringly fresh’, ‘but the real star was Pibran, AXA’s least glamourous château’. Groves says that Pibran has ‘raised expectations that there may be some very good value wines around this year’.

Over at Berry Bros & Rudd, the team was slightly less bullish, describing the wines as ranging from ‘disappointing to ethereal’. Château Figeac was ‘a fantastic wine with seriously ripe fruit and dense, savoury tannins yet fresh, fresh, fresh’; Vieux Chateaux Certan was ‘one of the wines of the day – but then again, so was Cheval Blanc’. But the Berry’s crew say that ‘balance is the key for Merlots’ in 2009, and that the ‘jury is still out’ on the right bank.

Corney & Barrow predicts a ‘big success for St-Estephe’ after tasting an ‘exceptionally good’ Château Montrose. But after a visit to Moueix, they (like others) quickly realised that 2009 will not be an across-the-board triumph for the right bank, due in part to hailstorms that struck St-Emilion in May, ‘reducing yields, in some cases by as much as 40%’.

And after a further tasting, (‘naming no names’), where the team found wines with ‘a distinct forced, extracted nature to them’, they admit ‘there was a bit of a deflated feel that this was perhaps not the vintage to beat them all’.

Best of Twitter:

Simon Staples

After tasting Château Haut-Bailly: If this isn’t in my top 10 wines of 09 at the end of the week, I’ll give up this BDX [sic] lark and start drinking Chianti!

William Hargrove, Corney & Barrow

Just leaving Latour. “Forts” very Good and Latour also exceptional but one for the grandchildren! Mouton seemed a little underwhelming…Mouton definitely geared up for the Americans.

29 March 2010

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Berrys’ effusive Bordeaux buyer Simon Staples predicts that UK drinkers will ‘pile in’ to the 2009 Bordeaux vintage.

Staples has tasted ‘about 20 châteaux’, and ‘three to four finished wines’, and said: ‘They are really sumptuous: a cross between 2005 and 2003. They’ve got that sexy feel of 2003 but not quite the linear quality of the 2005s – perhaps more like 2003 but with not quite such chunky steroids. And none of the wines I tried tasted high in alcohol.’

He admitted that the US demand for Bordeaux en primeur had been ‘dead’ for Berry Bros for the past six years, adding that he expected the sales split between Hong Kong and the UK to be around 60:40, in value terms (for the 2005 vintage, the ratio was 30:70).

Regarding China, Staples said there would only be a handful of châteaux that would interest the market. ‘They [the Bordelais] all think that the Chinese effect is going to affect them.’ But he said that by far the highest demand will be for Latour, Lafite and Mouton-Rothschild, although Margaux is ‘slowly joining the party’.

On price, Staples conceded that he had been ‘criticised by some of my peers’ for his relentlessly positive attitude towards Bordeaux (‘if something’s really great, I think you should charge more for it’), adding: ‘I think they will be around 2005 prices, or maybe slightly down. Having said that, there are at least 10 châteaux that I think will charge at least 10% more than their 2005 prices.’

Staples claims that 2009s will be very easy to taste, ‘because they are soft and succulent’, and thinks that the first growths will vary between €250–€750 across the (expected) three tranches.

26 March 2010

With less than a week ago until the 2009 en primeur campaign begins, one UK merchant has warned that the Bordelais must not get too greedy with excessive price hikes, given the weakness of the pound against the euro.

Farr Vintners chairman Stephen Browett said that while 2009 is a ‘great vintage’, if the Bordelais release the wines at 2005 prices, it will equate to a 35% price hike for Uk drinkers.

‘It’s going to be a big problem for the châteaux,’ he said. ‘If they release their wines at 2005 prices, then we’ll be paying more for them than we are selling the 2005s for.’

Farr threatened to boycott last year’s campaign, after many châteaux kept their 2005 prices for the inferior 2006 and 2007 vintages.

In the event they didn’t do so. Browett admitted that the Bordelais ‘redeemed themselves’ with the 2008s, but warned: ‘If they think they can charge people a massive price for the 2009s having been generous with 2008, then there will be a problem.’

Sebastian Payne MW at The Wine Society said that his company is ‘on the side of the drinkers’ and dismissed claims that the Bordelais would be justified in big increases this year, despite what they did 12 months ago.

‘The Bordelais always get the highest price they can,’ he said, adding that the Bordelais ‘were smiling’ when he visited the region recently, because ‘they think they’ve got something good on their hands’.

Payne thinks the 2009s will be a ‘different style’ to the 2005s, and that alcohol levels will be higher.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Berry Bros’ effusive Bordeaux buyer Simon Staples predicts that UK drinkers will ‘pile in’ to the 2009 Bordeaux vintage.

Staples has tasted ‘about 20 châteaux’, and ‘three to four finished wines’, and said: ‘They are really sumptuous: a cross between 2005 and 2003. They’ve got that sexy feel of 2003 but not quite the linear quality of the 2005s – perhaps more like 2003 but with not quite such chunky steroids. And none of the wines I tried tasted high in alcohol.’

He admitted that the US demand for Bordeaux en primeur had been ‘dead’ for Berry Bros for the past six years, adding that he expected the sales split between Hong Kong and the UK to be around 60:40, in value terms (for the 2005 vintage, the ratio was 30:70).

Regarding China, Staples said there would only be a handful of châteaux that would interest the market. ‘They [the Bordelais] all think that the Chinese effect is going to affect them.’ But he said that by far the highest demand will be for Latour, Lafite and Mouton-Rothschild, although Margaux is ‘slowly joining the party’.

On price, Staples conceded that he had been ‘criticised by some of my peers’ for his relentlessly positive attitude towards Bordeaux (‘if something’s really great, I think you should charge more for it’), adding: ‘I think they will be around 2005 prices, or maybe slightly down. Having said that, there are at least 10 châteaux that I think will charge at least 10% more than their 2005 prices.’

Staples claims that 2009s will be very easy to taste, ‘because they are soft and succulent’, and thinks that the first growths will vary between €250–€750 across the (expected) three tranches.

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Written by Stuart Peskett