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Bordeaux Primeurs 2019 - Vintage & Buying Guide
Bordeaux Primeurs 2019
“It's the best vintage we’ve ever done”, remarked Jonathan Maltus during an online tasting we held with him in early May ahead of Bordeaux Primeurs 2019. As a 100-point awarded winemaker with 26 Bordeaux vintages behind him this is no small praise indeed!
It’s easy to understand then why, despite the current situation, the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux has been so keen to get barrel samples out to critics, trade and press to get the Bordeaux Primeurs 2019 campaign underway. And yet again the Bordelais have shown that great vintages come in pairs: 1989 & 1990, 2009 & 2010, 2015 & 2016 and now 2018 & 2019.
Nobody was quite sure when the wines would be released and we even held a Bordeaux Summit to discuss this exact topic. In preparation, we polled more than 30 experts and well over 100 wine collectors from our Grand Crew Classé Club, the results of which are included in a report we recommend you read to help frame your approach to the vintage and collecting wine more generally.
As Gavin Quinney of Chateau Bauduc stated during our Bordeaux Summit, “2019 is a really, really good vintage, up there with 15, 16 and 18”. He then went on to add “it is in the DNA for the Union des Grands Crus to have En Primeur”, and to get things underway this year we’ve all just had to be a little more creative. And so it’s our pleasure to announce that here we are, almost 2 months after the UGC took the almost unprecedented step in postponing the 2019 en primeur tastings due to Covid-19, finally laying out the red carpet for the fruits of this superstar vintage.
The Growing Season
All great vintages need a great growing season and this was certainly the case for 2019. Conditions were largely dry with significantly less rainfall than average, with a mild winter and spring, and very little frost and hail, especially compared to 2017. Unlike 2018 there was no mildew, and although a chilly wet spell during flowering in early June led to some coulure and millerandage – variously sized and underdeveloped grapes respectively – there are plenty of workarounds for this in the winemaker’s repertoire. The summer was long, hot and dry. When heatwaves threatened to dry out the vines in late June and July the gods replied with a shower of heavy rain. The harvest started in late August with the dry whites. Merlot harvest in Pomerol began in the second week of September, with most of the reds on the rest of the Right Bank and the Médoc well under way in in the latter half of September and Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc into October. Yields are ever so slightly down from last year but much more consistent across the board. Even more promising are the top appellations which have produced a real bumper crop. Pauillac for example recorded its highest yields since 2006. For the full report we highly recommend Gavin Quinney’s excellent article on the season, with more graphs and tables than you’ll find in your old maths books.
With early reports and tasting notes on the wines finally being released we can now bring together a picture about the characteristics of the wines. For Jonathan Maltus, who makes a number of premium wines from different sites in Saint Emilion, the vintage is less opulent and “American-savvy” than the 2018s, but boasts a level of finesse, precision and linearity that is more typical of great Bordeaux. While they are “less fleshy” and plush, it is this distinct “Bordeaux quality” that marks them out as a sure-fire bet for lovers of the region’s wines. The dry and sweet whites from Sauternes are also shaping up very well, as they always seem to in years ending in an odd number.
Having tasted around 450 barrel samples for his Bordeaux 2019 En Primeur report, James Suckling comments particularly on what he sees as a rare “consensus of opinion” about the vintage, with winemakers, oenologists and chateaux united in praise for the wines. He goes on to say “the sleek tannins and pure fruit character are what I expect in Bordeaux. It’s hard to say this was a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot vintage or that it was better for the Right Bank or Left Bank. They are all just really good quality wines and some are fantastic. I only wish I could taste more of the truly great names.”
With the Coronavirus effect and a lack of critic scores, 2019 is perhaps the hardest vintage to call on pricing. There is reason to be optimistic though, as early reports suggest that négociants and the chateaux recognise that prices will have to come down for Bordeaux Primeurs 2019. Here at Honest Grapes, like many, we have been urging a re-alignment of pricing to provide incentives to collectors to place trust in the en primeur futures system, especially by rewarding them for advanced purchase in times of economic uncertainty.
James Suckling has suggested from his conversations with winemakers that futures pricing could be down 10% or more from last year, which is promising news. Indeed, during the GFC in 2008/2009, arguably the last time Bordeaux 2019 En Primeur happened during an economic backdrop like this, all the main Chateaux adjusted their prices accordingly.
That being said, throughout the pandemic wine merchants have been peddling arguments about now being the best time to invest in fine wine and early reports suggesting price decreases will only fuel the hype further. As always we recommend caution and suggest you focus predominantly on those wines that you want to collect for future drinking pleasure.
It’s always worth identifying the best value wines within each level from cru Bourgeois up to the most senior Growths, and we are anticipating some good opportunities to emerge in this vintage. In recent years we have concentrated on those wines released at sensible, attractive prices, whilst still receiving strong reviews. For Bordeaux Primeurs 2019, we will as always continue to recommend a tighter selection of chateaux than most, concentrating on the best and best value wines. Meanwhile Liv-Ex “Fair Value” method concentrates not on relative release price but evidence of consistent price improvement on the secondary market, identifying certain chateaux that over a ten year period are especially worth buying en primeur. Last year these included a number of our regular recommendations including amongst others La Conseillante, Clinet, Lynch Bages and Lafite. We look forward to seeing who makes the grade this year.
A final tip is more personal: There is little doubt that 2019 is a great, potentially legendary, vintage – there has already considerable early enthusiasm around the first tastings and my own limited sampling has definitely whetted my appetite for more. As a Bordeaux lover, you tend to be loyal to those chateaux in which you have developed an interest and then a passion over the years, continuing to add to your collection. 2019 is an undeniably very fine vintage with potentially some attractive pricing, to incentivise buying on release, something we can all take comfort in as fine wine lovers during these difficult times.
Published on: May 19, 2020