Bordeaux Rumors, Gossip, & Some Setting the Record Straight

by Chuck Hayward

by Mike Supple

While there is interest, the Asian market simply is not buying Bordeaux en primeur. They are however purchasing all of the first growths and a few of the other top classifieds they can get that are immediately available in inventory and can be drunk now.

So who did buy 2005 futures? The buying largely came from the US and UK markets. This is of note because a fair amount of the buying done in the UK was through wine investment funds (doing speculative buying). Speculative buyers like this do not buy to cellar or drink, but rather to get a return on their investments. This is usually a short term investment strategy, and the negociants in Bordeaux expect the 2005 wines to be back on the public market from the UK in the next 5 - 10 years. In fact, much of the wine sold to these funds may be purchased back by the very same negociants. In addition, much may go to US market as well, especially if the dollar gains strength.

There seems to be a wide consensus among most (if not all) of the Chateaux owners in Bordeaux in respect to our top three critics from the US: Robert Parker, Stephen Tanzer, and James Suckling (of Wine Spectator). Whether they agree or disagree with his ratings, Robert Parker commands the most respect of all of the critics. He is a great taster: meaning he takes his time to evaluate the wines thoroughly and does so without any outside influence. His interest is in the wine itself, not creating or destroying the reputations of Chateaux that have been around for hundreds of years. He has a great palate and is able to express himself in such a way that makes wines very accessible. Stephen Tanzer is also a great taster, but he does not command the interest and audience of Parker. While he does have a great palate and is incredibly fair, he simply does not capture the spirit of the wines like Parker. This leaves us with James Suckling. The Wine Spectator is not viewed very favorably. While a Chateau will never be upset with a great rating, it is a general consensus that there is more behind Suckling's scoring than bringing wine to the people. He and Spectator seem to have more of an agenda, and the method of their scoring and reviewing has lead to unnecessary detriment to many Chateaux and wineries all over the world. The various owners I have spoken with also feel Suckling is not as comfortable with his own palate, and his opinions and tastes can vary drastically from day to day.

In respect to the 2005 vintage, it has been rumored that the Chateaux had to hold large amounts of their inventories because the pricing was too prohibitive for the marketplace. This is not true. When the wines were released, the negociants all bought everything they could. The high prices presented a daunting financial risk to them, so they in turn pushed a successful campaign and sold most of what they had. Of course the Chateaux may hold between 10-20% of their inventories for library releases, but for the large part this vintage is essentially gone.

What is the hottest region in Bordeaux for 2006? No matter who we ask, there is a lot of buzz about Pomerol. So far our tastings have been confirming this.

People in Bordeaux simply do not drink American wines. Even our most famous wines carry very little name recognition in France. There are of course a few rare exceptions. I met with Helene Garcin (of Clos l'Eglise Pomerol among others) who had earlier that day had a bottle of Moraga and Colgin. When I mentioned that I had found few other people who shared her interest in American wines she agreed, but stated, "They're crazy. I love California Cab."

JJ Buckley sent two of the most attractive and intelligent representatives from the United States to Bordeaux. This rumor has been thoroughly researched, and has been found to be absolutely true.

Argentina is the hot new region where many of Bordeaux's top winemakers are buying vineyard land and making stunning wines. Why not America, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa? Because these regions all largely produce common varietals. Argentina has vineyards malbec - some of which are older than vines in Bordeaux - that is all on original rootstock and has not yet been affected by phylloxera. Malbec is a fantastic grape that can achieve a powerful intensity in fruit and tannin, and poses an exciting new area of work for Bordeaux winemakers. Also, let us not forget land and labor is cheaper in Argentina...

Using some sort of gravity-flow method in the winery is the hot trend. Almost every winery I have toured has a variation on the theme of how they use gravity flow to move the juice around the skins and between the various tanks/barrels rather than pumping the grapes and juice. The general consensus is that pumping the grapes bruises the berries and can affect the end result of the wine. The level to which this actually improves the end wine is difficult to measure, but the practice is undeniably spreading like wildfire across Bordeaux.

France is not a great place to get a bowl of French Onion Soup. This is something I discovered years ago while living in Paris, but it was reconfirmed a couple of nights ago. What I received was a bowl of hot water filled with undercooked onions topped with a thin soggy piece of bread, some cheese, and a thick layer of oil. Perhaps this is the "real" way to make soup à l'oignon, but I am more in to the thick stew-like richness of onion soup found in America.

Fewer people are coming to Bordeaux this year than in 2005 to taste the barrel samples. Haut Brion has 20% fewer clients registered for tastings during the week of the UGC. How this might affect Chateaux decisions on pricing remains to be seen.

The two hottest wines being sold by all negociants regardless of vintage are Latour and Ausone.

And one more minor yet somewhat perplexing point: two wine makers have served us champagne not from flutes, but from standard white wine glasses. I have one word: huh?