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28/05/2020

Bordeaux En Primeur 2019 - Vintage Report

by Giles Cooper

 

We love a good Bordeaux En Primeur campaign at BI. We love the process of watching the growing season unfold, tasting the wines, and waiting to see whether the Chateaux have their finger on the pulse as regards pricing… This year, we will have a campaign like no other.

 

 

The running joke prior to the release of each new Bordeaux vintage is that it will be ‘the vintage of the century’. This will certainly be true of 2019 – but for once it has absolutely nothing to do with the wines. Nobody in the fine wine trade will ever forget 2020, for good or ill, and the news that there will be an En Primeur campaign to release the 2019 wines should be of no surprise to anyone: everything is the same, and yet, nothing is the same. However, history tells us that vintages released, if not produced, in extreme conditions can be extremely good news for the consumer. The question is: will history repeat itself?

 

In a typical year, by this stage we would be almost 2 months on from the tastings in Bordeaux, having built up an extensive understanding of the vintage from talking with winemakers, journalists, our peers in the trade, and of course having tasted our way through several hundred samples. As of yet, none of us – bar Sales Director David Thomas who helped to make one of the most famous of them – has tasted a single wine from 2019. This will change in the coming days as we begin to receive samples and extend our dialogue with the various Chateaux. So what can we possibly tell you now?

 

The Vintage

 

  • 2019 was a vintage of ‘events’, albeit none of which caused any dramatic impact to volume or quality (i.e. mildew in 2018, frost in 2017, both of which reduced yields significantly). Yields in the key appellations are generally above 2018 and in most cases above the 2014-2016 average.
  • A warm winter, with early bud burst, was followed by a cold spell during April and May which included scattered minor frost impacts in both April and May. 
  • Flowering took place in warm but sometimes wet conditions, although by the end of June the rain (and occasional hail) eased off until late July. By this point the rain was very welcome as temperatures had been extremely high and some vines in poorer soils were in real need of refreshment. Overall, rain in 2019 was down 25% on average.
  • From here on in it was pretty plain sailing and even the little rain that fell in September was welcome as it added a little refreshment and dilution to fruit that was very concentrated and high in potential alcohol. 
  • What these various conditions suggest – and we do not use the word lightly; remember we’ve not tasted them yet – are ‘warm year’ wines which balance good acidity with rich, ripe flavours and deep colour. We are also assured by those who have tasted many wines that there is a refreshingly classical element to the wines too, a freshness of acidity which brings a sense of lightness and elegance. In some cases alcohol management will have been the biggest challenge, and the precise structure in terms of tannin style (so much more important than a mere number) is yet to be fully understood. We will know more when we taste.

 

Why should you be interested?

 

  • Well, it’s Bordeaux. Most of us absolutely love it and every time you meet someone who thinks they are ‘over’ it, you open a bottle that thrills and beguiles them. It’s the ultimate collectors’ wine, and the ultimate drinkers’ wine; and every vintage is something to be explored and considered over many years.
  • The vintage conditions suggest that the wines will be very good indeed – some reaching excellent levels – and we hope to confirm this in the coming week or two.
  • The critics who have spoken thus far have been mightily positive: “The wines I tasted so far are very familiar and Bordeaux-like. The sleek tannins and pure fruit character are what I expect in Bordeaux… They are all just really good quality wines and some are fantastic.” (James Suckling) “My own tastings to date have shown that the best terroirs have given wines that equal the very best vintages” (Jane Anson, Decanter)
  • There is a chance the prices will be good – and a chance they will be great. Whilst we know better from our years of trading that one can never second-guess the Chateaux, there are precedents even in recent history: 2008, released at the first peak of the economic crisis, was incredibly well priced with good quality wines; more recently, 2014, of comparable quality to 2008, was released in the first flush of the modern post-economic crisis recovery – also at very sensible prices.

 

What should you do next?

 

At point of writing, the campaign has just lurched into early life with the release of Pontet Canet, at a price some 30% below the 2018 release. If the other major players in the campaign follow suit then it could be a fascinating few weeks.

 

Rather than second guessing the campaign with a pre-order system we will simply be offering each wine that excites us as and when it comes out. We will also keep our blog updated with events related to the campaign and will add scores and information from critics as and when they are made available.

 

 

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