LIGHTNING OF 2009 STRIKES BACK IN 2010

MD & FOUNDER OF FINE WINE MERCHANT BORDEAUX INDEX

IT SEEMS a little precipitate to mention Bordeaux 2010 when we’ve only just said farewell to the all-consuming jamboree that was Bordeaux 2009. But such is the rhythm of nature that, as the new harvest approaches completion, initial reports are starting to appear on the latest crop. And the word is that 2010 is destined to be good, very good indeed.

Now, anyone that has worked in this business as long as I will know that early reports from Bordeaux have about as much credibility as data releases from the Greek National Statistics Office, but there are a couple of factors that lead me to think that we might actually be on to something here. Firstly, the highly credible character of those opining. Hubert de Bouard (Chateau Angelus), Frederic Engerer (Chateau Latour) and Jacques Thienpont (Chateau Le Pin) have all alluded not only to the vintage’s quality but also to its potential greatness.

Secondly, in contrast to the megaphone self-promotion of 2009, these observations have a tone of honesty bordering on understatement. And finally, warming temperatures and improving vineyard management both mean we frankly shouldn’t be that surprised by an increasing occurrence of outperforming vintages. All in all, it looks like we have a serious case of lightning striking twice.

So what does all this mean for the market? Well, precedents are pretty scarce. With 2000 and 2005 having been followed by a string of modest vintages, we have to go back to the 1988-1990 trio for the last time we had consecutive great vintages. However, given the wildly fluctuating economic environments at play between 1989 and 1991 it is difficult to extrapolate much.

More generally, we can observe a tendency to overlook vintages that come in the immediate wake of a great one; think 1983 and 2001. This coupled with a chateaux and negociant system desperate for cash as it groans under the weight of the ambitiously priced 2009s, suggests there may yet be hope that the 2010s will be offered in a spirit of mutual benefit.

Given the phenomenal fillip that the 2009 campaign gave the wine trade should we not be rubbing our hands with glee at the prospect of a turbo-charged 2010? Well, yes and no. Yes, in that a great vintage is one of the most powerful tools for attracting interest and bidding-up back vintages but no in that a ‘great’ vintage is amongst the last things the market actually needs at the moment.

The reality is that we already have ample supply of ‘prime’ vintages as a high proportion of the 2000, 2005 and 2009 vintages are sat awaiting consumption. In contrast, it is the ‘off-prime’ vintages of 1999, 2001 and 2004 – so beloved by drinkers – that are looking increasingly stretched.

This state of affairs reflects a secular shift in demand that has developed over the last several years. As Asian demand has come to dominate the market, brand-based consumption has trumped all other factors. In short, this market wants the cheapest available vintage of a small set of favoured brands. Thus, with another ‘great’ vintage en route my advice would be to focus on the 2007s and 2008s with the right labels and be wary of the 2009s and 2005s at the wrong price.