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First Impressions of 2008 Bordeaux


Posted: Mar 31, 2009 1:32pm ET

I jumped into the deep end of Bordeaux 2008 today and tasted some of the biggest names on the Right Bank, including Cheval-Blanc, Ausone and Pétrus. I tasted about 50 wines in total and visited a handful of estates in Pomerol and St.-Emilion. The roads and wineries appear busy with visitors, despite the global recession and little hope of selling futures this year.

Some 2008 wines from the top estates are of potentially outstanding quality, with beautiful perfumes, ripe fruit, silky tannins and fresh acidity. They are not like 2005, of course, or any other great Bordeaux vintage of recent memory including 2003, 2000, 1995, 1990, 1989 or 1982. But it seems that top châteaus were able to make very good to outstanding wines in 2008 despite a difficult summer. This is just my first impression. I will have a better idea over the next couple days of tasting.

The 2008 vintage was difficult in Bordeaux. Weather was not ideal and disease in the vineyards was a threat during most of the growing season. Producers had to put in long hours of work in the vineyards to be successful. Yields were low due to bad flowering and the bad weather continued for most of the summer, with the exception of a warm and sunny July. August was particularly wet and gray in 2008, and many of the grapes suffered from mildew. Ripening was incredibly uneven, yet the weather changed the second week of September and stayed mostly sunny and warm the rest of the month, saving the crop. (Learn more about the 2008 Bordeaux growing season with our vintage report card.)

“Thank God for the excellent last three weeks in September or it would have been one of the greatest disasters of our time,” said Stefan de Neipperg, the owner of such excellent St.-Emilion estates as Canon-La Gaffelière, La Mondotte and Clos de l'Oratoire. “But we have to find the market again. If the first-growths are really well-priced in the market, then people will say that all of Bordeaux is not expensive. And we might be able to sell.”

I have heard gossip that first-growths could halve their prices in 2008 from 2007, but who knows what is true? Who knows if there would even be a market at those prices for such illustrious wines as Latour, Margaux or Haut-Brion? I spoke today to wine merchant and winemaker Christian Moueix, who controls the distribution of such famous wines as Pétrus, Trotanoy and La Fleur-Pétrus, and he said that he was going to release his wines at slightly less than 2001 prices, with the exception of Pétrus, which follows the first-growths.

As Aurelia Lillet, an owner of Bordeaux brokers Les Grand Crus, said last night, “Each château has its own proper price in 2008. We will see who gets it right.”

I don’t think anyone will be releasing prices any time soon. Some wine merchants haven’t come to taste 2008 futures because they will be coming at the end of June for the big wine fair here in Bordeaux, VinExpo. Apparently, many Americans didn’t come so far to taste 2008 from barrel because they will come for the fair.

But I was thinking about what Lillet said to me last night at a party in Bordeaux, when I was tasting the barrel samples of de Neipperg today. I particularly liked his Canon-La Gaffelière and La Mondotte, which were both obviously outstanding quality and relatively expensive. But his value wine, the Château d'Aiguilhe from Côtes de Castillon, was equally very good quality, and this is a wine that usually sells for $25 a bottle.

I think that many good values like the d'Aiguilhe have been made in 2008. And I don’t think they will reduce prices much. They can’t. They are already working on tiny margins or losing money. But their 2008s are relatively balanced with fruit, tannins and acidity, so they will be very drinkable when young. We will certainly have some good-quality, well-priced Bordeaux coming. But these wines, of course, are not for buying futures as consumers. And they don’t make the buzz of the market.

I also keep thinking about a quick conversation with Alan Vautier, the owner of St.-Emilion's famous Château Ausone, which made the best 2008 I tasted today. We spoke during the party last night at négociant Pierre Lawton’s house. “There are three things that 2008 will be known for in Bordeaux,” he said in a funny sort of way. “The production was small because of a bad flowering of the grapes. The harvest was late and produced ripe grapes. And there is no market for the wines.”

What more can I say at this point? It’s not the wineries’ fault or wine merchants' shortcoming that there is very little interest in people buying 2008 futures. The problem with the market, we all know, is something bigger than wine. Sure some châteaus overcharged people and some wine merchants were guilty of speculation, but that was then and now is now.

“It’s difficult for everyone,” said Gerard Perse, the owner of Château Pavie, whose barrel sample today was potentially outstanding quality. “What can we do? I will sell about 20 percent of the harvest, but not a lot. It’s a question of supply and demand. There isn’t any demand out there.”

Eduard Moueix, who organized the tasting for me today of his family’s wines was joking (his Lafleur-Pétrus, Pétrus and Trotanoy were all potentially outstanding quality), but I guess he has a point too. “If there is no market for our 2008 wines, we will drink them,” he said in jest. “That is the advantage of our job. If we were making shoes, we couldn’t wear them all.”

I am sure that anyone who loves Bordeaux will be interested in drinking his 2008s, but just not in this horrible economy. Then again, if prices are really reasonable on the best wines of 2008, you never know. My crystal ball is as good as theirs. But it’s very, very doubtful.

Read my complete 2008 Bordeaux barrel tasting package for all my scores and full tasting notes.

Marc Robillard
Montreal,Canada —  March 31, 2009 3:34pm ET
Thanks for the update James.It may be a little to early to answer this but can the last 3 weeks really save a vintage? Seems a littel odd to me...but then again, I'm a drinker not a grower!Marc
Conor Twomey
Ireland —  March 31, 2009 5:00pm ET
James, Given that Anthony Barton always releases his wines at a very competitive price it will be interesting how he prices the Leoville 2008.Regards,Conor
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  March 31, 2009 6:21pm ET
Drink them indeed!!!

10,000 cases would make for a heavy hangover =)
Jonathan Davis
Birmingham —  March 31, 2009 9:30pm ET
Thank you James. excellent synopsis. I am echoing Marc's post. Wow, 3 weeks. We will see what happens. I think Alan Vautier hit the nail on the head.
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  March 31, 2009 10:15pm ET
I think that wines like d'Aiguilhe WILL be the buzz of the market, because they ARE the current market. People keep talking about the 1st growths, but the high QPR wines are really driving the market right now.
Vandendriessche Bernard
Ostend, Belgium —  April 1, 2009 3:38am ET
They really have to wake up in Bordeaux now, the prices are much to high and the real Bordeaux lovers are not drinking anymoreIf you see the price of ex. Ch. Margaux today in 2007, what will they do in 2008? I wonder, especially if you knew the prices in the '90
Gerard Stranch
Nashville TN —  April 1, 2009 3:18pm ET
Of course there is demand. The question is at what price. If Perse sells Pavie at $50-80 a bottle - it will sell through without a problem. If he prices it at $400 (or even half) there will not be much demand.
Matt Scott
Honolulu HI —  April 2, 2009 5:48pm ET
If there's no market, the prices should be less. Supply and Demand, right? Could 2008 be a "Drinkers" vintage? No matter what, Chateau's will want to sell their wines without demoralizing the value.
Horacio Campana / Butler Me
Monterrey, Mexico —  April 18, 2009 7:05am ET
James,Thank you for finally changing the pre structured rating ranges. Ratings are a lot more valuable this way.

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