Big Bob and the Coronation of the 2009 Bordeaux vintage

I’ve done this the old way.  Not quite before email but before erobertparker, before information travelled quite as quickly as it does now.  As I started this off last night I was logged into, awaiting the publishing of his review of the 2009 vintage.  I expected his site to crash at 18.00 EST, 23.00 over here (which it didn’t), and I already knew some of the scores, but it’s part of the fun.

In the old days we’d be waiting by the fax machine.  Favours called in: a leak to a chateau leaked to a negociant leaked to a merchant leaked back and forth a few times: the canny eye would look not to the scores but to the half-erased fax numbers at the top of the document.  These days it’s all electronic and much, much quicker.

At this stage, with just a few wines on the market, there is little advantage to knowing the scores before the competition (the older generation of the UK wine trade know just which rather oleaginous broker sold which rather attractive broker the parcel of 1998 Vieux Chateau Certan when he knew the 92 Parker score and she didn’t) but we are all still desperate to know the deal.   Customers too: though again, with nothing much available, there aren’t any bleary eyed buyers at their desks at eleven o’clock scouring the net for under-priced and over-marked wines.

This was quite different last year: wines were available for sale when Mr Parker released his surprisingly positive review of the 2008 vintage.  The cleverer merchants took a few wines off their websites for the night, and the really clever ones were buying themselves.  2008s were very, very hard to sell before they received the Bob-approved stamp, a stamp that many who have actually tasted the wines might still question.

The verdict on 2009 is that he likes them, and likes them very much.  The first line from his review reads: “First, and most importantly, for some Médocs and Graves, 2009 may turn out to be the finest vintage I have tasted in 32 years of covering Bordeaux”.

I’ll translate this first line in three different languages, languages that can sometimes share meaning, sometimes not: in “Chateau” this says: “Bingo”.  In “Merchant” this means “Bingo”.  In “Customer”, this says “Oh God, these are going to be pricey”.  And pricey they will be.  The owners of Ch. Leoville-Poyferre will be very happy with their 97-100 points.  Merchants with good positions on Leoville-Poyferre will be happy too.  Followers of Leoville-Poyferre (those that just like how it tastes) will be checking their bank statements, wondering how much they might get for the dog, and being very, very nice to their partners…

There is much anti-Parker sentiment in the UK wine trade, and some in the UK wine press.  He’s criticised for his “simple” palate, for his propensity to seduction by fruit, concentration, the sheer size of a wine.  We get pissed off when a wine that “we” think is overdone, over-extracted and over-made gets 97 points, and is therefore worth a thousand quid a case.

But none of this is the point.  What continues to both amaze and depress me is the power of this man.  A man who can say: “this tastes good” about something and move its price.  Likewise “this tastes bad”.  It’s incredible.

Some of my clients have compared this to stock-pickers: to Warren Buffett or George Soros, but the only comparison here is the ability to move markets.  To move a market for a stock, a share, a currency is one thing.  It’s about one’s record for doing this correctly (and I have to admit Mr Parker’s record for this), but shares, currency, finance: the profit or loss is tangible, it’s black and white.  But wine?  Taste?  I like this so it’s good?

I’d bet than 2009 Ch. Leoville-Poyferre will now be at least 20% more expensive than it would have been with its 97-100 score (against a notionally expected 94-96+).  The quality of this wine is no different to what it was yesterday, but it’s changed nonetheless.  2009 Cos d’Estournel (98-100*, the “*” meaning that it’s the best young Cos Mr Parker has ever tasted), perhaps the most controversial wine of the vintage, is now a diamond instead of a dog, a cash cow instead of a liability.  Because Bob likes it, not because the wine has changed.  This man can change your lottery numbers (or those of the chateaux) AFTER you’ve bought the ticket, or at least after the numbers have been drawn.