I always consider each Bordeaux futures tasting, or en primeur campaign, to be a race among the first-growths. It’s fascinating to see which of the five first-growth châteaus come out on top in my tastings: Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild or Lafite Rothschild.
Each year also features a race in pricing among the first-growths. Over the past few years, it’s been a case of who can charge the highest price. Latour has been the recent winner in that category. But those days are gone for now. And the first-growths are going to come down in price with their 2008s. They have to. Nobody knows yet how much the châteaus will reduce their prices, but I hope the prices would be close to 100 euros, or slightly less, to the trade in Bordeaux. That would put futures prices for the U.S. consumer at about $200 per bottle or just below. That would be pretty cool. I think some people would buy, especially those wine lovers who have been priced out of the first-growth world in recent years.
But who knows? I didn’t hear U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy talking about first-growth prices at the G20 meeting!
Nonetheless, at lunch today, I spoke with Frédéric Engerer, the president of Château Latour, and he said that the owner of that first-growth, fashion magnate Francois Pinault, told him that they had to be “pragmatic” about their prices this year. Essentially, what made sense a few months ago no longer does. He said, “We have to think about now and the future.”
If I were buying 2008 first-growths en primeur, I would put my money on Haut-Brion, followed by Latour, Mouton, Lafite and Margaux. Haut-Brion is the most powerful 2008 I have tasted yet. It reminds me of the outstanding 2001, which I still think (believe it or not!) is better than the 2000 Haut-Brion.
Jean-Philippe Delmas, the winemaker and manager of Haut-Brion, made the most severe selection of all the first-growths for his Haut-Brion grand vin. Only 35 percent of the production went into the top label. Usually it is around 50 to 55 percent. They worked liked slaves in the vineyards to balance the vines and produce the best grapes.
I found the wine to be very complex with black licorice, sweet tobacco, blackberry and earth aromas that follow through to a full body, with loads of big, juicy tannins and lots of bright fruit and mushroom, earthy and decadent fruit flavors on the finish. It was long and rich.
For the top wines in Bordeaux, I still think that 2008 will end up being considered along the lines of 2006 or 2001 in quality, depending on the success of a given winery. It is certainly not a classic vintage such as 2005, 2003, and 2000. But it is certainly an excellent one.
“The game was to keep the fruit under the tannins,” said Engerer at Latour. “The wines have a lot of tannins so you need a lot of fruit to balance it.”
Lafite's technical director, Charles Chevallier, was on the same page. “We knew that the grapes were ripe and they were clean,” he said. “But we didn’t know that they had such fruit. They seemed a bit flat at first. But at the end of the fermentation, I noticed the wines really were good. It was an excellent surprise.”
Read my complete 2008 Bordeaux barrel tasting package for all my scores and full tasting notes.
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — April 3, 2009 2:56pm ET
Richard Scholtz — Austin, TX — April 3, 2009 3:38pm ET
James Suckling — — April 3, 2009 6:05pm ET
Lorenzo Erlic — victoria canada — April 3, 2009 8:02pm ET
Jeffrey Alle Cassetta — Ada, MI — April 3, 2009 10:22pm ET
Joseph Romualdi — Canada — April 3, 2009 11:07pm ET
Johnny Espinoza Esquivel — April 4, 2009 11:30am ET
John Lin — TW — April 4, 2009 2:54pm ET
Miguel Lecuona — Austin, TX — April 5, 2009 7:38am ET
Robert Israel — NY, New York — April 5, 2009 11:05am ET
Bernard Mclaughlin — Chicag,Il — April 5, 2009 11:14am ET
Kim Langeskov Jorgensen — Denmark — April 5, 2009 12:38pm ET
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