Controversy looms over Bordeaux primeurs

17th May, 2013 by Gabriel Stone

Recent comments by wine consultant Stephan Derenoncourt have inflamed a quiet but growing criticism of the way Bordeaux conducts its annual primeurs tastings.

bordeauxIn an interview earlier this month with French newspaper Le Monde, Derenoncourt, whose high profile clients include châteaux Talbot, Prieuré-Lichine, Smith Haut Lafitte, Clos Fourtet and Pavie-Macquin, offered a very open description of how he vinifies an entirely separate wine to show during primeurs week.

Outlining an objective to “end up with something quite controlled and with the identity of the property,” Derenoncourt explained: “Our method is to remove a bit of each distinct parcel and to put them through a special preparation to speed up the elevage.

“Therefore we put them into barrel earlier than the others, straight after the running off in fact, so that the marriage between the wines and the wood may happen more naturally than if we were to put the wines through that at a later date.”

Summing up the end result, Derenoncourt remarked: “In a sense, we have some little dolls in the cellar which are representative of the harvest, but which are extremely well prepared for primeurs week.”

The drinks business contacted a number of producers in Bordeaux to compare their own method of preparation for primeurs samples, but few were prepared to comment on what one representative described as a “political hot potato.”

However, one producer, François Mitjavile of Tertre Roteboeuf in St Emilion, was happy to offer a general opinion on the proper conduct of primeurs tastings.

“The samples must represent reality,” he insisted. “In effect, during the presentation of the primeurs, all wine worked according to the rules of the art – put into barrels from the moment of pressing and racked as they should be – can perfectly support the judgement of informed professionals.”

However, Mitjavile stressed: “The practice of ‘trained up’ samples is not justified.”

With a 2012 en primeur campaign that may represent a slight improvement on last year, but is hardly flying, the UK trade was similarly reticent about commenting on whether the timing of the primeurs tastings, just six months after harvest, allows buyers and critics to form a reliable opinion on the vintage.

Two years ago, when the market was far more buoyant, Jancis Robinson MW put forward the case for fellow critics to hold back their scores until after prices had been confirmed, as happens for Burgundy, whose primeurs tasting take place well over a year after harvest.

At the time, she also noted “the vexed, complex and extremely important question of the validity of primeur samples and how closely in each case they are likely to resemble the finished wine that is bottled so long after the primeurs showings.”

With no change in the system since, Robinson reiterated these concerns, telling db: “I think the whole question of tasting samples of red Bordeaux at only a few months is highly questionable anyway, but it’s especially problematic because some winemakers prepare samples specially for showing en primeur and others don’t. We are not able to compare like with like.”

In addition, she highlighted the damaging effect such lack of consistency and transparency is likely to add to the more openly criticised pricing strategy of many estates.

“I suspect that after two lacklustre primeurs campaigns on the run, plus this particular concern, it may be difficult for the Bordelais to whip up real interest in the 2013 campaign next year,” Robinson concluded.

One Response to “Controversy looms over Bordeaux primeurs”

  1. I agree, there should be much more time before the harvest and the tasting, at least a year I’d say.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our newsletters

Job vacancies

Senior National Account Manager

Bibendum PLB
London, UK

ON-TRADE Sales Executive

Roberson Wine
London, UK

OFF-TRADE Sales Executive

Roberson Wine
London, UK

Judging Week Runners

Decanter World Wine Awards
ExCel Centre, London E16, UK

Sales Administrator

Les Caves de Pyrène
Guildford, UK

Retail Commercial Executive

Laithwaite's Wine
Theale, Berkshire

Wine Buyer

Conviviality Plc
Crewe, UK

Sales Account Manager - On-Trade

Berkmann Wine Cellars
Liverpool

Sales Account Manager - On-Trade

Berkmann Wine Cellars
M3/M4 corridor

Media Sales Manager - Hong Kong

The Drinks Business Hong Kong
Hong Kong

Regional Account Manager

New Generation McKinley
London, UK

Experienced Sales Account Manager – On Trade

Cantina Goccia
London and the south, UK

National Sales Manager – Premium Drinks

Core Recruitment
London based with national travel

The Global Merlot Masters 2017

Deadline : 24th February 2017

The Prosecco Masters 2017

Deadline : 10th March 2017

db Awards 2017

Deadline : 28th April 2017

The Global Organic Masters 2017

Deadline : 3rd March 2017

Click to view more

The Global Sparkling Masters

the drinks business is thrilled to announce the launch of The Global Sparkling Masters

The Global Rosé Masters 2016

the drinks business is proud to announce the launch of the Global Rosé Masters 2016.

The Prosecco Masters 2016

Now in its third year, the competition will reflect the growth in popularity of this fresh and exciting sparkling wine from the picturesque regions of Veneto and Friuli.

The Global Pinot Noir Masters 2016

After the success of last year’s competition that judged over 250 wines from no less than 16 countries, the drinks business is proud to announce the third year of the Global Pinot Noir Masters

Click to view more