No sooner have we published our last set of notes on the 2012 burgundies and Walter's very prompt assessment of the just-released 2009 Brunello di Montalcinos than I am being asked by various other media about our plans for coverage of the 2013 bordeaux primeur tastings in early April.
As you know, we try to respond to the fact that bordeaux is of great interest to many of our members. We have covered every Bordeaux primeur release in detail ever since our assessment of the 2000 vintage in the early days of Purple Pages. This year will be no exception. JancisRobinson.com will certainly be reporting on the 2013 vintage in Bordeaux, as described at the châteaux by the likes of Paul Pontallier (shown here), whose presentation at Château Margaux is always a highlight.
Interest and actual purchases are two very different things, of course. In the wake of the sales boom for the 2009 vintage, when new buyers from China were tempted briefly into the market, sales of bordeaux en primeur have been distinctly sluggish. (See, for example, Bordeaux 2011 – the campaign that wasn't.) Only a few minutes ago I was sent an email by Farr Vintners offering Ch Lagrange 2010, 'an amazing bargain at 36% below the en primeur price', not exactly an encouraging message for would-be investors in this coming vintage.
The vintage that will be shown in embryonic form in early April this year will be the ill-starred 2013 vintage, made in what was widely agreed to be the most challenging growing season in living history. See (just one example) Bordeaux 2013 – hardest in 30 years by Bordeaux producer Jean-Christophe Mau. We know, not least from our tastings of burgundies made from the difficult 2012 vintage, that difficult growing conditions don't necessarily produce terrible wines. But reports on their 2013s from producers in Bordeaux so far suggest that last autumn's vintage produced wines of extremely varying quality. One or two vats may have been perfectly respectable quality while others were really pretty dire.
As longstanding visitors to this site know, I have always been very sceptical of the whole en primeur circus. Firstly it seems crazy to have to judge, and then pay for, wines designed to age for decades on the basis of samples that are barely six months old – and it is then unsettling to see scores being used to set prices and generate sales. (See, for example, Bordeaux 2010 – when to publish?) I find myself torn between providing a service to our esteemed members and being something of a performing monkey for the Bordeaux sales machine.
We also have to take on trust that the embryonic samples we are presented with are truly representative of the final blend that will go into the bottle. Even someone as intimately connected with the Bordeaux scene as consultant winemaker Stéphane Derenoncourt has confessed how manipulated samples can be. It will be a supreme test for Bordeaux producers this year to give the assembled tasters the most accurate picture possible of how the final wine is likely to taste. That said, if everyone puts their best foot forward in the same sort of way, the tasters should at least get some idea of the relative performance of each producer.
So, what precisely are our plans? Unfortunately, this is the year that Julia and I have to consecrate to the most dramatic revision ever of our beloved reference book The Oxford Companion to Wine in preparation for the publication of its fourth edition in autumn 2015. We are essentially chained to our desks in London except for unavoidable previous commitments. But we are very pleased that Richard Hemming, who has proved his tasting credentials via the Master of Wine exams, has agreed to go and taste the 2013 vintage on behalf of JancisRobinson.com. It will be of real use to us to have an additional member of the team with concrete and comprehensive experience of the full range of Bordeaux in situ.
So, the upshot is that we will be publishing Richard's notes on the Bordeaux 2013 primeurs, as usual. But we will not be asking Tam to sacrifice weekends to publish these in any particular hurry. It is difficult to imagine that there will be any great urgency in placing orders for the 2013s. Besides, as Gavin Quinney reported in Bordeaux 2013 – Parker to delay verdict, this March the most powerful Bordeaux price-generator of all is going on a tour of Asia instead of tasting the Bordeaux primeurs, so his all-important scores will not be published until the end of June. It looks likely that we will see a rather different primeur campaign this year in many a sense.
Meanwhile, I am very much looking forward to tasting the 2013s in bottle – firstly in autumn 2015 (just after publishing our new Oxford Companion with any luck) and then in Southwold in January 2017. Look out for my comprehensive Southwold survey of the 2010 vintage (so much more blessed by nature than the 2013) to be published next week.
And for a great-value bordeaux with more than five years of age on it, see today's wine of the week.