After a short but very informative and useful trip, here are some of our observations regarding the new vintage and upcoming En Primeur campaign.
We have tasted lots of wines ourselves, we have been following tweets and blogs by other wine merchants and have read the reports published by wine reviewers and journalists. The conclusion is that 2011 is not a great vintage, although better than feared. It’s also a heterogeneous vintage, with some very good to exceptional but also rather poor wines. Selection therefore will be crucial this year. Whites and particularly Sauternes and Barsac however are exceptionally good in 2011 and represent a fantastic buying opportunity.
It must be said that the winemakers, in a lot of cases, have done a fantastic job in making very good wines when nature had not dealt them a good hand. It must be heart breaking for Chateau owners to work very hard for a year only for the international “critics” and merchants to show up and slack off their wine. The wine made in Bordeaux nowadays is invariably better than it was 15 years ago.
Speaking of the weather, there have been rather extreme conditions, with severe drought and very high temperatures in spring, hail and 2 days of 40 degrees in late June (see here for more detail). This has resulted in low yields, small berries and an early harvest. Chateau Margaux for example reported the lowest yields since 1991, the smallest berries ever (!) and the earliest harvest since 1893.
There is a plethora of vintage reports available online. Therefore, let it suffice for now to say that in a nutshell, the best appellations for Red seem to be St Julien and Pomerol with weather conditions most favorable for clay based Merlot. Whites and particularly Sauternes and Barsac are exceptionally good. The consensus seems to be that this vintage (for red) is of a quality comparable to 2001 and 2008, perhaps just behind them. To give you an idea of where that leaves 2011 in a ranking of all vintages since 2000, have a look at this:
Left Bank: 10,09,05,00,08,06,04,03,01,02,07
Right Bank: 10,09,00,05,08,01,06,04,07,03,02
Courtesy of Vinalytics, this ranking is derived at by taking aggregate scores from a spread of reviewers looking at approximately 250 Châteaux.
Seeing this is not a must-buy vintage (except for Whites and Stickies), pricing and the speed with which the En Primeur campaign is conducted will be all important to make 2011 sell. The Chateaux recognize this and promise price reductions and a quick campaign. Nevertheless, given pricing in recent history, Courtiers and Negociants are not convinced at all that Chateaux owners will reduce prices enough. Negociants and secondary trade are nervous about being forced into taking allocations that could ruin them if they can’t sell them through quickly enough. So far, 2011 has not attracted a lot of interest. Although reportedly, there were more badges issued by the UGC during the En Primeur week, reports from Chateaux and various attendants suggest there was considerably less interest, particularly from Asia.
Prices therefore need to come down severely to have a chance to sell this vintage. If they do, it might sell well as many very good wines have been made and the vintage does present an opportunity to get or increase your allocation of your favorite wines. If they don’t it will be a very disappointing campaign and a missed opportunity.
On our way to the fabulous party at Gruaud Larose
So that leaves the question by how much need prices come down? The answer should be simple: prices need to be at a level where consumers can buy 2011 at a discount compared to similar and physically available vintages. We have already reported that for 3 of the 5 First Growths, this would mean they need to reduce their price by 57% as compared to 2010. The same calculations can be made for each wine, with reductions depending on the quality of their 2011, their pricing in 2010 as well as prices of comparable back vintages.
Will that happen? Let’s hope so because at the right price, there are some delicious wines out there well worth filling up your cellar with. So far the spread in prices I have heard is massive, ranging from €300 per bottle ex Negociant for Lafite Rothschild to no less than Sylvie Cazes (president of the UGC) saying that 10-15% down on 2010 should be enough.
Finally, there is a good chance the campaign will start very soon, possibly even next week. Most expect it to finish before Vinexpo at the end of May. And it might be kicked off by a First Growth. So get yourself ready! We will contact our subscribers and customers early next week to gauge interest. If you are not yet a customer, please get in touch. We have allocations for you and we are always very competitively priced.
We will be sharing our best buys as the campaign progresses. Make sure to check our blog for updates and do follow @DittonWineTrade on Twitter. It will allow you to stay on top of breaking news and releases, often before it's available anywhere else. Search (and use) #bdx11 to see who else is tweeting about Bordeaux 2011. Or just phone us if that's too geeky for you.