Bordeaux "Non-Primeur" - 2014 too good to buy now?

From our Wine Director Tom Harrow:
I got back from a holiday in Bordeaux on Monday – (coals to Newcastle in the middle of en primeur season for a wine consultant perhaps) and the weather, company and wines were splendid.  I’m not sure it’s enough however to convince me that the pending 2014 campaign is going to amount to much…

This is probably at least the sixth article you have read in the last 10 days regarding peoples’ thoughts on 2014 Bordeaux – but I’ll summarise succinctly what you may have already read from other commentators and merchants and then add in the important analysis that fewer are keen to divulge

  • The weather – cold July/first half of August which retarded ripening but preserved acidity, then hot, dry latter half of August right through to middle of October, when many were still picking, which saved everyone’s bacon

  • An overview of the vintage – “the best of the vintages that are not the outstanding ones” Margaux’ Paul Pontallier

  • Strengths and weaknesses – great whites, a Cabernet vintage – both Sauvignon and Franc, under-ripeness in any picked early, some over-extraction from producers trying to beef the wines up

  • Overall style – fresh, precise, with moderate alcohol, but intensity and ripeness too

  • Vintage comparison – somewhere between 2004 (a good medium-term drinker) and the supple 2001s with the more marked tannins of 1996

  • An anecdote or amusing quote… about a favoured producer, minor mishap or the shitty weather during En Primeur week – “New oak is like sex, it shouldn’t be about the amount but the duration” Jonathan Maltus over lunch at Ch. Teyssier on Saturday

  • Wines to consider (if the price is right)

  • The nagging, gnawing doubt that the price will be right…

It’s this latter point on which everything hinges and has been the source of much concern amongst the UK trade and journalists, who continue to bemoan the unrealistic prices of inferior vintages like the lacklustre 2011 and disastrous 2013 and are praying that the Bordelais take heed of their exhortations and return to 2008 level prices. But will they? And should you buy NOW even if they do? 
Before En Primeur week earlier this month, increasing numbers of writers were talking negatively about Bordeaux; Tim Atkin making the interesting contrast with Brunello, the 2010s of which have just been appraised and offered pre-shipment, vs Bordeaux proto-2014s “barely fermented, barely formed red wines… rushed through malolactic fermentation and ‘prepared’ to look as attractive as possible” – with up to 15%(!) of another vintage permitted.
Even the region’s most influential advocate Robert Parker (who no longer tastes the new releases) told the Drinks Business that the market was “moribund” unless prices were reduced by 20-30% and that “Bordeaux had destroyed its futures market by overpricing poor vintages and needed to be held accountable”.  Another staunch supporter of Bordeaux, Will Lyons of the Wall Street Journal, observed that even great wines from vintages (in this case the First Growths from ‘vintage of the century’ – 2010) are perilous purchases for “if you had bought one case of each of these wines en primeur when they were first released in the spring of 2011 you would be sitting on a loss of £16,194”.
The bitter irony is that it is because 2014 is a good vintage that it probably won’t sell – as producers will be loathe to offer their wines for anything less than the inferior 2013, and certainly not the 20-30% reduction that is being called for.  Pride just won’t allow it.  The argument is not should you buy 2014 but when should you buy it.  We believe that time is unlikely to be now, there will not be the demand and no reason why you won’t be able to buy them once shipped at the same or better prices. So with a few notable exceptions we will instead be encouraging you to divert your 2014 Bordeaux En Primeur spend elsewhere:

  • To other vintages (i.e. 2005, a great vintage now maturing sufficiently that people are drinking it so scarcity becomes a genuine reason for speculation);

  • To the latest releases of Bordeaux blends from other producers and regions (San Leonardo, Tuscany, New Zealand) that we think offer claret lovers greater pleasure for better value.

  • Having said that – do send us your hitlists of those 2014 Bordeaux you really think you have to have and we’ll source them for you with pleasure, just don’t say we didn’t warn you…


Live-Ex Best of 2014         Live-Ex 10 Worst Performers (current average bottle price                                                                                  relative to merchant release between 2004-2013)

10th Ausone                        10th L’Evangile (-3.4%)

= 8th Lafite                           9th Mouton (-4.9%)

= 8th Le Pin*                        8th Margaux (-6%)

7th Mouton                         7th Haut Brion (-7.9%)

6th Montrose                      6th Leoville Las Cases (-10.6%)

=4th Margaux                     5th Cos (-11%)

=4th Haut Brion                  4th Cheval Blanc (-16%)

=3rd Cheval Banc               3rd Ausone (-19%)

=2nd Latour*                       2nd La Mission (-24%)     

1st VCC*                               1st d’Yquem (-37%)

Thus 7 out of 10 of the BEST wines of the vintage are also the WORST market performers….

*Le Pin makes 600 cases from 2.7 hectares @ £3000 a bottle, which takes it out of the realm of all but a handful of buyers, Latour no longer does en primeur (they have just released their 2003) Looks like Vieux Chateau Certan, significantly with its heavy whack (20%) of Cabernet Franc, is the smart buy from 2014… (please add your name to our waiting list).