Five years ago Bordeaux’s top chateaux were rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of releasing their precocious, and delicious, 2009s to an expectant trade and press. The wines were an assault on the senses, and, as it turned out, the pocket. Released in dribs and drabs to stoke demand, many big guns didn’t name their prices until months later, seemingly waiting for each other to make the next move to see who could double their prices. The accompanying en primeur campaign was a feeding frenzy. Next week Bordeaux offers us the 2013 vintage for the first time. Things couldn’t be more different. I expect you’ll be able to hear the sound of a pin drop.
Nobody is seriously expecting great things from Bordeaux 2013, except maybe in the sweet wine department. It was an extremely tricky vintage for the reds, the third in a series of middling vintages since those halcyon days of 2009 and 2010. Comparisons have already been made with 2007, 1997 and even 1984 – comparisons, I should add, made not by critics but by Bordeaux’s own leading winemakers. Of course there will be good, even very good wines on offer. A mixture of expertise, terroir, cash and pride will ensure that. The real question is what, other than substantial price cuts, can entice the consumer to purchase these wines up front?
The omens aren’t good. This week Château Pontet-Canet [above] released its price before primeurs week officially kicks off, an unthinkable strategy just a couple of years ago. It priced 2013 at the same level as 2012 [60 euros a bottle]. This may make sense for this particular property as Pontet-Canet is one of the region’s brightest stars, but there will be trouble if everyone else follows suit. And the problem in Bordeaux is that following your neighbours and towing the line is a difficult habit to kick.