Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hermitage blanc 1997 from Jean-Louis Chave: splendid consolation

What is happening in Bordeaux? After the primeurs campaign finally started off seriously, and seemed to be in full swing up until about a week ago - with mostly very uninteresting prices being presented (compared to the 2006 vintage the average price drop is 3%) - the caravan came to a standstill halfway this week. Almost.

The most important release was Château l'Evangile 2007 with an average consumer price - including VAT - of € 112,- (i.e. per bottle). I wonder who would be interested in this wine. It received average ratings, it is from this average drink-soon-or-you-will-be-disappointed,-if-not-already vintage. Okay, the price is 16% lower than the 2006, and 33% lower than the 2005, but don't forget that the exceptional 2005 was 124% more expensive than the 2004! And with that the price for the 2007 is still 50% higher than for the 2004... Yet another proof of the Awful Saw-Tooth Theory (see in 4th paragraph if you're interested). I can't get used to these prices.

Probably the big-name-châteaux are making up their minds now... or give the impression they are... and more uninteresting prices will probably be presented next week. Other wines released this week were Malartic-Lagravière (-3%) and Bernard Magrez' La Tour Carnet (-4%). Click here to see all released wines.

As in the old days, perhaps Hermitage can be helpful. Often average Bordeaux wines were "Hermitagé": some powerful red Hermitage was added to give the wines more colour and structure. A practice that has since long been abandoned - except for a nostalgic experiment (since 2004) from Château Palmer: their Historical 19th Century Wine. Palmer plus 15% syrah from the northern Rhône. Interesting.

HERMITAGE BLANC FROM DOMAINE JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE. LUXURY PROBLEM: WHICH VINTAGE TO CHOOSE...

But the kind of help I mean is mental help. To forget about an overpriced Bordeaux vintage by drinking an (equally overpriced?) Hermitage. An Hermitage blanc in this case. From 1997, and from Domaine Jean-Louis Chave.

And why not enhance a great experience - and foster oblivion - by having the Hermitage saumoné? Sure. Thus I cut fat slices of Scotch "Bawykov" salmon, smoked in French oak and beech, and also in a secret mix of spices, and I put these chunks - with organic butter - on lightly toasted white bread. Dramatically delicious.

The Hermitage is beautiful! The colour deep yellow, the nose squealingly rich, and complex. Matured. Pink grapefruit, ripe apple. Hints of butter and brioche. The corpus a little lighter than expected - and lighter than de 1996 - but with a pleasant (and not quite expected) fraîcheur. Long finish, with a slight impression of tea, and a little nutty. Mmm!

So should you want to suppress your sadness about the Bordeaux 2007 campaign, just add some Hermitage to your... salmon... and you're all set. At least for this weekend.

To be continued, as always.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Biodynamic winners, but long term impact of 2007 feared negative

Well, I seem to have done the unthinkable. I rang up a wine merchant to do a quick interview about the grimness of the 2007 primeur campaign and ended up spending nearly 700 euro.

I am shocked. How did it happen? I was never planning to buy any 2007 primeurs. And he was not trying to sell, just answer a few questions.

Then, the issue of biodynamics came up, and bingo, a case of 2007 Château Pontet-Canet was mine. Well, mine when I send over the cheque. And mine in two years time when I pay the bits and pieces left over and it actually arrives. I've not told my husband – you know how it is with shopping – or anyone actually. It all seems a bit not quite the right thing to be talking about. So I just thought I would write about it quietly in my blog. Thank god he never reads it. My husband that is.

I was supposed to buy a new computer.

Now if we had been talking about an organic wine, I doubt I would have flipped like that. But say biodynamic and I get a bit irrational. It ticks all the boxes for me. Moon, homeopathy, care and attention, understanding cycles of things like life. And it is good for the planet. And I feel better drinking it. Never get hangovers either. That of course might be the fact that I drink less of it, but either way, it works. Please God I never find an organic whiskey.

In fact I have now gone so far down the anti agri-chemical road I only buy things if they are organic. And I mean things like jeans and vegetables and shampoo and bread and face cream. Yes, for those of you who don't know, there is such a thing as biodynamic skin cream. It is more expensive and harder to find but that also means I buy less and spend less time choosing it. Where there are 100 different kinds of face cream and shampoo there is usually one or two organic/biodynamic ones. Easy.

Having agreed to buy the stuff, the wine, I then of course had to finish my article all about how 2007 was not worth buying, and would be in the shops in two years time for half nothing and all that.

But still. Buying cheaper is only one half the primeur equation – one that does not for the most part function in relation to 2007. But the other half of the logic still works – that if you want something you probably won't find in the shops in two years time, buy it en primeur.

It could be, of course, that there will be bottles of Pontet-Canet in the shops in 2009. But I am prepared to take that risk. Anyway, it never, ever seems to be in the shops I am in at the moment. The second wine, yes, Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet, but not the grand vin.

Having finished the article and stopped thinking about the whole 'I just bought a case of primeurs' thing, I was comforted to see that the June edition of La Revue du Vin de France (RVF) is full of comments on biodynamics.

Back page interview: biodynamics, page 32 on the issue of terroir, Michel Chapoutier saying real terroir only exists in biodynamic vineyards, and a few other references here and there. Plus Pontet-Canet got a RVF score of 18.5 so that was encouraging.

As to the broader subject of primeurs the whole thing continues lacklustre, possibly now downgraded to washed out. The only bit of upcoming interest is to see whether any of the stars, right or left bank, manage to actually lower their prices in any meaningful way. Well, meaningful to the consumer that is.

Or if they actually dare put their prices up. Now that will be testing the law of demand exceeding supply given that UK merchants have been heard to say they may not be buying the premier crus – can they mean it? – and US ones have said nothing at all.

A further, future bit of interest, might also come from the rumours that the 2007 campaign might in fact damage Bordeaux's share of the fine wine market long term. I have only actually heard one négociant say it – and he is not a French native, though he's been here 20 years selling primeurs – but I have heard mutterings of the kind all over the place.

What they are saying is that 2007 might mean Bordeaux cedes market share to Spain, Rhône and the new world in general. Unthinkable surely. As much as me buying a 2007 primeur?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bordeaux 2007: 1% price decrease for the Monday - Wednesday releases!

Lots of new releases the last days. The average price decrease in comparison to 2006 is... 1 percent! The Bordeaux trade confirms that it's hard to sell the 2007 primeurs (as expected), and told me that they try to minimize their purchases. So the châteaux will have stocks to dump the upcoming years. View the list of all châteaux on Bordoverview that have released their prices so far.

Other Bordoverview updates:
1. Starting with the 2007 vintage the 5-stars Decanter scoring has just been replaced by their more detailed 20-points scoring. Later I might do the same for older vintages.
2. Now that Parker's scores for the 2007 vintage have been released about three weeks ago - and they're around about everywhere - they can also be found on Bordoverview. So the temporary presentation high-80s, mid-90s etc. is gone.

The releases of the last three days:

19 May GRUAUD-LAROSE (Saint-Julien) € 40 (0%)
19 May DE FONBEL (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru) € 15 (+7%)
19 May SIAURAC (Lalande de Pomerol) € 12 (0%)
19 May VRAY CROIX DE GAY (Pomerol) € 37 (0%)
19 May TALBOT (Saint-Julien) € 34 (+3%)
19 May DOMAINE DE L'A (Côtes de Castillon) € 22 (0%)
19 May DURFORT-VIVENS (Margaux) € 25 (-4%)
19 May BRILLETTE (Moulis) € 15 (0%)
19 May BEAU-SOLEIL (Pomerol) € 19
19 May LALANDE-BORIE (Saint-Julien) € 17 (-6%)
19 May LES CARMES HAUT-BRION (Pessac-Léognan) € 39 (-5%)
19 May CLOS PUY ARNAUD (Côtes de Castillon) € 17 (0%)
20 May LUCHEY HALDE (Pessac-Léognan) € 19 (+6%)
20 May GISCOURS (Margaux) € 37 (-3%)
20 May MONBOUSQUET (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru) € 40 (+8%)
20 May CLOS LES LUNELLES (Côtes de Castillon) € 30
20 May CORBIN (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru) € 19 (0%)
20 May LUSSEAU (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru) € 19 (-10%)
20 May CLINET (Pomerol) € 46 (-16%)
20 May SAINT-PIERRE (Saint-Julien) € 38 (-3%)
20 May LYNCH-MOUSSAS (Pauillac) € 22 (-4%)
20 May POTENSAC (Médoc) € 17 (0%)
20 May CLOS DU JAUGUEYRON (Haut-Médoc) € 12
20 May VEYRY (Côtes de Castillon) € 16
20 May GRAND CORBIN-DESPAGNE (Saint-Emilion GC) € 19 (0%)
20 May COTE DE BALEAU (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru) € 14 (0%)
20 May MARQUIS D'ALESME-BECKER (Margaux) € 24 (+4%)
20 May D'ISSAN (Margaux) € 33 (-6%)
20 May PRIEURE-LICHINE (Margaux) € 31 (0%)
20 May GRAND ORMEAU (Lalande de Pomerol) € 17
20 May TOUR DE PEZ (Saint-Estèphe) € 15 (+7%)
20 May MOULINET (Pomerol) € 19
21 May FLEUR DE BOUARD (Lalande de Pomerol) € 23 (-4%)
21 May RAUZAN GASSIES (Margaux) € 27 (0%)
21 May LA CROIX DE BEAUCAILLOU (Saint-Julien) € 26
21 May LA CABANNE (Pomerol) € 23
21 May VILLA BEL-AIR (Graves) € 10 (0%)
21 May CROIZET-BAGES (Pauillac) € 10 (0%)
21 May BEAUREGARD (Pomerol) € 25 (-7%)
21 May PHELAN-SEGUR (Saint-Estèphe) € 25 (0%)
21 May L'ARROSEE (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru) € 36 (-3%)
21 May COS-LABORY (Saint-Estèphe) € 22 (-4%)
21 May JOANIN BECOT (Côtes de Castillon) € 17 (0%)
21 May JEAN DE GUÉ (Lalande de Pomerol) € 20 (+5%)
21 May FEYTIT-CLINET (Pomerol) € 38

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bordeaux 2007: overview of last week's releases

Last week we saw quite a lot of châteaux release its prices. Below you find a list with the most important releases; to view all new releases just follow this link to Bordoverview. Most châteaux that have released their prices belong to the middle echelon, mostly châteaux with a pricing policy that is directed to a (more or less) stable price level over the years. In good years the prices of these wines do not increase a lot, so naturally in lesser years these prices don't move a lot either.

But there are also some wines that have made major leaps with the 2005 vintage (and sometimes, to a lesser extent, also with the 2006 vintage). An example is Rol Valentin with a very expensive 2005, then almost returning to 2004-level with its 2006, and now equaling 2004 again with 2007. Some of the other more expensive wines in the list made comparable moves, but failed to fully return to 2004-level. A more common move unfortunately.

And then there is Jean-Pierre Moueix with his elastic prices. Yesterday he presented his wines with an average price decline of 30%. Great, but we should not forget the kangaroo bounces that he made with the 2005 and also - especially - the 2006 vintage.

The only exception to the trend is Château Fonbadet (Pauillac): this château is steadily pushing up its prices over the last years.

Click on any wine in the list below to view its pricing history since the 2004 vintage. The prices mentioned are average European consumer prices, with Value Added Tax included. Between brackets is the relative price change as compared to the 2006 vintage.

13 May CITRAN (Haut-Médoc) € 13 (0%)
13 May CHASSE-SPLEEN (Moulis) € 21 (0%)
13 May LARRIVET-HAUT-BRION (Pessac-Léognan) € 20 (-13%)
13 May GAZIN (Pomerol) € 42 (-5%)
13 May ROUGET (Pomerol) € 26 (-7%)
13 May HAUT-MARBUZET (St-Estèphe) € 32 (-3%)
13 May LABEGORCE (Margaux) € 19 (-5%)
13 May LAFON-ROCHET (St-Estèphe) € 27 (0%)
14 May MAZEYRES (Pomerol) € 17 (0%)
14 May FERRIERE (Margaux) € 23 (0%)
14 May LA POINTE (Pomerol) € 23 (-8%)
14 May MONBRISON (Margaux) € 21 (0%)
15 May LAROZE (St-Emilion Grand Cru) € 20 (0%)
15 May GLORIA (St-Julien) € 25 (0%)
15 May FONBADET (Pauillac) € 21 (+10%)
15 May LAGRANGE (St-Julien) € 33 (-3%)
15 May HAUT-BAGES LIBERAL (Pauillac) € 24 (-4%)
15 May POUJEAUX (Moulis) € 20 (-5%)
15 May BELLE-VUE (Haut-Médoc) € 13 (0%)
15 May DESMIRAIL (Margaux) € 21 (0%)
15 May ROL VALENTIN (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru) € 30 (-9%)
15 May PETIT VILLAGE (Pomerol) € 36 (-5%)
15 May DE FIEUZAL (Pessac-Léognan) € 22 (0%)
16 May HOSANNA (Pomerol) € 75 (-35%)
16 May LA FLEUR-PETRUS (Pomerol) € 70 (-22%)
16 May PROVIDENCE (Pomerol) € 61 (-34%)
16 May LATOUR A POMEROL (Pomerol) € 43 (-22%)
16 May MAGDELAINE (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru) € 43 (-22%)
16 May FONROQUE (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru) € 19 (-5%)
16 May SIRAN (Margaux) € 20 (-5%)

Something else: on eBay I have some interesting older wines for sale again. For example Léoville-Las-Cases 1982, Palmer 1988, Lynch Bages 1999... just follow this link to see all wines.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bordeaux 2007 - wines for the châteaux to guard?

As the prices have begun to trickle out over the last two weeks for Bordeaux's 2007 wine primeurs, things feel basically, a bit flat, with some little flurries of interest.

The first flurry was over the Sauternes and Barsac prices, which all came out higher than 2006, on average by about 5%. Everyone was focussing so much on the need for red prices to come down, the fact that whites and sweets went up - on the basis of the good press they got during the tastings - was almost a shock.

The next flurry was over the châteaux that got 70-73 points from Parker – but they are going to resend a sample of their wine over to him as they are convinced there was a problem of some kind – so they shall remain nameless for the moment.

Then, the next flurry was about Château Beychevelle selling out in less than two hours. It got an average Parker score of 87-90, but it came out early and priced itself 5% down on 2006, at 21 euro per bottle ex-château, with a suggested resale price of 25.50 euro per bottle to wine merchants – one of which one is now selling bottles at 28.50 euro (ex-VAT). The combination worked wonders.

Négociants however will tell you there is no magic to the thing, it is just that Beychevelle has got the formula right.

The formula? Basically a good wine, that does not do bizarre price leaps or twists, which knows how to price itself so that everyone in the chain makes money – from château, via courtier (aka Mister 2%), to négociant, importer and finally retailer.

Plus, and it is an important plus, since Beychevelle sells 95% en primeur there are no worries, for négociants anyway, about further stocks unexpectedly coming onto the market (either from the château or from some merchant connected in some way to the château) later on, at a different price.

Well. When it's explained that way, it makes you wonder why so many others get it wrong and end up with, what a Swiss journalist is said to have called 'vin de garde' – meaning it's one the châteaux will be keeping.

Of course the answer might be that since it's the négociants that bear the brunt of the pricing 'mistakes', what do the châteaux care if they have a bit of vin to guard? And this year in particular, what do they care, when they have, in general, both empty cellars and full pockets after sales of the amazing 2005's which carried over into the 2006's.

The négociants are the ones who have to buy and keep the stock, after all, on the basis that they can't tell customers they don't have X wine. Which means, at best, they must buy a decent range of wines, cleverly, or at least be on good enough terms to put in a phone call the moment they get an order.

From that point of view, not just pricing, but payment terms are also said to be making a crucial difference between sales or not this year.

Négociants are said to be offering clients the 2007's for a 15% to 25% deposit, and no further payment until June/November 2009. And they are expecting the châteaux to do the same for them. Kind of defeats the point of primeurs, but there you go. The rules are different this year.

So, for mid range châteaux, it will be their pricing terms, as well as their prices, that make the difference.

As ever, none of this applies to any of the most in demand wines, whose orders exceed supply, like the top five or the super seconds or right bank stars. But it is interesting to think that the range of decent Bordeaux 2007's you will find on the shelves in two or more years time may possibly have as much, or more, to do with pricing terms, as actual taste.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Bordeaux 2007 primeurs campaign took off

Just a short posting from an internet café in Tunesia. Left my desk, and the 2007 primeurs took off! So this week just a very short summary of what happened so far. In France it was a short working week (today is Liberation Day, tomorrow everything is closed also, and the new week only starts on Tuesday). Hence: just four days of primeurs being released. All can be found on Bordoverview, but these were the most important ones this week (the price difference from 2006 in brackets):

5 May QUINAULT L'ENCLOS (-7%)
6 May BEYCHEVELLE (-3%)
6 May CAMENSAC (0%)
6 May DU TERTRE (-8%)
6 May CHARMAIL (-7%)
7 May CANTEMERLE (0%)
7 May FERRIERE (0%)
7 May LA BESSANE (0%)

Minor minor price decreases, as expected... More about this campaign after I'm back in Amsterdam. I made this posting within a very short time (time is ticking away in the corner of the screen, I hate that), and I will check these percentages next week.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Bordeaux 2007 and Robert Parker: the oracle has spoken

Since today the judgement of Robert Parker for the tortured Bordeaux 2007 vintage can be found on Bordoverview. At this moment not the exact ratings, but an interpretation of these. No worries: you can still perfectly sort the wines (behind the interpretations are the real scores, invisible). If you want to check out the precise ratings now, visit the website of Robert Parker (scores are in the members area).

As expected, the 2007 reds did not get much praise from Robert Parker, to put it mildly. Also he gives a clear sign that prices ought to go down.

When looking at the quality of the reds, Parker believes that 2007 seems to be sort of a repetition of 1997. Quite light and friendly, but not a vintage for the long run. Hopefully it won't be a repetition money-wise also: 1997 was - at the time - released way too high, forcing a substantial price drop in the years to follow.

But unfortunately, there are still no signs that the release prices for the 2007s will differ much from those of the 2006s. Actually, we do not hear much at all from the Bordelais. Only very few chateaux have announced their prices until now (Maucaillou, Pédesclaux, La Sergue and a few other less known chateaux), and for the rest this whole primeurs campaign is currently as dead as yesterday's Kotex (Thank you Henry Miller for the comparison).

More thoughts on all this can be read on Decanter: see Maggie Rosen's account from yesterday.

Nevertheless I am very curious about what the chateaux are going to do eventually... and if you are curious too, make sure you follow the Bordoverview website. It will be very regularly updated with the latest prices... and often it will be the first to publish these.