Sunday, May 09, 2010

2009 Bordeaux Barrel Sample, ala En Primeur

This week I was lucky enough to receive a generous donation of a barrel sample from the much heralded 2009 vintage in Bordeaux. If you do not follow wine as closely as me, and there is a good chance that is true, you may not have heard but 2009 is being touted as one of the best vintages in Bordeaux history. I believe 2009 to be, from what I have read, a vintage that will be known as the first great modern Bordeaux vintage, possibly bringing together some of the best aspects of the greatest known vintages of the past like '61, '82, and '00 (arguably the best 3 to date, well maybe ’00 is arguable) in a more forward, modern style. 2009 has bridged the palates of the Americans and the British who typically disagree on anything Claret related, and have coaxed the newly rich Chinese to buy in volume from the futures campaign (or so merchants are predicting). Is this all propaganda to keep the Bordeaux hype machine going as it has suffered from three recent average to weak vintages since the last great vintage of 2005? 2008 did end up being a decent vintage, but it will suffer because it will precede the now expected great 2009 vintage. This is however great news for buyers that are also drinkers and not just investors in these liquid assets. I will describe below what goes on and what happens in a futures campaign in Bordeaux and here in the US as a consumer. But for now, let’s get into the wine and learn a little about what a barrel sample is like and what to expect.

First, I have to say thank you to Chris over at the great wine video blog "Pardon that Vine". If you have not found your way to "the World's Most Unbiased Wine Forum" you should do so and become a fan here via Facebook. Chris is also a fellow Hoboken-ite and I am very happy to have a fellow wine aficionado in town to share experiences like this.

I have had many barrel samples in the past, but they have all been from Napa Valley or Sonoma wineries. In most cases the samples tasted mostly like grapey, fruity, dark concentrated juice with a twist of bitterness from the acidity and alcohol. For me they offered no clue into what one could expect 3 years later (though the Paul Hobbs and Carlisle barrel samples were awesome). Barrel tasting, I feel, is an art and few are really good at it. Recently I have been reading a lot of tasting notes on the '09 Bordeaux barrel tastings and have gathered that most of the wines from 2009 were ripe and showing generous character, especially fruit. Speaking to Chris who did this extensively during the recent 2009 En Primeur week, he said don't pay too much attention to the nose, as the wine is not mature enough to kick real aromas that will tell you much about the wine. He also said to not sweat so much of the flavor precisions but look for texture. I also feel from what I read that composition and fruit will be things to look for on the palates of these young wines. I thought about tasting young wines in barrel in this manner: think about how something like a house or apartment building may look as it is being built. The components and parts may not be completely put together, but from what you see in construction, but with some vision and foresight you can see that it may have all of the makings of a great finished product. Try to imagine a house partially built. The property lines are drawn, the blue prints have been scripted, the frames and floors are up with most of the walls in place. If you have the right vision and experience, you can tell what will be the difference between a great house and an exceptional one 2-3 years later after the house has been moved into, landscaped, painted, and furnished (with a wine cellar ideally).

The Barrel Sample
Chateau Vieux Taillefer
$20-40 (based on 2006 prices)

Day 1

At first by habit I of course swirl and sniff the wine and get bitter, tight tannic and acidic smells. It was not pleasing at all but remember the nose is not that important. The color was dark and rich, very clean for a young, recently vinified wine. The palate was tight, exhibiting solid tannins and acidity. The nicest thing I took from it were the flavors and palate aromas of purple flowers and violets. Besides that some black fruits were peeking through on the palate. The oak was apparent as well, kind of the big sticking point and the most apparent part not in balance.

Day 3 (gas sealed)

The nose has gained complexity, but still is not telling me much besides the oak the wine has been in since October. The palate seemed to have gained a lot of weight. More texture was also coming across on the mid-palate. Maybe the air and time has hyper-matured this from a palate perspective by being open a few days? Either way it did well by the wine to be open a few days. More structure with deeper complexity came through on the palate. Deeper flavors of purple flowers, blackberries, and some minerality were apparent. The oak still seemed like it needed more time to integrate.

A few things about Bordeaux wine futures

Bordeaux wine futures are offered in waves or tiers, usually within 2 years or as few as a few months in advance of the wine finally being sold in bottle. The first wave is typically priced by the end of the first June after a vintage year; June 2010 in the case of the 2009 Bordeaux vintage. Then as successive waves of wines are released, the price ticks up until the wine is released in bottle, typically 3 years after the vintage date. So if you buy 2009 Bordeaux in June 2010, you will not likely get your wine until the fall of 2012, more than two years later. With currencies in flux, and the Euro seeming to have issues daily with possible bankrupt currencies (Greece, Portugal, Spain), this could play better into the hands of the Americans and Chinese when the time comes to buy, but really the merchants are the ones that really need concern themselves so much with the currency fluctuations. A Chateau typically sells to a negociant, who then sells to an importer who then sells to a distributor, and then a retailer in the US. So as a consumer, you have to deal with at least 3-4 layers of pricing: Chateau, negociant, importer, retailer. There are instances where the importer is also the retailer, or the Chateau does not use a negociant, reducing the layers to 3. No wonder Bordeaux prices can get so inflated, everyone takes their piece along the way to the consumer! The wines however are great though, so don't let pricing get too much in the way if you really want to try and discover this exceptional wine region. Bordeaux wine can be found in good quality for as low as $10 and many for under $30.


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