Bordeaux

Back to the Future: Comparing 1967 En Primeur to now

If you want peace from the crazy highs of the Bordeaux campaign, then there is nothing that gives more solace than German Riesling. Here is a wine once sold as hotly as Bordeaux but now quietly sits on the books while the wine trade put it on their staff account for their own pleasure.

Tasting three exceptional German Riesling last week, I wondered: what if Bordeaux went the way of German Riesling in the next 20 years? Before Robert Parker’s declaration of the 1982 vintage, Bordeaux was just another wine to stock the cellar.

For example, in 1967 Wine Mine, the wine magazine produced by Peter Dominic (Threshers), the 1962 Cheval Blanc was listed as 44s/6d (£2) while a bottle of 1964 Blue Nun cost 20s/6d. Three bottles of Liebfraumilch cost the same as one bottle of Cheval Blanc. The lists for En Primeur in 1967 show German wines listed on par in price with first-growth Bordeaux.

There are always going to be fashions for wines, just as there are for everything we think does not at the time (furniture, perfume, holidays), but the difference in the past couple of years is that we can see how Bordeaux Chateaux are manipulating their branding.

This year there have been crass displays of branding to people who want to advertise their wealth to people who don’t know much better; even if they have dubious quality (Mouton Rothschild’s first growth status), dodgy taste (Rauzan-Segla’s Chanel labelling) or outrageous prices (Pichon Baron, amongst many others).

Sure, people with money and no taste have always wanted to buy their way into the best. That has been the same for centuries. But fashion is a quick game of love turned to hate. If the Chateaux want to play the game of branding, they can expect the sharp consequences of treating an agricultural product as a luxury handbag.

Compare Riesling.

Precision drinking with German engineering, if I was to associate a “brand” with Riesling it would be Audi: vorsprung durch technik. It is a gastronomic machine driving through an ethereal snowy landscape. Of course, this is a disingenous comparison; Riesling will never be a brand wine even if their names were as short and snappy as the name Audi. Why? For many reasons, but mostly because it is all about what is in the glass.

Like Port and tulips, this is off the sales radar at the moment. The biggest difference between En Primeur in 1967 and now? The Riesling (and Bordeaux) was bought to be enjoyed rather than bought as an investment.

During the heat of the Bordeaux campaign, again I reach for Riesling (see last year’s post – Diary of a Riesling Lover), sit back and watch this show called, Fast Times at Bordeaux High – and wonder, how is it all going to end?

3 Riesling tasted last week:

2007 Von Blauem Schiefer Dry Blue Slate Heymann-Lowenstein – A little higher in alcohol than I would like in a Mosel Riesling (8% is my favourite style), in a way, grounding the more ethereal elements of Mosel: the flashes green-gold glints with mouth-quenching lime and kiwi.

2009 Van Volxem Scharzhofberger Saar Riesling – This is a wine with steps of flavour like an arpeggiato of notes from an opera singer: almonds, white flowers, nectarine in sublime levels. Extreme long-term cellaring prospect.

2008 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese – Lusciously slightly sweet Riesling, with decadently soft layers of flavours. The Kabinett is also good, with a slightly funky character upfront at this stage. Ideally I’d buy 2 cases per decade to enjoy for the rest of my life. Everything about JJ Prum is cool.

 

 

7 Comments

  1. “Fast times at Bordeaux High.” Love it! As someone who is filling a cellar, it brings a tear to my eye to see the price of Cheval Blanc in the 60s.

  2. james says

    Interesting. Going to seek out more riesling

  3. Jack Benjamin Wild says

    Discussing my recent post with winetrade friend IRL comparing 1967 En Primeur to now: He made a good point abt Riesling: http://goo.gl/AyJQw

  4. CJT says

    Have you seen this thread on Jancis’s forum? http://www.jancisrobinson.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4097
    Basically it’s suggesting that a Chinese wave is coming for the Krauts, Peter Keller being offered the princely sum of €10 extra per bottle for any of his wines that have sold out. Similar stories about Robert Weil as well. Will we be moaning about the price of German 1st growths next? At least I expect the wine might marry better with certain Chinese cuisines…

    • Juel Mahoney says

      Wouldn’t that be an amazing turn around! From a slump to a comback. I wonder if once people move beyond buying for labels they will realise Bordeaux doesn’t go well with a lot of delicate-flavoured Chinese cuisine. It is true Riesling is unbelievably good with Chinese and South-East Asian food. OK, shhhh! I like these wines so much, so let’s not hype them up too much ;-))

  5. En primeur is an imperfect system fundamentally based on supply and demand, the prevailing trend in any given year is always a trade-off between the degree to which it is a buyers’ or sellers’ market. At two points in history have the chateaux commanded the seller’s position, 1858 – 1878, the belle époque, and 1961-1991.

    In 2010 prices for back vintages went up globally and the British wine investor market doubled, traders and negociants alike made windfall profits, in particular off 2008. There were no complaints then, nor cries that merchants and the traditional collector not chateaux were not watching out for other customers.

    Of all the considerations of the Bordeaux chateaux, perhaps one feature influences pricing policy, or instinct, before all others. And it lies not in en primeur, the primary market, but rather with the secondary market; the continual trade between merchants, collectors/investors and auction houses. Chateaux owners see huge gains in, of late, a very short time on the wines they have made and sold, often only a few hours or days prior. It is comprehensible, then, that those who make the wine position themselves to see some of the returns which that wine will soon give.

    As we can see, at none of the above examples would the public (consumer) appear to be top of the agenda, or even a closish second. However, it is also clear that current rails against chateaux fails to account that it takes two, or three, or more, in the primary-secondary market game, to Tango.

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