I think the May issue of Wine & Spirit magazine had it about right suggesting that wine buyers in search of a bargain are best to wait for next year's French supermarket Foires aux Vins to buy their Bordeaux 2007s. I didn't attend this year's tasting circus in Bordeaux last month because the weather conditions and subsequent reports made it clear that there was little mileage for consumers to buy en primeur now. Even the normally enthusiastic UK wine trade, which stands to make easy money from sales of the new Bordeaux vintages, has been a little quiet. It's a sound enough vintage, good in parts, but only in the best of years is it worth shelling out in advance.
A survey of the members of the wine exchange Liv-ex.com suggests at this early stage that the best wine of the vintage is likely to be St Emilion's Château Ausone, while Léoville Barton tops the poll for the likely "best value" château (bearing in mind values are relative in Bordeaux) and Château Lafite is the biggest disappointment. On a 100-point rating, the vintage overall scored 88, which puts it on a par with the average-to-mediocre vintages of 1997 and 1999. Pre-release prices, which are just starting to trickle through now, are expected to be lower than 2006, but still the third highest ever. Not the greatest incentive to buy pre-release then in the wake of modern classics such as 2005 and 2000.
Although Bordeaux does its best to claim that advances in the cellar and vineyard ensure that there's no such thing as an off-vintage any more, the weather or le bon dieu, depending on your allegiance, sees to it that vintage variation is still a demonstrable feature of the world's biggest fine-wine region. Nowhere was this mor e evident than in London earlier this month where, to celebrate 25 years of ownership, the Dillon family hosted a tasting of 55 vintages of Château La Mission Haut Brion at The Square restaurant. From 2005 back to 1929, the tasting showed wines, warts and all, from modern giants like 2005 and 2000, through the legendary vintages of 1989, 1982, 1961 and 1959, to the shockers of 1963 and 1965.
La Mission Haut Brion in Pessac-Léognan in the Graves region south of Bordeaux is almost a "first growth" but not quite. The five first growths, Haut-Brion, Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Mouton Rothschild, are the old masters of the wine world, classified first among equals in 1855 (Mouton joining the élite crew in 1973). In company with St Emilion's Cheval Blanc and Ausone and Pomerol's Pétrus, they're the solid blue chips sought after the world over by investors, collectors and label drinkers. La Mission missed out in 1855, but as this historic tasting showed, in great vintages, it's the equal of the first growths and in some, notably 1989 and 1975, it surpasses them. If you had seen the 2000 La Mission on offer en primeur at £1,600 a case, you might have baulked at the price, but since today's market price is £5,000 a case, you'd be laughing if you'd bought it.
One of Bordeaux's virtues is that it can still offer good claret that doesn't have to cost an arm and both legs. On the same day as the La Mission tasting, Berry Bros was also showing some fine clarets that are just about ready for drinking, among them the classic, savoury 2004 Château Pontet Canet, £39.50, and the stylish 2004 Château Pavie Macquin, St Emilion, £45. For more everyday fare from the consistent 2005 vintage, the 2005 Diane de Belgrave, £10.99, Majestic, is a modern style with some of the class of its grand vin, Château Belgrave, the 2005 Château Greysac, £11.99, Majestic, or buy 2 = £9.99, is a juicily blackcurranty, classic Médoc, while the Château Saÿe, £7.99, M&S, is more classic merlot in style with a chocolatey fruitiness. Not in grand La Mission Haut Brion league granted, but not out of sight either.