Forget about buying Bordeaux 2013 en primeur, says Decanter consultant editor Steven Spurrier, but our experts say there will still be plenty of wines to enjoy in this ‘drinking vintage’ - with Sauternes and dry whites scoring well alongside strong individual performances from the reds.
The 2013 en primeur week has seen 20% non-French buyers coming to Bordeaux, compared to 24% in 2012 and 30% in 2011. Overall, the number of tasting badges issued by Unions des Grands Crus (UGC) was down 10% from last year.
China-based buyers were the most active in the 2009 and 2010 campaigns, and still sent large teams over in the 2011 and 2012 campaigns. This year, however, their presence is much more low-key.
‘We are not surprised,’ Arnaud de la Forcade at Cheval Blanc told Decanter.com. ‘There have been plenty of warnings that their interest in en primeur is waning, and the nature of the Chinese market has changed for many Bordeaux estates.’
Jean-Christophe Mau, of Yvon Mau négociants, reported that, while China represented 50% of sales for the 2010 vintage, he expected it to be closer to 10% in this vintage.
John Watkins of ASC is missing the main week itself, but will be in Bordeaux from this weekend – arriving from Burgundy.
‘The latest China customs import data shows a significant year-over-year drop in imports with French wines particularly hard hit (down 31%),’ he told Decanter.com.
'The well-documented government policy factors in to this, as well as channel destocking. [My guess is that] the drop in buyers at en primeur is due to a drop in demand and the need to sell down existing inventories. But as in previous en primeur campaigns, as long as the pricing level is reasonable, ASC plans to buy both for our customers as well as our own strategic stock’. Other Asia-based buyers are also willing to purchase at the right price.
Kenneth Ren, of Vintasia in Hong Kong, said that Bordeaux still represents 90% of sales by volume, and 80% by value. ‘I bought €2 million of wine in 2010, €400,000 2011 and €500,000 2012. This year the volumes I buy are dependent on price. I still have stock left of the last three vintages, including 2010. Of the past two years, 2012 sold better than 2011; I have only 50% of stock left of the 2012, whereas the 2011 has nearly not moved at all.’
Ren commented that this year the Hong Kong and Chinese buyers that he has seen are only here if they have a specific reason to be in Bordeaux. ‘There is none of the fun factor that there has been in recent campaigns, when buyers come for the experience’.
Three chateaux representatives in Asia – Thibault Pontallier of Chateau Margaux, Rufus Beazley of Chateau Latour and Adrien Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier – all reiterated that Chinese government curbs on officials’ entertainment budgets have had a big effect.
‘The government’s new policy has been very successful,’ said Bernard, ‘but this will be a good thing in the long run. The market is stabilising, and we are now speaking to the real drinkers’.
‘We didn’t hold tastings in China of the older vintages that we have put on the market,’ Beazley told Decanter.com, ‘as we expected that more Chinese buyers would be coming to Latour, but numbers are certainly down.’
The poll is also very much an American tale, with California providing the entire top 10 and American wines taking up the top 18 places.
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Georgia’s wine industry has taken some rough blows. Phylloxera struck in the late 19th century, and in the 20th century, Soviet winemaking mandates encouraged quantity above quality. Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign in the late 1980s obliterated a great deal of vineyard area (though, as Jancis Robinson notes inThe Oxford Companion to Wine, mainly state vineyards suffered as “no Georgian farmer would be willing to pull out his own vines”). In 2006, Russia imposed an embargo on Georgian agricultural products, including wine. Russia’s chief health inspector, Gennady Onishchenko, claimed they were contaminated with heavy metals and pesticides. Until the embargo, Russia purchased roughly more than 80% of Georgia’s wine production.
The embargo may have proved a blessing in disguise. [Read on… ]
Michael Evans went on holiday to Argentina’s predominate wine region, Mendoza, intending to stay for a few months. He’d always dreamt of owning a vineyard, but it seemed “financially impossible.”
But when he was introduced to local winemaker Pablo Gimenez Rilli, the prospect of owning a few vines began to seem, well, entirely possible. Evans, who once served on the John Kerry presidential campaign in the US, never left.
“Cabernet sauvignon has always been considered classier than malbec,” said Alejandro Vigil, the head winemaker at Bodegas Catena Zapata, a top Argentine producer based in a stunning Aztec-style winery in Mendoza with the high Andes in the background. “It’s more noble, has more prestige and is more expensive.”
For many winemakers like him, cabernet sauvignon is the holy grail. Caro, a malbec-cabernet blend made in a collaboration between Bodegas Catena Zapata and Baron Eric de Rothschild of Château Lafite Rothschild, is one example of an Argentine Bordeaux-style wine. Another is Cheval des Andes, the fruit of the union of Terrazas de los Andes, another major name in Argentina, with Château Cheval Blanc, a premier grand cru wine from Saint-Émilion. These Argentine Bordeaux blends deliver the tannins, dark fruit and structure typical of fine cabernet sauvignon, along with malbec’s intensity, velvet texture and reliability
A Chinese billionaire sealed the biggest deal ever made on a Bordeaux wine estate on Thursday, but the celebrations turned to tragedy after a helicopter carrying the former proprietor and the new owner crashed into the Dordogne river.
A press conference was held on Friday to announce details of the sale of the 65-hectare Fronsac property, Château de la Rivière, followed later by a sumptuous dinner. James Gregoire, the former owner and a helicopter pilot, then decided to take 46-year-old Lam Kok, president of a Hong Kong-based company, Brilliant, on a helicopter flight above the property and the surrounding area.
Kok’s 12-year old son and an interpreter joined the pair, but Kok’s wife decided not to take the flight at the last minute, telling an AFP photographer that she had been “scared of the helicopter.”
According to Kok’s wife, Gregoire had been thorough in his safety checks. However, around 20 minutes after takeoff the helicopter had not returned from what should have been a “simple tour” and the fire service was called. A rescue helicopter surveyed the area looking for signs of the aircraft to no avail. A second police helicopter was called in as night fell but still there was no sign of the missing craft and its four occupants.
Finally, a member of the public called the police, reporting that the helicopter had fallen into the waters of the Dordogne river. Divers searched the river while 100 police and firefighters scoured the banks.
Late on Friday night the wreck of the helicopter was found and one body was pulled from the river. The recovery operation was then suspended until Saturday morning at first light.
In a bizarre twist of fate, an earlier owner of Château de la Rivière, Jean Leprince, died in a plane crash in 2002, shortly after takeoff from a nearby aerodrome. Following Leprince’s untimely death, Gregoire purchased the property the following year.
The most valuable Chinese purchase
The sale of Château de La Rivière represented “China’s largest investment to date in terms of value” in Bordeaux, the estate’s managing director, Xavier Buffo, told the press conference at lunchtime on Friday.
The ambition of the new owners, he said, was “to continue to raise the quality of wines” and “create a hotbed of cultural exchanges around tea and wine.”
Brilliant specializes in prestigious Pu’er teas from the Chinese province of Yunnan. “This is the realization of a coming together of Pu’er teas and the excellent wines of Bordeaux,” the mayor of Libourne, Philippe Buisson, announced.
The Brilliant group owns four Relais et Châteaux hotels in China, including a lodge in the middle of a Pu’er tea plantation. It wanted to establish “a counterpart in the Libourne,” the mayor said.
The auction on Saturday 9 November realised over US$2 million and saw the majority of its top-selling lots go to US buyers.
Some 58% of buyers came from the US, Canada and Mexico, while a further 9% came from Brazil in a faint confirmation of where experts have long said the next wave of fine wine buyers will emerge from.
US private buyers snapped up the two top lots, assorted cases of 1990 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti for US$49,000 apiece, while other another buyer picked up another assorted case of the 1985 for $45,937 and a trade buyer scooped a case of 1982 Lafite for $42,875.
Duncan Sterling, Head of New York Wine Auctions at Sotheby’s said: “Our November auction heralded the return of the American market with North and South America accounting for 14 out of the top 20 buyers including the top buyer of the sale. Online bidding was also important, buying 24% of the lots.
“We now look ahead to our 7 December single owner sale of ‘A Superb Private Cellar Featuring the Great Domaines of Burgundy’.”
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Cheers! Airlines strive to select perfect wines
Three times a year, James Cluer, one of about 300 masters of wine in the world, flies to Frankfurt from Napa Valley for a blind tasting of as many as 100 wines.
Over three days, he and other wine experts drink and debate and eventually narrow the list down to three wines. “Sometimes it’s surprising who wins,” he says. “It’s not always the big brand name that comes up on top, but it’s the quality.”
Those wines eventually end up on Qatar Airways flights, where first and business class passengers have a choice of as many as 12 wines and economy class passengers can choose from five.
At a time when airlines are complaining of high jet fuel prices and charging for any service, there’s one amenity they won’t cut back on: wine. Airlines across the world buy millions of gallons of wine each year and hire sommeliers and masters of wine to craft elaborate menus.
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The Optical Sorter requires no labour to sort through bunches of grapes and weed out the unwanted lot.