Rolland: En primeur is a ‘game’

14th June, 2013 by Lucy Shaw

Bordeaux’s leading consultant, Michel Rolland, has admitted that the process of en primeur tastings and the resulting scores is a risky “game” for consumers.

Michel Rolland has admitted that the en primeur tasting and rating process is a risky “game” for consumers

Speaking to the drinks business this week at the UK launch of his new Spanish wine project, R&G, Rolland said: “You only get to the truth of a wine when it’s in the bottle, before that it’s a sort of game where the consumer can win or lose.”

Rolland was scathing about wine writers’ ability to accurately access en primeur samples, claiming that 99% of professional tasters get it wrong.

“Saying you know what a wine is going to end up like when you taste it after six months in barrel is like having baby twins and saying one is going to be a lawyer and the other a doctor – it’s impossible to know at such an early stage,” he said.

Despite this, Rolland doesn’t believe the en primeur tastings take place too early, as he doesn’t feel critics’ scores carry much weight.

“I don’t think scores are that important – if you look at the world’s top tasters, most of their scores are in alignment and people only care about the first, second and third growths anyway,” he told db.

Rolland praised Robert Parker’s provisional in barrel scores as he feels the truth of a wine can only be known after it’s been bottled

He did however concede that US critic Robert Parker got it right by offering a provisional score while the wines are in barrel and a definitive score when they’re bottled.

“Giving a range, such as 89-92 points, while a wine is in barrel helps account for the element of doubt that remains until the wine is bottled – you can never know the truth until then,” he said.

As Jean-Michel Laporte of La Conseillante explained to db earlier this week, Rolland said that the only difference between his en primeur samples and the final wines is the fact that he doesn’t add any pressed wines (as opposed to free run juice) to the samples.

“Most wines end up with around 10% of pressed wine in the final blend but we can’t put this into the en primeur samples as it’s too harsh and tannic and we have to show a drinkable wine that people are able to understand,” he said.

“You have to take care of some of the details without changing the fundamental character of the wine,” he added.

Rolland, who recently sold his family-owned Pomerol estate Le Bon Pasteur to Chinese businessman Sutong Pan, consults for wineries all over the world.

In terms of China’s winemaking potential, Rolland, who consults for the country’s biggest food manufacturer – Cofco – on its local and imported wines, believes China’s biggest handicap is its climate.

“From what I’ve seen, China’s climate is too prone to extremes ­– it gets too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter and when it rains it pours but I believe the greatest terroirs in China are yet to be discovered,” he said.

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