Patrick Maroteaux, the head of St.-Julien's classified-growth Château Branaire-Ducru and the former president of the Unions des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, made a comment that left me a little speechless yesterday. He said during a brief conversation and tasting of the 2009 Bordeaux vintage from barrel at his château that "we will see in the next few months if the global market really has an effect on the top wines of Bordeaux."
We were speaking French, but what I believe he meant was that the top 10 or 15 wines may be bulletproof from the overall downturn in the global economy. They could be a market unto themselves, attracting the attention of the ultrarich throughout the world.
Just think for a moment. What does the total annual production of these superluxury Bordeaux equal? The wines would include Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Pétrus, Cheval-Blanc, Ausone, Lafleur and Le Pin. I estimate about 100,000 cases, off the top of my head. Do you think there are enough wealthy people in the world to absorb 100,000 12-bottle cases in a great year as 2009? YES.
The very wealthy are less wealthy like the rest of us compared to 2006, when the 2005 Bordeaux were sold as futures, or en primeur. But they still have enough cash to splash out for a case or two of these top wines, whether they live in London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, Mumbai or anywhere else on the planet.
And I think that everyone who loves Bordeaux is going to splash out on some 2009, even though we never may have intended to. I know I am going to buy some, most likely in bottle rather than as futures. I originally said to myself that I wasn't going to buy 2009 because I already have a lot of young Bordeaux in my cellar including 2000, 2003 and 2005. And it's not obvious that the vintage is overall better than 2000 and 2005. However, I still feel compelled to buy some. I have caught the Bordeaux 2009 bug while being here in the region.
"It's the same thing in every top year," explained Bordeaux-based négociant Pierre Lawton of Alias. His family has been selling the top names of the region for centuries. "It's the newest thing out and people want to buy it."
Of course, there are limits. I assume that people will buy much less 2009 than 2005. Few are part of the ultrarich and can plunk down whatever they want on great bottles of wine. But there is something new and fun about buying Bordeaux futures and I have been doing it regularly since the 1982 vintage.
"Bordeaux has to be careful with its pricing this year," said Francois Thienpont, a Bordeaux négociant whose family owns such famous names as Le Pin and Vieux-Château-Certan as well as the good-value Puygueraud. "There is interest in the marketplace, but we have to price our wines correctly or many people won't buy."
It's hard to generalize because I think that there are going to be hundreds of wines to buy in Bordeaux 2009—perhaps not as futures but in bottle—that are going to be priced fairly. I have scored hundreds of wines 90 to 93 points that cost about $8 to $15 from the winery. These should arrive in the United States and elsewhere in bottle in wine shops for about $20 to $35 each. That's good value in my opinion.
Some appellations that did particularly well in 2009 that seem to have many wines in this price range include St.-Estèphe, Lalande-de-Pomerol, St.-Emilion satellite appellations, Côtes de Bordeaux and Fronsac, among others.
I think there are going to be some stunning Sauternes as well, which I am going to taste this weekend (Easter Sunday). I have already tasted the Yquem, and it truly is amazing. It is an electrifying young sticky. It could match the legendary 2001, which I gave a perfect 100-point score. So stay tuned for more tastings notes and reports next week. Happy Easter.