Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bordeaux Futures & The Future of Bordeaux

When I was in France last autumn, the word was already out about the 2009 vintage. In much of France, perfect weather throughout the growing season led to optimism and excitement about the quality of the crop in Languedoc, Rhone, and (especially) Bordeaux. Enthusiasm and, inevitably, hype about the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux continued through the winter into spring, reaching a peak during “Futures Week” in Bordeaux, held at the beginning of April.

Futures Week allows the big critics (Parker, Wine Spectator, Robinson, Decanter) to taste the big wines in cask; that is, before they’re bottled. More importantly for the Bordeaux wine trade, it kicks off sales of the wine, before bottling, to retailers and consumers. (It’s supposed to be win/win: the consumer gets prestigious wines at a lower price than will prevail when the wine hits the market after bottling. And the winemaker gets cash inflow well before bottling.)

This year’s Futures Week was frenzied. Parker, a master of hype, generally conceded to be the world’s most influential wine critic, declared that the 2009 vintage “may turn out to be the finest vintage I have tasted in 32 years of covering Bordeaux”. (Or may not?) Within three weeks, the wine media reported predictions that prices of the 2009 Bordeaux First Growths (e.g., Lafite-Rothschild) would reach $1,500 a bottle. Gulp! Well, then again, gulp not. I still have the first book about wine that I ever bought, Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion, published in 1983. In it, he lists prices for First Growth wines from the 1980 vintage. Thirty years ago, First Growths cost about $23 a bottle.

Yes, drinking fine wine has become a global passion and prices have (cliché alert) skyrocketed.  Mr Demand, meet Miss Supply.  But it also shows how much speculation and status-seeking have warped the marketplace.

Unless you’re über-rich, Bordeaux First Growths are way out of reach. And even the Super Second wines of Bordeaux are pushed to ridiculous prices for many consumers. Aye, there's the rub for Bordeaux. Thanks to those speculators and status-seekers, the best of Bordeaux is out of reach. And the rest of Bordeaux that shows up here is Vin very Ordinaire: too often over-priced for lesser quality than wines from other regions at the same price.  That's not just a New World reaction to Bordeaux (check out my conversation with Sergio Calderon from Bras.)

Me? I still love you, Bordeaux. At your best, you’re complex and refined. And I’ll keep looking for good value from Bordeaux, although it’s rare! Hey, Bordeaux Futures? Enjoy life among the speculators. Winedrinkers have moved on; for them, Bordeaux is irrelevant.

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