20th March, 2014 by Ben Kennedy
It’s less than a fortnight before the en primeur tastings start here in Bordeaux, so what lies in store for the 2013 vintage?
The wines themselves should be the main event for any new Bordeaux vintage brought to the market, but this year an accumulation of factors will inevitably be put into play that distract from what tasters will find in the glass in two weeks’ time.
My own tastings will begin in earnest this afternoon, but initial reports from winemaking friends and colleagues are that the red wines are not bad at all – words like charming, elegant, pleasant have been used – and that the dry whites are really quite good. And down in Sauternes and Barsac the 2013 vintage appears to have produced something worth writing to home about.
Let’s look at the context of the wider market place into which this new vintage will be born. Most châteaux really need to sell. Even those with the deepest pockets, those who managed to build up a financial cushion over the last couple of decades, finishing with a run of vintages which sold for record prices up until 2010, even they have had a rough couple of years with the 2011s and 2012s generating little enthusiasm amongst buyers. Some suggested that these big players could easily ride out three difficult vintages in succession before the stress began to show, and that third difficult vintage is now upon us.
Those with more realistic financing are really feeling the pinch, and rumours abound as to just what percentage of the Bordeaux landscape is currently up for sale as a result. Three tough years, a reduced harvest due to the dreadful hail last summer, things aren’t looking good for the ordinary Bordeaux winemaker.
So the years spent courting Asia and other emerging markets, with the associated price hikes, to the detriment of traditional markets whose (basically) loyal importers could not justify the increased expense to their customers, surely this all means that Bordeaux will be selling all their 2013 primeurs to the Chinese? If that’s what they had been planning, they’ll need an alternative, and fast. The global economy has not recovered in any substantial way since last spring, the Chinese have not only banned high-ticket gifting among government officials but they’ve also spent the last few months punitively taxing EU wine imports in a trade dispute connected with dumping solar panels, and now the country’s economy is showing signs of being on the verge of a slide that could make our credit crunch look like a walk in the park. But how about the other emerging markets? India is still waiting in the wings with no progress on EU trade negotiations in the foreseeable future, while Russia is currently doing everything possible to cause a full-scale trade war with Europe, so it’s hard to see much 2013 going that way.
On the up side, the weather forecast is looking good for the week of the primeurs, with a depression over Great Britain (surprise, surprise) and an anticyclone resting over the south of France. Sunshine looks sure for the first half of the week, at least. So if you’re looking for a reason to come and taste Bordeaux 2013, maybe that’s your cue.