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Back to Bordeaux

Tomorrow myself and three colleagues will be heading to Bordeaux for the annual en primeur tastings. This will be the fifth year I’ve enjoyed (and blogged) about this experience. In the Anglo-Bordeaux trade that makes me a mere whipper-snapper, but I like to think I’m starting to get the hang of it now.

Looking back on my introductory post last year, I realise I can keep this prelude mercifully brief – there’s plenty of nuts and bolts about what we’ll be doing in that post. Instead, I want to try and set a bit of context for the 2008 vintage in Bordeaux and the en primeur “campaign”.

This is without a doubt the most controversial year for en primeur anyone can remember. There is enormous pressure on the Bordeaux trade to offer “sensible” pricing. Within the trade, pricing is all most people are talking about; the wines themselves seem almost secondary. As Jancis Robinson summarises:

How will it be priced, I wonder? Is it really as good as the Bordelais are assuring us? The first question, I would submit, is at least as important as the second.

It’s easy to see why the UK trade in particular is concerned about the market for en primeur. To illustrate, cast your mind back to the spring of 2006 when the 2005s flooded on to the market:

  • The western world was buzzing with prosperity
  • Newly affluent markets in emerging economies had a voracious appetite for fine wine, especially claret
  • £1 bought €1.45
  • Bordeaux had just produced the best vintage in, well… ever.

Compare and contrast the situation three years later:

  • The western world is in recession
  • The emerging markets are also in recession
  • £1 buys €1.08
  • Bordeaux has produced the 2008 vintage. Quality TBC…

I’m not for a minute going to claim that this is a happy backdrop for the 2008 vintage’s debut. The currency situation is particularly painful for UK consumers – a price cut of 15% off 2007 prices will be necessary just to stand still when the wines are priced in sterling. So here’s my simple appeal to the Bordelais – big price cuts are required if you want to sell your wines in the UK.

However, it’s important to remember that an awful lot of en primeur is not necessarily bought as a “drink”, but as an investment. At Majestic, we’ve always offered en primeur primarily as a way for our claret-loving customers to build their cellars. Good Bordeaux is made to last, and good wines will outlast the market conditions that we are experiencing today. This is the attitude we’ll be taking to the 2008s – let us taste the wines first, and then when prices are released we’ll offer only those wines we feel offer good value that we are happy to recommend to the customers.

It’s in that spirit that we’re travelling to Bordeaux next week. We can’t, and won’t, ignore the realities of the market when we make our offer, but for one week let’s concentrate on what’s in the bottle (or, more accurately at the moment, the barrel).

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