Bordeaux En Primeur 2019 The Unprecedented Vintage
Friday, July 3, 2020 in News
Bordeaux En Primeur 2019: The Unprecedented Vintage
The word ‘unprecedented’ has seen, well, unprecedented use in recent times, but not always accurately. In the case of Bordeaux En Primeur 2019, it is fair to say that it has been something of a departure from the norm. Explore our Bordeaux portfolio.
The cagey, rumour fueled build-up, yes. The chess match that is the sequence of releases, yes. The jockeying for position on price, yes. We’ve seen all of that before. What is different about the 2019 primeurs is the significant drop in prices and the remote nature of the tastings.
As a consequence of restrictions due to Covid-19, châteaux and negociants have found that they had to relinquish their typically tightly held control of this old and peculiar market. That is, of course, if they wanted to engage the world’s wine media and merchants.
Pandemic and price context aside, how does the 2019 Bordeaux vintage rate in terms of objective quality? ‘The quality is obvious,’ Says Florian Thoelke, Langton’s Senior Buyer and Bordeaux specialist. ‘I’m really happy; it is a very good vintage.’
A warmer growing period has led to higher alcohol levels. While this might be marked down in limited London circles, the Australian palate will take this at a canter. Indeed, in this part of the world, it might even be desirable. Andrew Caillard MW writes in his report, ‘The wines are genuinely very good and classic.’ He goes on to say of 2019. ‘It might even prove to be up there with the best.’
As we do when we’re on the ground in Bordeaux, we targeted our tastings. Our aim is not to assemble an exhaustive catalogue of tasting notes (see members of the international wine media for that). Rather, we look to what our Australian market wants and might be interested in. That said, the number of wines we tasted was significantly lower than usual and we tasted over 200 samples of En Primeur Bordeaux wines from the 2019 vintage.
These unfinished samples were indicative of the vintage and how the various châteaux fared. Suffice it to say, these days there are few bad wines bearing the name Bordeaux and we look at a spectrum from good to great. 2019 showed us both of these, and everything in between.
There is a caveat for these tastings–these wines are not made to last. The fresh vials and half-bottles of claret are made for sampling and unlike their finished incarnations, they have a ‘best before’ date that closes after a very small window. For some, it was too short and the samples did not make it intact. While we were delighted that the châteaux and negociants took the view that it was better to do these remote tasting rather than cancel the whole show—if this was ever really an option—there is an inescapable conclusion: there is no substitute to being there for Bordeaux En Primeur.
Jeremy Parham, Langton’s General Manager and Florian Thoelke, Langton’s Senior Buyerat Angelus
It’s worth noting, that at our public En Primeur 2018 tasting last year, the wines were in superb condition–hinting at their respective futures and showcasing the brightness and fruit intensity we typically expect from these young barrel samples. Even at the time, we remarked how the wines presented faithfully as En Primeur Bordeaux.
We tasted some of the early 2019 samples in isolation (no pun intended). Then followed two large tranches where we convened to inspect in the tasting room at Langton’s HQ in Sydney. After two sessions, with teeth ink black, we were able to make significant conclusions on the wines, the vintage, and how we would advise our customers.
We’re very impressed with the overall quality of the vintage. However, we all have our favourites. Here are some of the wines that stood out for a variety of reasons–their price, their respective appellations, or even compared to previous vintages.
Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac.
One of the most beloved wines of Bordeaux in Australia. The caprice of nature has striped the backs of the Tesseron family for their strict observance of biodynamics. The cost to yields can be high (as in 2018) but the harvest was back to normal and the results in the glass are sublime. Intense, and bristling with energy, the 2019 takes the senses on a journey, peeling back layer after complex layer, and rewards going back for more. The 2019 wine is the best performing Pontet-Canet En Primeur Campaign to date. No tasting samples from the Château
Taking into account quality, price, and stature, Château Latour a Pomerol ranks as potentially the best value of 2019. In his review (95-97 points), Andrew Caillard MW describes the wine as ‘beautiful,’ adding, ‘very attractive richness of flavour, extract and torque.’
Petit de Cantenac, Saint-Émilion
One of our exclusive imports, this wine comes from Martin Krajewski’s Clos Cantenac in Saint-Émilion (also the owner of rising star Château Séraphine in Pomerol). The second wine—Petit Cantenac—is one of the standouts of the vintage in terms of potential for budget-friendly pure drinking pleasure.
Château Batailley, Pauillac
The sub $100 Bordeaux En Primeur market is well served from the 2019 vintage and Château Batailley is the poster bottle. The wine stood out for quality in the tasting even without the dollar context. Classic Pauillac, at $85 per bottle (release price), the conversation about the wine is short but compelling. If you’re going to buy one 2019 wine from Bordeaux En Primeur below $100, it’s Château Batailley.
Château Ducru Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien
The wines from Ducru Beaucaillou came in test tube vials with what appeared to be an extra dose of sulphur to keep the wine stable. We decanted the wines into glasses and let them stand for at least 30 minutes. These were good calls by both parties–the wines showed superbly.
The Ducru Beaucaillou shows such quality but it also exemplified that which is characteristic of the 2019 vintage. The wines are classic Bordeaux. The Ducru Beaucaillou shows richness, texture, and length—from the Saint-Julien’s clay soil and gravel terroir—and all impeccably balanced. Andrew Caillard MW describes the wines as ‘textbook.’
A Word On Value
Much has been made of the price correction for the 2019 Bordeaux En Primeur campaign. With prices dropping between 10-30%, the market has been buoyant with established buyers going long, previous buyers returning and new customers joining in the fun. For many, looking particularly at the sub $100 segment, the classic double negative justification has been invoked several times –’at this price, I can’t not buy.’
The Bordelais know their worth and, to put it plainly, they aren’t afraid to charge. These lockdown-influenced prices will likely be a looked back on as a bargain blip rather than some new normal. If you’re ever going to buy Bordeaux En Primeur, the confluence of high quality and relatively low prices makes the 2019 vintage, dare we say, an unprecedented opportunity.
Andrew Caillard MW writes in his report, ‘considering the opening prices, narrative and actuality of the 2019 vintage, this has to be a wonderful opportunity for Langton’s buyers. I have already done my bit!’