The Chairman’s conclusions – Bordeaux 2013
Author: Simon Berry
Now that the craziness of en primeur week has finished, and my mouth, tongue and teeth are beginning to recover, it’s possible to look back on the last week and take stock.
Three things, above all, occur to me.
Firstly, we may never see a bad vintage again. The weather conditions in 2013 were truly dreadful: only a hot July and August bucked the trend. Ten months of the year, in other words, were not conducive to the growing of grapes – it would take some extreme form of divine vengeance to surpass that record.
Forty, 30 – perhaps even 20 years ago – the vintage would have been a write off. As recently as the 1980s, Berry Bros. & Rudd decided to by-pass an entire vintage, and nobody complained. But now times have certainly changed.
Some estates – anything between 20 and 50, depending on whose palates you trust – had the terroir, the technology, the money or the mastery to come up with wines which are truly worthy of their brands – and, with a bit of common sense prevailing, of their price bracket. They may require indulgent bank managers to perform this conjuring trick for a fourth year in a row, but I suspect that these estates squirreled away enough during the fat years to be able to survive the lean.
Paul Pontallier of Ch. Margaux is an honourable man, as well as (without doubt) the person responsible for the renaissance of the wines from that château since the early eighties. He writes in the estate’s introduction to the vintage: “Ch. Margaux 2013 cannot claim to be a great vintage… But we are immensely privileged to have produced it at the beginning of the 21st century when all the care and attention, all the sacrifices, are possible.” In many ways, he’s absolutely right.
We visited 40 different châteaux and three different négociants over four days, tasted 231 different wines – in many cases more than once. Among those 231 there are many I would not recommend, but only a handful I would actively dissuade anyone from buying. All of the rest, assuming the price is reasonable, will give people pleasure to drink over the next five or even 10 years. That’s a new paradigm. And certainly not the disaster some commentators predicted (and in some instants continue to preach). That’s lazy journalism: simplification for the sake of a good story.
Secondly, if this Brave New World is a reality, we are going to have to reassess the way we buy Bordeaux. There will be no more highs and lows, peaks and troughs, triumphs and disasters – now we will have great years, and perfectly decent years. Three of my favourite wines of the vintage, Ch. Margaux, Pichon-Lalande and Vieux Chateau Certan, have produced very atypical wines from their usual styles, although still bearing the hallmarks of their “brands”. Special editions, if you will. Certainly variations on a theme. So perhaps we should treat Bordeaux like we treat our music: looking out for the latest release from our favourite artist, and buying it expecting to be surprised at their development, or a new interpretation. We could use painting as an analogy, or a favourite actor if you prefer. But the concept of sticking to a group of your favourite châteaux, buying a case or so from each vintage and watching their development over the years is not such a strange one. These winemakers are, after all, artists in their own right, not just manufacturers of fermented grape-juice.
Thirdly: where had all the tasters gone? In a tricky vintage, it’s even more vital to go and taste the wines for yourself, and the seven of us last week and another seven next week will be there from Berry Bros. & Rudd. But Bordeaux seemed emptier this year than we had ever known it. It seemed that many of our competition decided to sit it out this year. No doubt they’ll be back “when budgets allow” – or when there’s another great vintage. But that’s not being a real wine merchant in my book. In the great years, it’s easy. In the challenging vintages you, the customer, need to be able to speak to someone who’s actually been to see (and taste) for themselves.
PS In case any of the above has elicited the Mandy Rice-Davies reaction (“He would say that, wouldn’t he…”) I would urge you to come along to our July tasting, of our favourite picks from the vintage, together with many of the winemakers involved. Talk to them, taste their 2013s, and judge for yourselves. I think you’ll be agreeably surprised.
We will be updating our website today as the châteaux begin to release their prices in earnest. Go to bbr.com for the most up-to-date information.
The problem is prices, prices, prices.
Take ‘Tertre’ 13, a ‘bargain’ at £198 per case in bond, i.e. roughly £22 per bottle after delivery (without adding anything for storage)
For this, from BBR yourselves, you could get Meerlust Rubicon 2008: aged Bordeaux blend, one of the top wines in South Africa, from a good vintage, or some serious Cab Sauv from Margaret River or Chile. Absolutely top drawer wines.
For sure, it’s interesting drinking the same chateau in different vintages to compare, but it’s not as interesting as touring round the world at the equivalent price point.
If the 2013s were ever to go to £15 a bottle, then they would fly off the shelves
It’s the perceived ‘fair’ price that’s killing it, because the chateaux compare against their own prices in big years, rather than the prices of their competitors around the world.
I quite agree with Robert Stanier’s comment. With regard to the article, I must say that what it is in value is the fact that Bordeaux chateaux seem to be the best oenologists in the world to make decent wines from a dreadful vintage. At this point, where is the “natural winemaking so highly appreciated in Bordeaux wines? I know that there are many factors to take into account before deciding to jump a vintage, but I’ve got the impression that making wines this year may have made me reconsider whether Bordeaux wines have been overvalued for a long time …
I found the Chairman’s review of the 2013
vintage, informative and refreshing……
it made a change from being told how everything tastes of cassis, plums and a
hint of chocolate !!…..Well done Simon,
you’ve got the job !!
I think that BBR is in a difficult position what with an earlier surplus to be shifted in the market, a bad year (let’s call it what it is) and producers being unrealistic in their pricing. On top of this BBR of course has to protect its relationships and future quotas. Unfortunately it also needs to protect its reputation and this article does not help. BBR needs to stand up and be counted in the honesty department: talking about a “New Interpretation” is laughable and puts 315 years of reputation at risk. For Simon’s sake let’s hope that not too many people see this article.
Many thanks for taking the time to read and, indeed, comment on my conclusions. I completely agree with Mr Stanier and Mr Sanchez that prices are crucial. I posted the article before any of the chateaux – with the dramatic exception of Pontet Canet – had released. A fortnight on, and we know the prices of 150 properties. Some have taken the advice of the trade, considered the market and reduced their prices. Many haven’t. It’s now up to the customers to make up their mind, and buy (or not) as they think fit.
I must, however, take issue with Mr Galava. Berry Bros & Rudd’s ‘315 years of reputation’ have been based on what he calls ‘the honesty department’ – in other words, in this instance, going to Bordeaux, tasting the wines, talking to the producers, and ‘calling it like it is’. Were you in Bordeaux, Mr Galava? Have you tasted the wines, I wonder, before writing off the entire 2013 as ‘a bad year’? Furthermore a Margaux with no Merlot in the assemblage, a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Pichon Lalande and a VCC with less than 20% Cabernet Franc are certainly ‘new interpretations’ as far as I’m concerned.
I finished my blog with an invitation to come to our tasting of the 2013s on the 10th July (click here for more), and I would encourage you all to do so. I look forward to carrying on these discussions further!
Simon Berry, Chairman, Berry Bros. & Rudd
Simon – I am surprised that my sincere comments should illicit such a tart response. Regarding your question, no I have not been to taste the wines in Bordeaux. You are the wine merchant therefore it is your job to go and taste the wines. I am the customer and will therefore reference market reports (including yours) before deciding to invest or not to invest. Here is an example of a market report, it comes from Tim Atkin MW who is not alone in his view : “The market doesn’t want or need 2013 Bordeaux. Very few of the wines will be great, however much selection is carried out. And, even if they are, no one in their right mind should buy them en primeur “.
Here is what you say above “So perhaps we should treat Bordeaux like we treat our music: looking out for the latest release from our favourite artist, and buying it expecting to be surprised at their development, or a new interpretation.”
Can you see that you may have a credibility issue with this line? Certainly one of you has.
Dear Mr Galava,
Forgive me if my comments came across as tart: we do welcome all contributions, debate and feedback, but, having been accused of dishonesty and risking my company’s reputation, I am entitled to defend myself. It’s very easy to take a quote out of context – especially with a vintage such as 2013. In the interests of balance, here are a few other voices to add to the debate:
“Margaux has made a 99% Cabernet and Pichon Longueville Comtesse has made a wine with no Merlot. That’s never happened before, so basically the whole thing is a kind of revisiting of what we used to know in a completely interesting and different way.” – Steven Spurrier.
“Even before I arrived in Bordeaux, the vintage was being written off…. What I found was something very different: wines that were not just pleasant, but balanced and elegant… It is vintages like 2013 that allow you to see and taste the terroir more clearly, which partly explains why chateaux with great site conditions did so well.” – Jeannie Cho Lee MW.
“If you have the money, the manpower and the technology, you can always produce something decent in Bordeaux, even in years like 2013. ‘Bad vintages don’t really exist anymore,’ says Alain Vauthier of Château Ausone, “because of the means we have at our disposal. Years like 1974 and 1980 would have been much better if we had been as selective then as we are now.’” That’s Tim Atkin MW – taken from the same article as your quote. Written, incidentally, in February – before Tim had tasted any of the wines. He and I had dinner together during en primeur week, and I recommend that you wait for his complete vintage report (soon to be available on his excellent website, timatkin.com) before recruiting him to support your ‘2013 is a bad vintage’ opinion.
I think that you and I differ in that you seem to look at wine as an investment, whereas I look at it (call me old-fashioned) as a drink. Are 2013s a good investment? Of course they’re not. I don’t think that anyone is arguing that they are, least of all me. Will some of them be interesting to drink? Absolutely.
Once again, I commend our Bordeaux 2013 tasting to you as an excellent opportunity to form your own opinions of the vintage.
With regard to the 2013 vintage it seems that the technology was, indeed, of the essence. I understand that there are now over 1000 centrifuges available in Bordeaux to concentrate a poor vintage. After acid reduction and sugar addition of course it is possible to produce something that can pass muster. But to market the result at full price…well that is another matter. To be fully honest I think Simon might give readers an honest appraisal of what actually did go on during the wine making process of 2013 because, in most cases, it really was not just a case of altering the varietal grape blends.