I tasted slightly more than 300 barrel samples this year from Bordeaux's 2008 vintage. This is slightly less than in great vintages such as 2000 and 2005, but I think it is a pretty good study of the region’s newest vintage. Unfortunately, I couldn’t possibly taste all the samples that were sent to me. I don't think that tasting more wines would have made much sense with the limited interest in the vintage as futures, or en primeur purchases.
Nonetheless, the vintage is very good for the top names of Bordeaux. From petite châteaus to the premiers crus, the reds show lovely aromas, fruity palates and silky tannins. The bright acidity on many of the wines gives them long and lively finishes.
Granted, I only tasted a small representation of Bordeaux, and I heard that the wines in general are less than exciting, with many small producers making light, green and acidic reds. But most of the reds I tasted from the best-known châteaus were very good to outstanding quality. They are better than 2007, 2004 and 2002, and either at or slightly below the quality level of 2001 or 2006. They are not like rich, top-quality wines from 2005, 2003 or 2000. (See our Bordeaux vintage charts for more details.)
The 2008 reds will be lovely clarets for claret lovers, as the English might say. Or, in a more direct way, if you love typical Bordeaux you are going to love many wines in 2008. They are real racy reds from Bordeaux, not superripe-style wines.
The dry whites are also very good but watch out for the strong, sometimes green acidity in the wines. I like 2007 and 2006 better for the most part due to the better ripeness and better balance of acidity in the dry whites.
The sweet whites are very good, with a few exceptional wines, but they are not in the same league as last year or any recent top year, such as 2001, 2003 or 2005.
I also had the chance to taste some 2007 reds as they finish their last few months in barrel, and I have to say that I am disappointed for the most part. Many of the wines have turned austere, with dry tannins. Perhaps after the bottling they will be better, but I have my doubts. I will find out at the end of the year when I blind taste them from bottle.
I have already blogged how even the winemakers themselves in Bordeaux were surprised with the very good quality reds they have been able to produce from 2008. Everyone agreed that the small crop helped them to ripen their grapes enough during the good weather that occurred during much of September and October. If it wasn’t for the crop size and fall sun and warmth, then 2008 could have been a complete write-off because of the poor weather during a good part of the summer growing season.
Moreover, most producers said that they had to be very gentle in their winemaking. In other words, extracting too much color and tannin from the skins could result in overly tannic, even green and angular, wines. Luckily, I didn’t find many barrel samples with this problem. Bordeaux’s top wine producers really know how to get the best out of their grapes, especially in challenging years.
But getting the best out of their grapes may not be enough to sell their wines this year. As one wine merchant told me today before I left Bordeaux: “It is the price and not the quality that will be important to this vintage.” I have to agree.
Hubert de Boüard de Laforest of Château Angélus, the well-respected St.-Emilion estate, released his 2008 futures price today to the trade at 50 euros ($68), which is a decrease from 2007’s opening price of 85 euros ($115). That is the price at which the Bordeaux wine trade buys the wine. After the markups of importers, distributors and retailers, the consumer normally pays about double the opening price to the trade. So Angélus' price should be close to its 2004 release price, which was $104 in the United States.
Boüard told me at his château this past Wednesday that he was going to release his wine on the market before any scores from critics, or anything else, to show his good intentions to his customers. “We need to go back to 2004, or in that spirit,” he said. “We have to go before 2005. It’s not for pleasure, but I think the consumer will be interested in the wines then … If I make a 2004 price, it is a politically correct price. It’s difficult for everyone now.”
You can say that again, mon frère.
Unfortunately, I am not sure if that’s enough of a drop to make consumers go out and buy 2008 futures of a very good wine from a top name. The economic situation is just too uncertain right now, despite some gains in the stock market and lots of positive talk in the press about economic recovery. Moreover, I would be afraid to put my money in the hands of many wine merchants for a couple of years on 2008 futures, when I couldn’t be 100 percent sure if they will be in business to deliver my wines. I know U.S. consumers who still haven’t been delivered the 2005s. Check out the 2005 Bordeaux thread in our Forums.
Plus, what about all the vintages of Bordeaux in the market that are available for purchase in bottle? And what about all the other good-quality wines from the world available to the consumer at good prices? It’s a buyer’s market right now.
Nonetheless, 2008 first-growths at $200 a bottle as futures or second-growths at $75 could be exciting. It could be hard to pass a bargain like that if you love Bordeaux. Who knows?
Read my complete 2008 Bordeaux barrel tasting package for all my scores and full tasting notes.
Chris Tenggren — Elburn, IL — April 6, 2009 3:46pm ET
Vandendriessche Bernard — Ostend, Belgium — April 7, 2009 6:26am ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — April 7, 2009 6:13pm ET
James Suckling — — April 8, 2009 6:06am ET
Kevin Truax — Parkersburg, Iowa — April 8, 2009 9:47am ET
Darcy Kelley — Toronto, ON — April 8, 2009 9:04pm ET
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