A vintage year: France anticipates finest Bordeaux wines in 60 years

A fine summer and a dry September mean 'perfect' 2005 will be surpassed
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The Independent Online

Perfect weather conditions – a fine summer followed by dry, cool nights in September – could make the 2009 bordeaux vintage one of the best on record, according to local wine experts.

Although the grape harvest is only just finishing and the juvenile wines will not be tasted for months, some professionals are already predicting that 2009 clarets will surpass the outstanding vintage of 2005.

"Nature has been exceptionally kind to us," said Denis Dubourdieu, director of the Bordeaux l'Institut des Sciences de la Vigne. "The conditions have been so sumptuous that it is difficult to find a parallel. You have perhaps to go back to the 1940s to find a comparable year."

Jean-Christophe Estève, a wine taster and trader, said that the weather in the final days before grape picking in September – mostly fine days but cool, dry nights – had been the finest in the Bordeaux area for 60 years.

Cool nights in September prevent the grapes from becoming too ripe and lush and help to produce a more sophisticated wine. July and August had already been close to perfect in south- west France, with high temperatures and plenty of sun.

Alfred Tesseron, proprietor and manager of the Château Pontet-Canet in Paulliac, one of the most prized of Médoc clarets, will be harvesting his last grapes this weekend. "Of course it's too early to be sure," he told The Independent last night. "But already in 2005 I thought that I was a lucky man to see such exceptional grapes in my lifetime. Now it seems that I may be lucky twice. The weather patterns of the two years were very similar but, if anything, the cool nights in September could make 2009 even better."

Foreign wine traders and private buyers may take these early predictions, if not with a pinch of salt, then at least a cube of ice. Bordeaux sales, for all but the most sought-after châteaux, slumped badly last year after a brief boom attributed to the global thirst for the 2005 vintage. The 2009 primeurs, or young wines, will not be ready for preliminary tasting until January or February. Grand claims are made for the quality of bordeaux almost every year, regardless of the weather.

However, in the wine blog of the British importer Berry Brothers & Rudd, the company's Bordeaux buyer, Max Lalondrelle, also waxed lyrical about the 2009 harvest. "The weather in Bordeaux (and the rest of France) has been textbook, with the fruits being the healthiest I have ever seen," he wrote. "When tasted, the berries are extra ripe and even the pips are mature. All the ingredients of a good vintage look to be in place."

Bordeaux professionals are united in forecasting an excellent year for both red wines (clarets) and white. Laurent Gapenne, president of the Bordeaux federation of "grands vins", said the quality should stretch from top châteaux to generic clarets. The only problem, he said, was that some wines might be higher in alcohol content than usual – about 14 degrees, compared to 12.5 or 13 degrees. Consumers tend, these days, to prefer a lower alcohol content.

The only other fly in the Bordeaux wine barrel is the damage caused in some areas – including Entre-Deux-Mers, Saint-Emilion and Graves – by hailstorms in May. Over 50 per cent of the harvest was lost in some vineyards.

Some were insured against hail damage but many others were not. "It may be an exceptional year but it is going to kill some producers," said Jean-François Quenin, president of the Saint-Emilion wine council.

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