The third week in May, a high-class vintage on our hands… this should be one of our busiest weeks of the year. Full on en primeur season! The early-releasing classed growths would have come and gone, and this week we would be getting ready for some of the greatest châteaux, with maybe even a First Growth coming out.
Understandably that is not the case this year. All is not lost however for buyers of great Bordeaux en primeur. Unlike so many well-loved national and international events, the 2019 Bordeaux primeur releases have not been cancelled, just postponed. We are expecting a significant campaign from a core of leading estates between June 15th and July 15th, potentially kicking off with a First Growth release to set the tone for the campaign!
Unlike previous years, we haven’t had the luxury of our normal two weeks in Bordeaux tasting some 500 wines during the month of April, so I am unable to give a full vintage report based on visits and tastings. Over the past 2 weeks I have been fortunate to have received fresh sample bottles kindly sent from a number of châteaux from both the right and left banks and what I have tasted so far is enough to support some of the initial excitement.
Over the next two weeks I am expecting to receive many more samples. Some of the leading châteaux (but sadly not all) are pulling out the stops to enable us to taste their wines in the safest and most hygienic conditions possible, which in most cases means to my home in Suffolk. Many are going even further and coordinating the samples to arrive on a specific day and setting up a zoom tasting for us to speak to owners and winemakers at the same time: Bruno Borie at Ch Ducru-Beaucaillou and Veronique Sanders at Ch Haut Bailly to name just two. The Rothschild family have gone a step further; with the benefit of the family seat at Waddesdon Manor they have invited five members of the Goedhuis team to visit at the beginning of June and taste all the Mouton and Lafite properties, with us each in individual rooms. So, by the time we have the early releases anticipated in mid-June, we will have a much more comprehensive view of the vintage and full tasting notes for as many wines as possible.
As for the vintage itself, 2019 was a healthy high quality crop. The winter of 2018/19 was relatively mild, meaning the vines started 2019 in advance. At Ch Carmes Haut Brion Guillaume Pouthier’s Merlots were bud-bursting on the 10th March. The threat of frost remained throughout what became the cooler months of April and May, but thankfully did not arrive! The net result was that the vines’ cycle slowed down and flowering took place as for a normal year at the end of May and early June. June was very much a classic month climatically, with average temperatures, but it was July which had such an important influence on the vintage: it was very warm with minimal rainfall, which did come just in time at the end of the month. During August temperatures were a little more moderate, with intermittent rainfall, invigorating the vines at all the crucial times. September was textbook for the completion of the ripening of the berries, with strong sunshine and perfect temperatures. The harvest took place in beautiful healthy conditions starting with the Merlots in mid-September and finishing with the Cabernets in the Médoc by the end of the second week in October.
Unsurprisingly, taking these weather conditions into account, there has been an air of confidence about the 2019s ever since the last bunch of grapes arrived in the wineries and were placed in the vats. Certain journalists, such as Jane Anson of Decanter, have likened the quality to the excellent 2018 vintage. James Suckling, who has already tasted a broad cross-section, makes a similar comparison, describing the wines as, "outstanding quality, from simple Bordeaux to cru classé."
For us at this early stage, based on the wines we have so far tasted, there is a striking ripeness and intensity to the wines. The warmth of fruit gives a richness and appeal but, as with all classic years with extended picking periods through into October, they have a characteristic line of freshness. This freshness is so crucial to provide balance and harmony, to support both the fruit and tannic structure of a great Bordeaux wine. We must reiterate the caveat that this is only an early indication; over the next 2 -3 weeks we will be tasting many more wines and will be able to give a more comprehensive overview of the vintage at that time.
In terms of the campaign what should we expect? We are preparing for the important releases from 15th June but, as with any vintage, be prepared for the odd surprise! Prices will need to take into account both global demand in the current situation and economic conditions. We expect prices to come down. We hope to see them come down by at least 20% compared to the 2018 vintage. However, each château will have its own particular position, so we will analyse the releases wine by wine. Some châteaux may have to make more of an effort than those which already offer terrific value in most vintages. As to volumes, again, whilst yields are similar to the 2018 vintage, I suspect many estates may release smaller amounts of wine, continuing their policy of holding back stock to release at a later date at a higher price.
So, to conclude, there will be a 2019 en primeur campaign with releases over the next two months. We are hopeful that proprietors really will engage with their potential audience this year, pricing sensitively to reward early buyers, giving real confidence, purpose and justification for buying en primeur.
The situation changes almost daily and we will of course keep you updated on a regular basis as tastings and releases allow.
David Roberts MW