The absence of any drabble here for a couple of months is down to the birth, a month early, of JnJ junior: SnS. Or, as he is more commonly known: The Munch Man. So, whilst I now have a very real and personal interest in the quality of the 2011 vintage, it’s the 2010s that I’ll be tasting next week and about which I write now, along with a legion of others.
After 2005, the greatest vintage ever (and I maintain that they are better, on the whole, than the rather ripe 2009s), the wine trade, or some of it, was rather embarrassed to admit that there was something rather special in 2009. Mister Parker, whose scores on 2005s are in places confusingly low, rated the 2009s as some of the best wines he had tasted in his career, even adding a “*” to his scores: 98-100*, as in the case of 2009 Cos d’Estournel, indicating that this was potentially the greatest wine he had ever tasted from that property. After some deliberation the wine trade stopped blushing and realised that there was some money to be made and some wine to be sold. And, surely, an average vintage in 2010 would put those greedy Bordelais back into their boxes. And the 2009s, despite being very, very fully-priced, sold exceptionally well: UK wine merchants have had record years. But here we are with 2010 – a vintage that rather than being conveniently average to good – is a vintage that by some accounts makes 2009 look like a girl wearing a little too much make up, a little bit tarty.
I will be tasting these wines myself shortly. A flying visit as opposed to the full week on account of the Munch Man and his need to keep me up all night. I don’t kid myself that there are thousands hanging on my appraisal of the vintage (neither in pounds sterling nor population) but I will be able to speak with authority on the wines, and will report on my return. But what the wines taste like (at this stage at least) isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the miasma of hype, ambition, greed and debate that is already beginning to form.
There are three groups to watch here: the owners/management of the chateaux (I’ll refer to these guys as the Bordelais), the critics/writers (Jancis/Martin/Suckling/Atkin though n.b. not the great Big Bob) and the merchants. Big Bob, a deity, is above all this, which is partly the point. So:
These guys, or at least the major guys, may all well still be on a beach in the Caribbean following the astounding success (and eye-watering prices) of the 2009s. Indeed some might have thought of not coming back (it costs somewhere between 15 and 30 euros to make a bottle of classed-growth claret; if you make 30,000 bottles a year and you can sell them at 74 euros a pop….). The Bordelais have the very best type of headache: just how fully can they price their wines this time? A discount to the 2009s so as not to lose the traditional market? Ha, dream on. The same as 2009? Quite possibly, and this is where the conservative betting man would put his money. More than 2009? Again quite possibly, and this is where I would put mine. Like I say, not a bad headache when the larder is already full to bursting.
This is the bit I find most interesting. It doesn’t really matter, save to some of my clients, what I think of a wine. I am not going to be making the market for Lafite-Rothschild soon. Though, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter what any of the critics – apart from one – think either. Indeed it might matter less. No one is really going to be bothered if —— ——- thinks Pontet-Canet is over-done, Lynch too sweet or Mouton too flashy: the only opinion that counts here is Mr Parker’s.
Yet there is a bit of a bait going on. James Suckling has already published his scores; Michel Bettane has threatened (rather emptily, it would appear) to boycott the whole thing. Jancis has started a “when to publish?” debate on her forum. And the others are tweeting away. This actually has very little to do with the 2010 Bordeaux vintage (and which of these journalists are actually cask sample/Bordeaux specialists? Not all of them.), it’s more to do with self-promotion. The feeling that there is a significant gap in the market for a new Bordeaux/Fine Wine authority has been growing for a while… how long is Mr Parker going to carry on? And if you have a song to sing, then a winning Bordeaux vintage is the very best stage (Mr Parker made his name, his reputation, with the 1982s).
Erm, well this is sort of me so I need to be careful.
We sold 2005s because they were brilliant, 2006s because they were good. We skipped all but the best 2007s (and the best are really lovely). Robert Parker sold the 2008s single handedly: this would be another 2007 were it not for his seal of approval. And we sold 2009s because they were brilliant, if a little on the ripe side for the contrarian wine snob (me).
There are different types of merchants in the UK. There are many from whom you should not consider buying en-primeur at all. This is a very difficult business to make money in, and you want your merchant to be in business, and in a position to supply your 2010 clarets, when they are shipped to England in 2013.
Of the five or so merchants that you can buy en-primeur from with negligible worry, there are still differences. From a personal point of view I take pride in what I sell: I don’t sell wine that I don’t rate, and my choice of employer reflects that. A couple of others maybe see just the margin, just the market, which is fair enough. The level of knowledge on, and passion of, the subject varies widely (and you’d be surprised). But all, my employers included, will be blowing their trumpets and those of the vintage if these 2010s are what they are cracked up to be (and some even if they’re not). Some of us will be more selective than others in what we choose to sing about; the reasoning behind this may or may not have commercial motivation (it’s very hard not to like a wine that you have a 2,000 case position on, though it’s very hard to sell a wine you don’t like).
Ultimately, a bunch of grapes is a bunch of grapes is a bunch of grapes. 2010 Ch. Lynch-Bages/Pontet-Canet/Lafite/Mouton/Batailley etc, etc may well turn out to be the best wine they’ve ever made. They may well “achieve” their highest point score from Parker in their history. They may well be the most expensive Lynch-Bages, etc, ever. They may well divide the critics. Etc, etc. But it will still just be a bottle, or a case, or a glass of wine. Robert Parker, the Bordelais, the journos, even me: we may well change the journey of its ownership, and we may well influence (and some of us make our 10% on) the transactions of ownership of wines that will be produced. But, and this to me is what it is all about, these wines will not really have their moment, will not really sing their own tunes, for ten or twenty years. Until that bottle, magnum maybe, is opened and enjoyed – that is when the wine will sing. And most of the journos, save for Mr Robert M. Parker Junior, will be long forgotten.