Anthony Rose: Except in great years, the wine world no longer revolves around Bordeaux and Burgundy
Saturday 17 January 2009
Who'll give me £600m for a nice little property in Pauillac? It has earnings potential of about £10m a year and the three features required of a top wine property: prestige, great wine and location. Since François H Pinault, the French luxury goods tycoon who also owns Christie's, is down to his last billion or so, he's apparently putting Château Latour on the market, but is unlikely to accept as little as the low estimate of £150m for one of the most prized jewels in the Bordeaux crown, especially as first growths (the others are Haut-Brion, Lafite, Margaux and Mouton-Rothschild) rarely come on the market. Going, going ...
Of greater concern to the not- impoverished Bordeaux château owner (less so I suspect to you or me) is whether anyone will bother to offer anything at all for the latest vintage, due on the market in April when it will be sold en primeur, ie before its release in bottle two years down the track. Ever since the 1982 vintage popularised the idea of selling the new Bordeaux vintage pre-release, an early sales campaign cranks up each year, allowing château owners to get their hands on as much cash as possible before their wine's even bottled. This cunning plan has worked in the past because in excellent years, like 2000 and 2005, we consumers have been able to cash in too by buying wines that are still relatively affordable.
Prices for the top 50-odd, most in-demand châteaux have been creeping up relentlessly since 2005 though, even in the less successful vintages of 2006 and 2007. Now, to the disgust of many of Bordeaux's château-owning elite, one of Bordeaux's most influential merchants, Jean-François Moueix, has warned that a combination of overpricing since 2005 and the likely lack of global demand for a lacklustre vintage could result in no en primeur campaign for the 2008 vintage this year. Well, bully for Jean-François Moueix, because while 2008 might yet turn out to be better than expected, so what? Even if prices fall back to 2004 levels (unlikely), when spare cash is scarce to non-existent, you'll still be able to buy these wines at similar prices (or less) in years to come.
If you're heartened by the thought that there's really no need to think too hard about stocking up on Bordeaux this year for your cellar, much the same may well apply to red burgundy too, whose 2007 vintage is in the process of being tasted in London this week as a prelude to sales. The word on the grapevine is that a miserable summer produced at best "pretty" reds, wine-merchant speak, that is, for mostly average, early-drinking wines. The surprise, though, could be among the white wines, which have been called "excellent" and "brilliant" by two of the most respected burgundy watchers. If so, I'll soon be giving you some pointers on white wines for laying down.
If you're breathing a sigh of relief at not feeling blackmailed into parting with cash you don't really have, the flip side of that particular coin is that, except in great years, the wine world no longer revolves around Bordeaux and Burgundy. So while the 2008 vintage in France may float few boats other than a château-owner's yacht or two, let's not forget that any of our discretionary income not gobbled up by the unfavourable exchange-rate may usefully be directed towards some excellent wines from outside France. 2007 was a blinder in the Rhône and South of France and German Rieslings from this vintage are gorgeous. 2004 and 2006 was excellent for Italy, 2005 for Spanish and Australian reds and 2006 is the year of Argentinian malbec, more of which soon.
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