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Bordeaux needs to ‘win back Asian confidence’

Members of the Hong Kong wine trade have shared their views on Bordeaux 2014, including the feeling that the campaign needs to work harder to inspire confidence from the region.

The vineyards at Mouton Rothschild
The vineyards at Mouton Rothschild

The vintage got off to a pretty good start. After a few years of drought conditions, winter was moderate with heavy rain which led to an early bud burst in the middle of March. However, summer was a washout with cool, rainy months and lacking much-needed summer sun. Things were looking bleak until the sun shone forth in early September and helped dry up the soggy vineyards.

With a hotch potch of weather, it’s no wonder that this mixed-bag vintage has got the trade scratching their heads too. Particularly in Hong Kong where buying en primeur is a new game to Asian wine buyers who have only come to the table fairly recently and have had a poor innings with the last few vintages.

However, one point which everyone unites on is due to the later sunshine, Cabernet-driven Left Bank came up trumps overall.

“’14 definitely favours the Cab,” said Adam Bilbey from Berry Bros & Rudd.

“From the wines we tasted, the Cabernet has a lovely freshness and texture of fruit that makes it approachable young but then you have structure and acid for longer term ageing. It is certainly the finest vintage since 2010 and stylistically it reminds me of perhaps a more generous 2006 or 1996, though with not quite the quality or structure of the latter.”

Richard Sutton of Armit Wines, agreed. “As people have been saying, it’s a Cabernet vintage and most of the Merlot unfortunately, wasn’t so good.

“The Indian summer arrived too late for Merlot, whereas it blessed the later-ripening Cabernet. Pauillac, St-Estèphe and St Julien have benefitted hugely with above average wines. Overall the quality compares to 2001, 2006 and 2008 – but most like a more attractive version of 2006, perhaps. ”

Indeed, Mouton Rothschild in particular has won favour by being offered at a lower price than every physical vintage on the market and is seen by many as saving 2014, especially as to date many Chateaux are still holding fire.

“The warmth at the end definitely saved the vintage. We’ve sold out of all Mouton and Lynch-Bages allocations and are up on our target from last year,” said Jo Purcell from Farr Vintners. “After five years of losses, people need an incentive to buy which Mouton and Lynch are doing. Lynch is now 30% cheaper than its 2004, 2006 and 2008 vintages.”

Thibaut Mathieu from Corney & Barrow agreed, “Of the current releases, we recommended Mouton, Clerc Milon, d’Armailhac and Beychevelle as well as Ormes de Pez for the best value. The weak Euro has helped us with that and people are clamouring for them.”

Of Merlot-mellowed Right Bank, it remains to be “cautiously optimistic”.

“If it’s a Cabernet year then it can be a Cabernet Franc year,” continued Sutton. “Estates in St-Émilion and Pomerol have relied more on Franc than normal this year and therefore we’ve been recommending Lafleur, Cheval Blanc and Troplong Mondot. Petrus is not particularly great, but people are asking for it because of its limited quantity.”

Selbey added: “We’ve seen an interest in wines heavy on the Cabernet Franc front so I’d suggest, Vieux Château Certan, Lafleur, La Conseillante, G Acte 6, Cheval, Ausone, Figeac and L’If.”

With present uncertainty circling 2014 at the moment and lieu of the disappointing last few vintages, Asia buyers seemingly prefer to be guided in their decisions.

“I think 2014 shows that buyers aren’t necessarily going by what the critics are saying,” said Jo. “The role of the wine merchant is back. People are being more selective and are trusting us to make the right choice for them.”

Sutton concluded, “I just hope the other classed growths will follow the sensible examples set by Mouton and Lynch. Buyers in Asia don’t have the 20 years-plus buying experience and so, as relative newcomers, they’ve lost money on the last three vintages. Bordeaux needs to win back their confidence.”

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