It’s that time of year again. Next week, thousands of wine trade types from across the world will descend on Bordeaux for a week-long, stamina-testing series of tastings of the new vintage. As ever, Majestic (yours truly included) will be there, and we’ll report back via this very blog in as much detail as our schedule will allow.
And make no mistake, it is hard work. I have no doubt we’ll be keeping you far more informed than you would normally care for about the palate-jading effect of tasting so many tannic, acidic, infant samples. The law of averages dictates that at least one of the main tastings will be held at a château woefully ill-equipped to deal with the number of tasters, which we will also feel obliged to comment on. And despite my very best intentions, sadly I doubt I will be able to shield you from the occasional spectacular misadventures that result from fine wine buyer Nick Dagley’s attempts at operating a French sat-nav system.
However, I for one am determined not to slip into cynicism about the annual en primeur tastings. As a customer, you should expect your wine merchant to be excited by the prospect of a 9am appointment at Château Margaux; to look forward to the climb up the hill from the car park to be welcomed at Château Ausone; to relish unearthing a surprise success from among the massed ranks of crus classées. And I’m very pleased to say that everyone on the Majestic team is.
So, how do the en primeur tastings work?
First, there are the tastings organised by the Union des Grands Crus, the main association of Bordeaux’s leading properties. In each commune, one château has the honour of hosting the local tasting, with all the other producers attending with their samples. These massed tastings are open all day for three days from Tuesday to Thursday, and depending on the facilities of the host château and the fame of the commune, they vary from civilised, peaceful tastings to out-and-out bun fights, but either way are the principal and best way of tasting most of the classed growths and top crus bourgeois. A similar tasting is organised by a group of right bank properties, the Cercle Rive Droite.
Some of the more exalted properties prefer not to show their wines at the UGC events, instead showing their wines privately by appointment. These include the first growths, the leading super-seconds and top properties on the right bank. These visits certainly rack up the mileage, and make comparative analysis across the properties difficult, but we’ve become fairly adept at managing our schedule to minimise the time between appointments, and these individual visits do allow us to taste these properties’ (often very good value) second wines as well as their grands vins.
Finally, we also visit several of the major negoçiants, who show a range of properties from their portfolios. In some cases this is the only way to taste certain prestigious wines, such as the famous Pomerol properties of J.P. Moueix, but more often than not is a useful opportunity to re-assess wines we’ve tried at the UGC tastings, or to sample some of the lesser properties in the hunt for bargains.
We fly out on Sunday and will be in Bordeaux all next week, so check back regularly to catch up on our experiences. As well as the new Bordeaux 2007 area on the website, we’ve set up a special Bordeaux 2007 RSS feed which will include all of our reports from Bordeaux, information on the market, and of course announcements of new releases as they happen.