En Primeur 2007 – What the trade says

Stuart Peskett with a round-up of the word from the trade on Bordeaux 2007

With the first week of en primeur tastings to a close, UK merchants say 2007 is a tough call. Mixed results (with a few pleasant surprises), combined with the weak dollar and fears of a global recession should mean downward pressure on prices, but the Bordelais appear to be pinning their hopes on emerging markets.

Sebastian Payne MW of The Wine Society was pleasantly surprised by the 2007 vintage, and describes the majority of reds as ‘pleasant, agreeable, good restaurant wines’.

‘It’s a vintage that the average drinker would actually quite like, but he doesn’t want to pay high prices for it,’ he says. ‘The silly thing is that there aren’t bad vintages in Bordeaux these days; it’s just a question of style. 2007 is light, which isn’t a criticism, that’s just the way it is.’

On price, Payne is confident that they will come down, warning châteaux that ‘if they don’t, we’ll walk away. The question is how far they’ll drop the price.’

He describes the whites as ‘very aromatic’, adding that Olivier Bernard at Domaine de Chevalier has ‘probably made the best white wine he’s ever made’. He also rates the Sauternes highly, although he pointed out the vintage was ‘quite small’.

For the Right Bank, Payne is less charitable, claiming that ‘in St Emilion, 30% of the wines are rubbish, but that happens every year’.

As the week draws to a close, the Bibendum team stand by their earlier belief that ‘the vintage is no 2005’.

‘There are some super wines and some much less super,’ says the team. ‘It is even hard to generalize across communes. The real problem remains the question of extraction. Too many of the wines have been overworked and finish short and hard. The best have not fought the vintage and created supple wines with real finesse.

‘At Margaux on Monday night, Paul Pontallier explained that he desperately wanted to add some Petit Verdot to the Grand Vin as the quality was so good, but left it out as he knew the dark, tannic spice of that grape would ruin the delicate elegance that 2007 had given. It is this respect for the style the year has produced that marks out the successes.

‘Unfortunately, too few of Château Margaux’s neighbours appeared to have had that respect. The Margaux UGC had far too few hits, and too many misses.’

‘The three most important factors in this year’s Bordeaux 2007 campaign will be, in order of importance, prices, prices and prices. say Berry Bros.

The strong euro is ‘not the Bordeaux châteaux’s fault…but it is a huge mistake for them to think that is not their problem,’ says the merchant. ‘It is absolutely in their interest to help restore claret lovers’ faith in Bordeaux. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, significantly reducing the prices is the only way to do this.’

And despite sales director Simon Staples’ earlier remarks about the 07s being more ‘attractive and supple’ than the 06s, the Berry’s team said: ‘There is no getting away from the fact that unless prices come down significantly, there will not be many 2007 En Primeur wines that will be worth buying,’ although they do concede that the vintage is ‘better than many feared, for the best properties anyway’.

And after a fractious journey to Bordeaux, the team from Bibendum spent Monday morning visiting Châteaux Lafite, Léoville Las-Cases, Cos d’Estournel, Ducru-Beaucaillou and Sociando-Mallet.

‘It quickly became clear that 2007 is a pretty variable vintage,’ say Bibendum. Not everyone has done well. The ones that have are the châteaux that have let nature take its course. The best wines are not the sexy starlets of 2005, but they are true to their terroir and to the vintage.’

Among the First Growths tasted, Latour and Lafite got the thumbs-up (‘a more feminine Lafite than in recent years’); Mouton got a resounding thumbs-down (‘overworked and overextracted’); and Margaux displayed a ‘pure, fresh, gorgeous texture’.

However, some of the Second Growth were ‘hampered by strict selection and low yields’, with some ‘best avoided’.

Other industry insiders say…

I get the impression En Primeur is going to be difficult this year. I’m pleased enough and reassured by the quality of the wine. Especially on the Right Bank, with the dominance of Merlot, I think we managed to make a good vintage.

Alain Raynaud, Château Quinault l’Enclos, St-Emilion Grand Cru

Winegrowers will long remember 2007 as a very demanding year calling for a great deal of work in the vineyard all throughout the growing season, right up until the end of the harvest.

Château Palmer, Margaux

(On the campaign generally:) ‘I’m an eternal optimist – but as we look at markets around the world, you have to look where this will be taken up. The so-called emerging markets, that is Russia and China, are not yet properly in gear and do not yet register enough interest in buying en primeur. And the US and Europe are not going to be that excited about it. And qualitatively, there is no reason we should see the prices of 2006.

‘The indications are that there will be some good wines. It’s possible there will be a little bias towards the Right Bank, and the Merlot. We know it was a difficult vintage during the growing season, and an awful lot of treatments were necessary on the vines, so it was an expensive vintage, which is being made abundantly clear to us.

Adam Brett-Smith, MD, Corney & Barrow

‘The euro situation will mean there will be discounts left, right and centre, so margins will be affected dramatically. People will want to get rid of the wine quickly, so it could be a good consumer vintage, except that the wine will be 20% more expensive, thanks to the euro.

‘Price is a huge problem, but I’m sure that châteaux will be sympathetic to the economic situation. They would be open to an awful lot of adverse press otherwise. The wines will probably be the same price as last year – I can smell it – if not, they’ll release less wine than they have done in the past.’

Simon Staples, sales director, Berry Bros & Rudd

‘It’s going to be a difficult campaign compared with previous years, but I look forward to tasting all the wines and will form a view then. 2006 sold well, but we’ve entered a new economic climate which is really key this year, so prices will need to be realistic.’

James Snoxell, Bordeaux buyer, Direct Wines

‘I hope that pricing will be reasonable, in line with 2006 and 2004 – there is an understanding that business is business. However, we know that yields were down, because they selected quite hard in the vineyard, particularly in the Right Bank.

‘There’s the spectre of 1997 looming large – 1996 was fantastic in Bordeaux, but not so good in 1997, but the prices remained high. Bordeaux lost a lot of goodwill in the trade because of that. In 2006, some of the wines came down to more respectable levels, but many didn’t. This year, I think we need to be ready for the fact that not many may have come down from there.’

Ed Cottrell, director of fine wine, Bibendum

It’s largely a vintage of pretty, attractive wines. Very few will be for the long haul but many will give drinkers lots of pleasure in the near and mid term. It needs to be priced appropriately – as they are lighter, softer wines – and if it is, claret lovers should buy with confidence and enoy them whilst the 2005’s and 06’s mature. Pomerol stood out for me, with consistent quality and ripe, succulent fruit.

Matthew Hemming, Averys, Bristol

Written by