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Bordeaux 2009: Winemakers keen to live up to hype

They were quick to praise a ‘phenomenal’ harvest but Bordeaux winemakers are saying that the big test facing the 2009 vintage will be keeping down alcohol levels.

Speaking at today’s Unions des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tastings at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, winemakers said that 2009 was set to be ‘an exceptional vintage.’

Corrine Conroy, marketing manager for Chateau Brane-Cantenac said that there was going to be ‘a big demand for 2009.’

‘The harvest conditions were phenomenal – perfect, better than 2005. This means we need to find ways to bring out acidity to make the wines expressive and balanced.’

‘The wines will need a lot of attention due to their high alcohol content – we will be trying to bring out the terroir.’

‘It’s too early to discuss pricing for 2009, but demand will be great.’

However, some vingerons are worried about making the most of the harvest in the wineries.

Noemi Ruelloux, communications manager at Chateau Haut-Bailly, told decanter.com that one of the biggest challenges facing the winemakers is keeping the wines balanced after a ‘perfect harvest’.

‘We want alcohol but not over extraction. We had to be careful that we picked the grapes at the right maturity. We’d pick, stop, then pick again. We didn’t pick too late, ensuring freshness and elegance.’

Chateau Branaire-Ducru owner Patrick Maroteaux described the 2009 vintage as ‘exceptional,’ adding that ‘it is the best in the last 20 or 30 years.’

‘This year it is all about the definition of the fruit. The balance is very good – it’s got freshness thanks to the cool nights.’

High alcohol levels were a major talking point, with many chateaux saying their wines were reaching 14-14.5%.

Fabrice Bacuey, from St Estèphe property Chateau Phélan-Ségur, said its Merlot had reached 15%.

‘With such high alcohol levels, the winemaking direction is changing. We need to keep tasting the tanks and blending to make sure the wines have structure and fruit.’

Magali Puppa from Chateau Rauzan-Ségla agreed, saying ‘the alcohol is quite high, which is a challenge.’

‘We don’t want our wines to be too powerful, that’s why the winemaking process is very important. Refined elegance is what Margaux is famous for.’

But merchants are already firing the first shots in the war over prices.

Sebastian Payne MW, chief wine buyer for the Wine Society urged the chateau owners to be realistic in their pricing.

‘The price for Bordeaux 2007 started off too high. The chateaux are getting better at making great wine every year, which is great – we want lots of good wine.

‘But I’d like to see the chateaux making more first wine, and fewer seconds labels – it would certainly help bring the prices down,’ he added.

Oliver Sharp, associate director at Major Bordeaux merchants Bordeaux Index, said it was ‘very much in the interests of the chateaux’ to bring prices down in a ‘subdued’ market.

The problem, he said in his firm’s October newsletter, would be to ‘resuscitate’ the American market after the ‘bruising’ 2006 and 2007 campaigns.’

‘The Far East is king,’ he warned, and with ‘Asia’s reluctance to buy into the en primeur culture… high release prices even in a “miracle” vintage are not necessarily attainable.’

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Written by John Abbott

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