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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Tuesday, 23 March 2010 10:55

En Primeur 2009: Hype and Hoopla over Bordeaux

Bordeaux opens doors to journalists next week to taste and evaluate the En Primeur 2009 already touted as one of the best vintage in decades. The main point of interest is the pricing which if increased from the last year, might be counter-productive especially due to the slow US market, despite  the growing Hong Kong thirst for Bordeaux wines, writes Subhash Arora.

During one of my recent visits to Italy I met a couple of Italian wine specialists from the California based K& L Wines which also has three big retail stores besides enormous internet based sales. They shared their Bordeaux expert’s view that 2009 is the best vintage in decades. ‘He has never been wrong in predicting the vintages and he claims it is the best vintage in 27 years,’ they asserted.

A similar buzz was in the air wherever the En Primeur came up for discussion. It seemed that few doubted the excellent quality of the vintage- the main point of discussion being whether it was better than 2005. This motivated many journalists to plan to be there for the exceptional vintage at month-end although there was a minority who would rather wait for the prices to be announced, the ‘last mile’ in the Bordeaux En Primeur tastings.

The big dampener might still be the stagnating US market where the unanimous view seems to veer around the fact that less and less people are drinking wines costing over $25 and the wines costing over $50 are practically dead-for the next couple of years anyway. In this scenario, even if the prices were to remain same as 2005, the 30% depreciation of US dollar during these years would mean it would cost the investor 30% more for the 2009 vintage and this is not practical in today’s scenario. However, the prices will be significantly higher than 2008.

The Hong Kong market does provide a ray of hope. The recent auctions have been yielding higher than ever sales and the city claims to have surpassed New York as the biggest auction market. Still, the buyers are still excited more by the secondary market and the En Primeur prices would not be significantly affected by this market yet. 

Robert Parker as always, influences the prices significantly. Last year, the 2008 had been considered a rather lackluster vintage until he tasted and declared in the end to be a very good vintage and it suddenly gained respectability. It might not be very easy for Parker to be much more superlative in describing the vintage according to many industry watchers.

The producers on both banks are very happy about the vintage and are rather surprised themselves about the quality that took a turn for the better in mid September due to weather that came to their rescue.

Château Cheval Blanc is the Premier Grand Cru Classé Class ‘A’ property in Saint Emilion and is managed by Pierre Lurton who divides his time also at Chateau d’Yquem. He formed a team to look after the details at Cheval recently. Pierre Olivier Clouet is a member of the team and was responsible for four wines. He says, ‘Cheval is always a balanced wine but this year it is richer and has added natural concentration, not more extraction. It has been good beyond our expectation and I am sure it will surprise the visitors. I am well aware that Bordeaux often hypes its new vintages. But I can assure them that the Cheval Blanc is one of the all time greats.’ 

‘Awesome,’ exclaims Pauline Vauthier Technical Director of the only other Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’, Chateau Ausone owned by her family for 400 years, about the vintage. She adds, ‘it is showing very well right now; it has an excellent backbone, it’s powerful with a long ageing potential, it’s complete with very well balance with layers of ripe fruit and great aromatic length.’

Gildas d’Ollone, Director of the Second Growth Pauillac producer Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande  says this ‘sumptuous’ vintage is less angular than 2005 and has more acid and alcohol than ’05. He expects the visitors to be surprised by the immediate appeal and charm of this wine in which Pichon has used 75% Cabernet Sauvignon as it was a great year for Cabernets.

‘Out of the ordinary but not classic,’ says Stéphane Derenoncourt of the 2009 vintage. The French enologist who, like Michel Rolland , works as an international consultant to several wineries including Château Pavie-Macquin, Château Canon-la-Gaffelière, Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Château Brown and Château Prieuré-Lichine, says this vintage will offer a wonderful opportunity for Bordeaux to improve its reputation which has seen a considerable damage in the recent times. He will be present again with the producers he works with, in Chateau Gaffelière in Saint Emilion under the group name of ‘La Grappe.’

Peter Sisseck of the Spanish top winery Pingus warns against raising the prices as he has heard some people talk about. He feels it may be a bit too adventurous although the 2009 is a complete vintage with ripe tannins and could be a ‘once in a lifetime’ vintage.

Bernard Magrez, owner of Chateau Pape-Clement in Pessac Léognan feels that the producers should not get carried away with the pricing for 2009 although the quality is better than 2005. He expects to keep his Chateau wine less than €75. Chateau Angelus the Premier Grand Cru Classé of Saint Emilion expects the price between €130 and €50, those of 2005 and 2008.

 The consensus of press and wine traders so far has been that the vintage is better balanced than had been earlier expected, with nice and juicy flavours and impressive aromas. The tannins are silky and the fruit is generous and ripe for the vintage. Some find a few to be a bit jammy but not as much as one might expect with the high alcohol levels. Though producers claim higher acidity because of cooler nights in September-October till the harvest time, balances the alcohol, not all journalists agree with the assertion.

It appears that the ratings may not be much higher than what Robert Parker had awarded to the 2008 vintage. But a lot of exciting tasting is in store for those who participate in the ritualistic annual event. DelWine has been invited to the En Primeur once again this year. But due to unavoidable circumstances we may not be able to attend this important event this vintage. However, we will continue to bring in the latest news about the happening in Bordeaux like before.

Subhash Arora 


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