2009 Bordeaux - The Big Questions

Thursday, 13th May 2010 by Stephen Browett

There are three questions that we are asked more than any others about 2009 Bordeaux. They are about quality, prices and allocations.

Tasting 2009 Mouton Rothschild.

Quality - there really are some absolutely outstanding wines in 2009 but I don't think that overall they are either as classically structured as the 2005's (a real "millesime de garde") nor as uniformly consistent. 2009 enjoyed a perfect September and the crucial decision was when to pick. Those who waited well into October risked having over-ripe grapes which resulted in wines that were too high in alcohol and lacking in balance. Growers who picked their grapes fully ripe but still fresh and vibrant, such as Denis Durantou at L'Eglise Clinet, were harvesting almost a whole month before some of the late-pickers and I certainly think that Denis and friends made the right decision.

Entering the new winery at Cos d'Estournel.
There are a handful of brilliant wines on the right bank - Eglise Clinet, La Conseillante, Canon to name but three - but this, for me, is a Cabernet Sauvignon vintage and that means left bank. Those Chateaux who had the luxury of choice, declassified much of their Merlot into their second labels because they had never seen such perfect Cabernet grapes before (and may never see fruit like this again). Although the First Growths and so-called "Super-Seconds" have all made great wines I think that there are also some "best ever" performances at less high profile properties such as Lafon Rochet, Haut Batailley, Langoa Barton, Lagrange and Domaine de Chevalier.

Jean-Guillaume Prats talks us through Cos 2009.

Prices - I don't think that there is any hope of "reasonable" prices from any of the wines with potential 100 point scores from Robert Parker. These are legendary wines in the making and they will be priced accordingly. The proprietors know that these are one-offs and that those who can afford them will buy them. However, there are plenty of Chateaux whose wines should still offer value for money. We have already seen the release of Batailley in this category and hope for similar pricing from other Chateaux. In 2009 there could be a huge gulf in prices between the "collectors' wines" and the "drinkers' wines" and that is despite the fact that the difference in quality between the two groups is much smaller than usual.

In the tasting room at Chateau Latour.

Allocations - Of course most Chateaux won't want to release any more wine in 2009 than they did in 2008. This means that the most popular wines are bound to be over-subscribed. Fortunately Farr Vintners has the UK's biggest allocations of many Chateaux. Even so, allocating them out to our customers is a serious hassle for us! We aim to do this scrupulously fairly but I am resigned to the fact that a mail will hit my in-box from Mr Angry from Tunbridge Wells when he's told that he can't have 10 cases of 2009 Carruades Lafite, (despite never having bought any of it from us before). We also expect to receive the classic complaint "That price is too expensive........but can I have more?". I have been asked so many times to explain the Farr Vintners allocation system, so here's a resumé, once again, of how it works.

If we suspect that a wine will have more demand than supply we will release it in the following order:

  1. to customers who bought the same wine in 2007 and 2008 and pre-ordered in 2009
  2. to customers who bought the same wine in 2008 and pre-ordered in 2009
  3. to customers who have pre-ordered this wine (and pre-ordered widely "across the board")
  4. to customers who have bought the same wine in 2007 and 2008 and wish-listed it in 2009
  5. to customers who have bought the same wine in 2008 and wish-listed it in 2009
  6. to customers who have wish-listed a wine in 2009 and have bought, or will buy, "across the board" in 2009 (ie not just the wines with the best Parker scores!)
  7. to customers who have wish-listed the wine and are regular buyers of that wine from Farr Vintners.
  8. to customers who have wish-listed the wine but are not regular buyers of it either en primeur or in physical vintages.
  9. released to general sale on our web site once pre-orders have been invoiced and wish-list customers e-mailed a priority offer.
Henry, Ed and Jessica at Ducru.
Christian Moueix and Tom Hudson.

My best advice to Bordeaux wine-lovers is to buy the wines that fall just under Robert Parker's radar and which have fairly large production levels. Pricing is based on scores and reputation, but above all on supply and demand. So, you're never going to get a 500 case production wine like Le Pin at a bargain price. Chateaux such as Lagrange, Gruaud Larose and Talbot, who make around 20,000 cases per vintage, simply cannot ask for high prices as market forces oblige them to be reasonable. The good traditional names of the Medoc, with their high proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon, have made some of their best ever wines in 2009, yet these are where, I suspect, the best deals in the vintage will be found.

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