Wine Talk

Snooth User: Benzibar

2009 en primeur, WTF?

Posted by Benzibar, Apr 9, 2010.

Not, I repeat not, a thread about whether the 2009 Bordeaux is great, but more about whether you trust the reviews. After the 2009 en primeur week, the opinion is unsurprisingly about a brilliant "vintage of the decade". I think this is the 3rd in the last 10 years n'est-ce-pas? 

So do we need to review how we review the en primeur? Do you trust the tasters or has it now become impossible to give an impartial review based on the hype and media mark-up? With the bitterness of the ever depreciating 2007 at the back of your mind, could you ever invest in good faith again?

Over to you reader...

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Replies

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Reply by zufrieden, Apr 9, 2010.

No, I don't trust reviews qua reviews either (or ever), but I was in France for a bit during the past summer and continued to follow the harvest season (though from a distance).  Judging from that sort of reasonably empirical data, I would say the 2009 will be very good - though time will tell whether it matches the hype.

As for 2007, I was not in France that year, but the weather throughout Northern Europe was very cold and rainy.  I've also tasted a few 2007 numbers and feel confident that "be selective" is worthy advice here - except fro the whites - which are much better (but take care in choosing).

But in fairness to the writers, the weather has been changing and there are seemingly more heat units available for ripening certain grape varieties, so better vintages **may** be in the cards (I suppose it depends on how you view the topic of climate change).

Anyway, gotta run!

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 10, 2010.

My read has a slightly different twist. I'm thinking a combination of further warming and increasing Parkerization (leaving aside the amped up need for a PR fix to economic woes for the Bordelaise and everyone affiliated with them; LVMH does Bordeaux?!) is leading to the Napazation of Bordeaux in this vintage.

Someone I was just talking to was telling me the '09 Cos d'Estournel was tasting like something made by Harlan, with overripe fruit, virtually no scent, etc., etc. His opinion was that the top 20-30 wineries will have something special, but the rest could have been made anywhere, not in Bordeaux per se. And that's a sad state of affairs when it looks like Cos is now going the way of Pavie and so many others. Suckling gave it a 97-100 rating, while Jancis Robinson a 16.5 out of 20. Rather different ratings, and I imagine my reaction would be closer to hers.

So I'm viewing 2009 as potentially being over the top in overripe fruit (and in some cases winemaking), and it may not have the aging potential one desires. I'll be looking more at 2008s until this can be proven wrong to me. Should be able to buy more of them, anyway.

Too big a Bordeaux business machine and too much manfucturing of wine has been going on at a steadily increasing pitch since the end of the '80s, to where now Moloch seems to be demanding too may wineries sacrifice too much of themselves, in the process losing what made them Bordelaise in the first place. I intend to vote with my feet as much as possible on the 2009s, though I'll probably get drawn in by a few of those top wineries, since Bordeaux was one of my first true loves in the wine world and I do still lust more for it than, perhaps, someone like GregDP... ;-)

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Reply by zufrieden, Apr 10, 2010.

Yes, the issue of how "style" is affecting the wine in established regions is of singular importance and has generated more than its expected share of commentary in these forum pages.

We've discussed this before, but I think it worth re-emphasizing that the food-worthy, "purely" expressed wines of the better Bordeaux are indeed changing - especially at the Cru Bourgeois level.  I am, however, dismayed at the direction of this change if simply one of wine-making choice.  Moreover, if the relatively moderate climate of the region begins to take on the feel of more southerly latitudes, some of what seems like clumsiness and stew-pot dormancy you report with Cos d'Estournel 2009 may become closer to the norm (I have not yet tasted as this wine is still only available en primeur). The maturity of the wine may well come earlier for both climatic and stylistic reasons.

Those of us who truly love the better wines of the Bordeaux - budget limitations notwithstanding -  are not likely to be entirely comfortable with all this background noise. This is more than a paradigm shift - if I may be permitted a low-grade abuse of that term in the spirit of those vast numbers of second-rate business gurus allowed to roam at large during the 1990's.

It may well be that, age-worthiness of acid-rich, expressive, pure and elegant high-latitude wines are in peril - unless Chateau Pole Star emerges with persistent (as opposed to "cyclical") climate change.

Permit me to shift gears a little.

Some Californian and other New World wines of the boutique variety (Harlan Estates, for example) can not only imitate Bordeaux Premier Cru but can sometimes actually improve the template. It is remarkable what can be achieved with money and good raw material.  Good things can happen when real estate magnates aspire to the life of country squires. But even if the California style - like that of other similar New World regions - someday supplants the ways of the Bordeaux it can never hope to replace them entirely.  California has its own most excellent style for good cultural, geographical and historical reasons, but comparing the wine of the two regions is like comparing basketball to volleyball - activities which are both games but which do not share the same process or outcome.

And there is something else that rankles.

There was a time when most professional sports franchises were owned by persons more concerned about involvement in sport than maximizing profit. Trying to become rich in the sports field is like trying to become rich at wine-making; the life-style element is seriously emasculated by any shift toward "professional" business management.  I'm not talking about sensible financial practice here.  I'm talking about the fact that excellence is driven principally by passion (love of work). Once mass-marketing becomes the main focus, the law of common denomination rears its ugly head - usually with a noticeable loss of diversity and a watering down of product. Quality has a way of transcending mere mechanics or voting power.  If any of you take serious issue with this, then anything goes and informed opinion is just an illusion.

Some of you may also wish to reprise the recent story of Gallo Wines to see what can happen when wine is no longer the focus of day-to-day business operations.  A cautionary tale?

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Reply by gregt, Apr 10, 2010.

If someone has tasted many vintages as barrel samples and later as mature wine, one develops an appreciation for what the likely outcomes of various young wines are likely to be.  A winemaker doesn't start at random every year, eventually he or she learns what to do to obtain the wine they want even though the final result will not be known for several years. 

In the same way, a person can taste wine A in its youth and compare it to wine B and after ten, fifteen, or more years, the person will have an idea of what might be expected from a mature wine A when he notes certain characteristics in the young wine.

People can learn a lot in a few years but what they can't learn is how a young wine turns into a mature wine.  That simply requires time. Given that people like Parker, Broadbent, and others have thirty some years, their predictions logically should be far more accurate than those of people who have not followed a young wine to its maturity.

So if these guys call it a good vintage based on their prior experience, perhaps it is.  Parker doesn't have British reserve. He shows his enthusiasms. That leads to almost outlandish statements about something being the greatest vintage in any viticultural area, blah blah blah.  But those are personal ticks or means of expression -  they don't mean that the vintage isn't good.

On the other hand, you have people with a huge financial investment who want to encourage sales of their weaker vintages.  So they call those "classic" or "traditional" or some other such crap and convince enough suckers that thin, weedy, green wines are the "real" pride and joy of a region.  It works out for everyone.  The better vintages generate their own hype whereas the reverse snobs pick up the other stuff and every vintage gets sold out as the chateau owners laugh all the way to the bank.

At this point in my life I"ve had enough wine that I don't particularly care about Bordeaux and I don't think I'm missing anything by not having an obsession with  certain regions of the world.  But from the barrel samples I've tasted, and it's only been a few dozen or so, the 2009 vintage in most of Bordeaux seems really good. I don't think the wines are anything at all like CA wines or Port or anything else of that nature.  I wish there were more CA wines like those.  They're ripe but not jammy, the alcohol doesn't make them seem medicinal, acidity provides lift and not searing pain, the tannins are massive but ripe and finely ground, and many of them were downright delicious. 

As a customer, I won't buy any at all.  But as a wine drinker, I'd be happy to have some.

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 10, 2010.

So what chateaux have you tasted 2009 from and particularly liked, Greg?

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Reply by zufrieden, Apr 10, 2010.

That's an excellent question - but before commenting further, let me again complement you two gentlemen (dmcker and GregT) for your lengthy, interesting and well-written posts.

I have a certain weakness for perfection, but I am sure it is shared by not a few of the silent many.

I more-or-less share the GregT sentiment with respect to the outright purchasing of wines.  Prior to the recent run-up and impending collapse of prices, I would have said that (say) California wines would have been better bets at the auction for value.

But then, who can say when it comes to preference?  I just like the cool climate interpretation of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Given some of my commitments today (jury duty being one - if you can believe it) - and not being a professional buyer - I probably will not get the opportunity to look into the primeur situation for 2009 Bordeaux.  But that is not because of a lack of interest, let me can assure you.  

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Reply by cigarman168, Apr 10, 2010.

Zufrieden : "Some of you may also wish to reprise the recent story of Gallo Wines" - What is the story about?

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 10, 2010.

I think he probably meant this:

Gallo victim of wine world's biggest con

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Reply by cigarman168, Apr 10, 2010.

Thx DM, However, Gallo should be one of the top selling American wine in HK due to their low price.

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 11, 2010.

Well, they obviously have their distribution down, but fine wine they ain't. And I'm not just speaking from too many memories of people drinkng Gallo 'Chablis' while I was growing up...

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Reply by gregt, Apr 11, 2010.

Don't forget that Gallo owns many wines that don't have their name on the label. Rancho Zabaco, MacMurray Ranch, Anapamu, Don Miguel Gascon from Argentina, DaVinci, and many others.  They're the largest exporter of CA wine worldwide by far.  A few years ago they tried to upgrade their image, it worked for a minute and then in the very early 2000s they had some problems and they've backed off now - not doing anything too overly ambitious but sticking with what they do well.  And they bought Las Rocas from Eric Solomon which gives them a great wine from Spain that's usually very good and fairly priced.  That and the Don Gascon do well with critics and customers.  They're still selling Carlo Rossi though - I think they sell an ocean of that every year.  One day I'm going to do a blind tasting but just thinking about it, I bet it would score higher than Yellow Tail and Two Buck Chuck.

As far as a few Bordeaux I've liked and that I happened to remember just because I thought their pricing was reasonable - Chat de Laussac for example, is a well-priced wine from Castillon, notes of spice and incense and smoke and a long finish.  Should end up turning into something wonderful.  Haut Ballet is another one, it's from Fronsac and also has a long smoky spicy finish with fine tannins that linger for a long time.  Haut Carles and la Vielle Cure are probably better known from the appellation and consequently probably more likely to be able to charge a few bucks more for their wine, but neither was as good IMHO.  From Pomerol, la Fleur de Gay was pretty wonderful with notes of coffee and herbs and a load of tannins.  Clearly way too young and the oak is still quite apparent, but that's just got so much going on it's going to be wonderful in years to come when it all comes together.  I tend to like the Pomerol wines anyway and in a good vintage, I think they're probably the wines that are more likely to appeal to people used to CA wine. 

Chateau la Commanderie was just spectacular and again, priced well.  Moving up in price, Rauzan Segla and Cantenac Brown are wines I always like and they were wonderful, but I think those are now priced beyond what's justified. 

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 11, 2010.

I was including all Gallo's other labels in that blanket statement, and agree with you about how their attempt to move upmarket was nothing but a dud. A couple of years ago I started buying Carlo Rossi again after a hiatus of decades, but that was a brief spurt since that shop no longer carries them. Certainly at least as good for the price as anything available on the market here. Though it was a bit sweeter than I remembered, so by the second or third jug I was mostly using it to cook with, or in sangria... ;-)

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Reply by cigarman168, Apr 11, 2010.

For Carlo Rossi, I think thayt have added sugar to sweeten it and make beginners easy to accept.

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Reply by Benzibar, Apr 12, 2010.

been catching up with this thread, and there's some cracking opinion here. Being but a mere fledgling in terms of my wine knowledge, it's a pleasure to be humbled by such well-informed experience and strong views on the wine trade.

The one view I would comment on is GregD's notes about Parker perhaps allowing his enthusiasm to get the better of him when rating fine wines. To me this would be completely understandable in the private tasting notes of any amateur who loves wine. However Parker's duty is to provide honest, impartial wine advice to the millions who follow his reviews. This should reflect the overall quality of the wine in terms of balance, development & potential. What I certainly don't expect in a professional's notes is the influence of enthusiasm on the final score. Give me the facts and the witty rhetoric and I'll make my own mind up about how enthusiastic I should be about it.

Keep it up guys. The wine lover who doesn't enjoy impassioned debate is missing half the enjoyment!

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Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Apr 12, 2010.

A guess the critical media, meaning the crowd that goes around cheerleading for wine regions and producers, seems to put a lot of stock in PT Barnums old saying about suckers, of course the more we all think about, the more we are tempted to agree with him.

 

First off, the futures business is dead. Gone are the days when there was the potential of a significant financial advantage to buying early. the Chateaux owners have figured that game out and are leaving a much small slice of the pie on the table.

 

In place of rational pricing they've introduced the Bordelaise pricing model. Kepp charging more for every great vintage, previously known as every other vintage, and drop prices a little for the off vintages that come around every so often.

 

I know how hard barrel tasting is, I know how fallible humans are, myself included, and I see no reason to get worked up about 2009 EP.

 

Another element that is now working it's weay through the system is that Parker, while still the big dog, is no longer the only dog. This latest vintage of the centruy, which seems to appeal to Rp greatly, has been called out for excessive alcohol by more than one writer, and for good reason.

 

A critic is only as good as how well he or she matches up with your palate, Add to that the vageries of barrel tasting and my bullshittometer seems pinned to bullshit. This is another unusual vintage, probably not what I want in Bordeaux, and while I have railed before about Bordeaux, primarily the upper classed growths, let me just say that I love a good bottle of Bordeaux now and again so I am not just hating on Bordeaux and/or Parker here.

 

What I am hating on is the rush to judgement, and this idea that every vintage has to be great. No, most vintages, even the great ones, are not in fact all that great. But then again I want my wines to be balanced, a topuch austere, transparent and balanced. That comes along through the good graces of Mother Nature once or thrice a decade.

 

On the other hand, if you want to start playing around the edges with your spinning cones, and rotos, and all sorts of tricks, well then you can have a great, meaning big, thick, powerful vintage virtually every year. But that's not great wine, I'm not even sure what it is. Before buying any 2009 futures I would suggest you take a look at 2007 reviews and try some of those wines when they arrive.  Therein lies my answer.

 

 

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 12, 2010.

Good to see you back, Greg (DP). Trust the Caribbean was restful....

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 13, 2010.

Well, the Wall Street Journal weighs in with, no need to hold your breath, a positive blurb on the 2009 vintage:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303960604575158250063478616.html?mod=WSJ_LifeStyle_Lifestyle_6

As expected, that journal is on the slippery slope after Murdoch purchased it. It now has Jay McInerney as a regular wine columnist, and introduces him in his new position here.  Not surprisingly, a bit of what's been called 'wealth porn' appears in his first column, on rosé Dom Pérignon, which you can read here. He was writing about the 1990 DP Œnothèque Rosé (an über tête de cuvée; a couple of bottles of the '89 went for $84,000 two years ago). Perfect 2010 subject matter, don't you think? Some highlights:

  • "If Dom Pérignon is the Porsche 911 Carrera of the wine world, then DP Rosé is the 911 Turbo."
  • "It really is spectacular, one of the greatest rosés I've ever tasted, richer and more voluptuous than the 2000. Among many pleasant sensations it evoked, I thought of Julianne Moore, a mature pinkish-hued beauty whom I'd seen on the street in the West Village earlier that day."

 

But back to the article on 2009 Bordeaux en primeur, the writer does hedge a bit, and witholds judgment to the extent that there are no actual reviews of the wines. She does make a couple of very mildly interesting comments about Chinese Bordeaux purchasers (she was talking to one of the Dons of St. Emilion garagistes):

  • "'The Chinese buyers are learning with the 1855 classifications,' he said, referring to the oldest and still most influential system designating Bordeaux's top-ranked wines. 'That's what they buy, even if the châteaux in that classification are no longer very good.'"

and Pontet Canet:

  • "the bluest of the blue-chip appellations...the 2009 was like no other Pauillac I have ever tasted."
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Reply by gregt, Apr 13, 2010.

It's sad writing but the WSJ is grandpa's paper and they want to take it into the People era. So you get personal anecdotes about your friends and labels and name dropping. Not that the previous two were any great shakes in the wine department either.

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 13, 2010.

So how much have things changed in Bordeaux in the past 250 years, even with regards to marketing? Here's a quote from the Wine Doctor about one of the founders of the estate in St. Julien that nowadays goes under the label Chateau Gruaud Larose (and many a pleasant bottle of theirs have I enjoyed, not least because they're good in off years):

"The Chevalier de Gruaud was a well known eccentric who not only built a watch-tower over the vineyards so as to observe his workers, he would also raise a British, German or other national flag over the estate after each harvest in order to indicate who should buy the wine according to its style. He also sold his wine by auction in the centre of Bordeaux, and when unsuccessful his unusual tactic of then raising the price of the unsold wine seemed to only encourage further purchases."

 

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 27, 2010.

The vintage becomes more of a conundrum, though perhaps clarifying towards the overblown-overfruited-overdone side of things. Why am I guessing my tasting might be closer to Martin's?

 

2009 Vieux Maillet (Pomerol):

Wine Spectator (James Suckling) 92-95pts: “Extremely dark in color, with powerful aromas of blackberry and tar. Full-bodied, with velvety tannins and a long, rich finish. Intense and layered. Very well done. 92-95pts”

Neil Martin (The Wine Advocate) 80-82pts:This is certainly showing sur-maturite on the nose with unavoidable prune/raisin notes and some volatility. The palate is full-bodied, soft entry but lacking freshness, particularly on the Rioja-like finish. 80-82pts”

 

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