Bordeaux: expectant market ready to pay for 2000 vintage?
Early reports from the Gironde suggest the 2000 is the best Bordeaux vintage for years with prices set to rocket. Andrew Jefford, just-drinks columnist and IWSC Communicator of the Year, assesses the wines and their chances of financial success.
It was squally in Bordeaux last week. On several occasions, the sun shone like a searchlight on châteaux behind which dark clouds lurked, gilding their limestone blocks. Rainbows, too, proliferated, as curtains of water dropped through a light-riven sky. The constant shuttling of cars packed with merchants, brokers and writers from property to property indicated that, just this once, there might be some truth in the old proverb. The 2000 vintage seems likely to unearth pots of gold for Bordeaux.
Bordeaux still makes the most widely appreciated and enjoyed red wine in the world
Strange, really, no other wine region in the world is as widely criticised as this one. Journalists and merchants castigate its arrogance, its pricing rapacity and its communicative condescension. Give the buying world a whiff of a good Bordeaux vintage, though, and everyone comes flocking like vultures around a newly slain ox. Bordeaux still makes the most widely appreciated and enjoyed red wine in the world - and lots of it, too. Customers squabble with each other to be allowed to pay those high prices. A feeding frenzy is imminent.
How good, first of all, are the numerically magical 2000s? It's not a great vintage in the mould of 1982, 1989 or 1990. Those growing seasons were generous from start to finish, and their wines have a sweet warmth which fills them out and lends them an enduring unction. "We could not make a great vintage this year," Christian Moueix of Château Pétrus told me. "Of the four summer months, only two were good. That's a given. No one could make the great wine which we probably produced in Pomerol in 1998, which they may have produced in the Médoc in 1996, and which we all produced in 1990."
Moueix spoke with characteristic caution, but it is hard to see how a growing season which was marked, in May, by rampant mildew, and which even by the 27th of July looked dreary and indifferent, could actually turn out to be a vintage of the millennium.
August, September and early October, though, were both hot and dry, giving a troublesome and indifferent growing season a whooping, foot-stomping finish. The harvest was (for all except the Sauternais) collected in ideal conditions. The berries were thick-skinned and aromatic, high in both sugar and acidity. The fruit needed little sorting, almost no chaptalisation, and no reverse osmosis. This success was uniform across the region, but the wines of the Médoc are particularly gratifying - fully ripe Cabernet Sauvignon is by no means an annual occurrence in Bordeaux.
For those who like to pigeonhole vintages, the right-bank analogy seems to be with 1975, while in the Médoc 1986 is a more common point of reference: these are amply tannic, vivid, challenging red wines for long-term cellaring.
My own top ten wines (with, for fun, points out of 100) are Margaux (98), Lafite (97), Trotanoy (97), Vieux Château Certan (97), Haut-Brion (96), Latour (96), Léoville-Las Cases (96), Auson (95), Cos d'Estournel (95) and Le Pin (95). These scores, like everyone's, are based on notoriously fickle barrel samples; the wines will not be bottled for another year or more. At least one property - Château Belair, owned by Madame Jean Dubois-Challon and run by Pascal Delbeck - sent out a letter on March 16th alleging that "percentage point scores given to the new vintage [are] often based on doctored samples".
Scores, of course, will be what decides exactly how well the Bordeaux 2000s sell, and at what price. The Wine Spectator's James Suckling was tasting at the Hotel St James in Bouliac when I stayed there, and posting his own hugely enthusiastic notes on the Internet each night, thereby setting the media pace. Suckling rated no fewer than 22 wines at provisional scores of 95-100. It is hard to see that the all-powerful Parker - who enjoys Bordeaux, especially when it is as ripe and flavour-packed as the 2000s are - will be less sanguin. The only question, then, is how much the market will stand.
They've all had a good vintage but they all have large stocks of wine to sell
Few properties will announce their opening price before Parker has posted his scores, and it is likely that the first tranches will be smaller than in the past, with more proprietors hanging onto a greater proportion of their stock. Among those who have announced prices are Château Quinault l'Enclos (up just 5% on 1999) and Château Gazin (the same price as 1999). No one is reading much into this, the Quinault l'Enclos price constitutes a political message, since owner Alain Raynaud was until last year president of the Union des Grands Crus. In any case, critics point out, Quinault l'Enclos' 1999 price was ramped up by 60% on its 1998 price, so a little modesty was in order. Gazin, meanwhile, is not among the 2000 right-bank stars (I rated it 85 out of 100, having tasted it three times last week).
The hottest topic of gossip last week was the price at which the first growths would open. They've all had a good vintage but they all have large stocks of wine to sell (unlike the right-bank superstars and the garagistes, who sometimes have just a few hundred cases on offer). The rumour, fittingly, was that 2000 would mark a multi-zero gold standard - 100 Euros a bottle, equating in Britain to about £1,000 per case to the en primeur consumer, and thus £100 a bottle duty-paid and delivered. Are there enough wealthy wine lovers out there to pay that kind of money, even at a time of stock-market uncertainty, agricultural crises and dot.com collapse? In a word, yes. The good news for less moneyed drinkers is that there are plenty of modest classed growths and crus bourgeois which, in 2000, have also produced chewy claret with sturdy cellar legs.
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