Bordeaux 2015: from the barrel
Author: Simon Staples
New moleskin notebook? Check. Thesaurus with highlighted alternatives to the word “blackcurranty”? (Don’t bother looking, there aren’t any, I just checked.) No white shirts, tan chinos or ties (spittoon pile-ups often cause irreparable wardrobe meltdown)? Check. Constitution of a voracious velociraptor? Closer to that of a hungry hamster, but let’s get this party started anyway.
The first year I tried wines from barrel in Bordeaux was 1991. Not a particularly auspicious start and I have to fully admit that all the “guff” I was hearing from “seasoned tasters” made the whole experience seem like The Emperor’s New Clothes. Back then you were tasting from a few barrels of a château’s Merlots, then a few Cabernets and – if you were really unlucky – from their dense-as-a-black-hole, but not as pretty, Petit Verdot barrel. In serious and hushed tones I heard the old pros bumble on: “tannins like a teabag that’s stewed for a week”; “acidity that screams at you like an unripe lime”; “alcohol levels that would make Cooter’s Kentuckian Moonshine blush” and “absolutely no fruit whatsoever… bloody lovely, just like the 1925s at this stage!”
I exaggerate a smidge, but I couldn’t get my head or palate around these stark, unblended, unfinished wines. I couldn’t for years. It wasn’t until the 1996s that I thought I was onto something. I got it. It was all about those four component parts (tannin, fruit, alcohol and acidity) coming together seamlessly and sublimely; having the practice and ability to see how a wine should or would evolve, and now actually having the ability to look back at wines that I tasted years ago and seeing if I got it right. It’s so much easier now as virtually all properties show you the finished product, and the fact that Bordeaux is so much better.
As an example, I drank my first bottle of 2005 Domaine de Chevalier red last week in Tokyo, just to see what was going on with its evolution, having bought bottles, magnums and double magnums en primeur because I loved it. How was it? Like the perfect lunch at The Waterside Inn at Bray with Salma Hayek. Elegant, sophisticated and dreamlike. Utterly beguiling.
If the 2015s are as good as 2005 (or 2010) and at the right price, sell the family silver, a non-vital organ or two and your least favourite relative to fill your boots with it. I have a sense we may be on the eve of something very exciting and I for one can’t wait to try the wines. Oh and please, please, if you see headlines of “Bordeaux gets its prices wrong AGAIN” etc (which we will), do bear in mind it’s only a handful of properties who will mess this bit up (and we already know who those little tinkers are going to be). But, if this is as good as we hope, there will be 100-plus properties that will be great value. Please ask us for tips.
Read more about Bordeaux 2015 here.
But it’s not necessarily about the wines: it’s about whether to buy them NOW (ie using en primeur) rather than at a later date.
Even take Domaine de Chevalier that you’ve quoted.
On your very own BBX as I write, I can now have a case of 12 dinners with Salma Hayek in the UK’s finest restaurant for £600. That’s after someone else has bought it and stored it for me at c.£120 per ten years. i.e. I can sit back, wait for ten years, track how the wine has been developing (in this case, obviously very well) and then decide to make the purchase if I like.
I can get the 2009 for £500 (including five years or £60 worth of storage there) and the lesser 2011 ( though it was some people’s ‘wine of the vintage’ that year) for £360.
So to be a better buy than 2005 or 2009, it would seem to me that a. the wine must be fantastic and b. the wine must be priced en primeur at under £400 a case of 12. Maybe both the above will apply, but I won’t hold my breath.
The point of en primeur is not that this is the only time to buy Bordeaux, but that one is buying at the most advantageous time.
Buying en primeur has been wise in 2005 possibly (before my time), and certainly 2008, but not in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014.
And BBX and other places highlight that Bordeaux (unlike Burgundy) does hang around: it’s just whether the price point is better or worse.
“A handful of properties” may get it wrong? Really.
It’s not that most of us are anti-Bordeaux. Most of us love it, on days when we can afford it.
It’s that the en primeur system, which is brilliant for excitement and everything else, has been financially a mistake for the consumer for 8 out of the last 10 years.
If a wine is great, then even expensive wine can be ‘great value’, but it’s never great value if you buy it en primeur only to find that it would have been cheaper to buy that same great wine ten years later.
So Domaine de Chevalier finally came out, at £460.