John Lichfield: Sour grapes, even in vintage years

Notebook: in Paris

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Aristocracy is alive and well in Republican France. The gap between the nobles in their posh châteaux and the sans-culottes, in their loss posh châteaux, has never been so great. I speak of wine and especially of Bordeaux.

The season for selling the 2009 "primeurs", or young wine, from the top hundred or so Bordeaux châteaux, has just ended. The 2009 vintage is esteemed by the greatest experts to be one of the finest of all time, even better maybe than the 2005 vintage, which was said to be one of the best since the 1950s.

Primeurs are wines sold in the barrel for delivery, in the bottle, in 12 or 18 months' time, and for drinking some time in the 2020s or 2030s. Despite the economic crisis, despite the global wine crisis, despite the apparent collapse of the speculative US market for very fine French wines last year, the 2009 Bordeaux primeurs have been breaking all price records.

The prices demanded, and received, by the leading châteaux are, on average, 50 per cent up on 2008 (a pretty good year) and 20 per cent up on 2005 (which broke all previous records). To own a single 2009 bottle of Château Lafite-Rothschild, or Château Mouton-Rothschild or Château Latour – wine that you would not expect to drink for 20 years – you and I would have to pay around £800 or €1,000. (The very top châteaux are charging €500 a bottle to the dealers; the rest is taxes, transport and margins.)

Better, by far, to go for one of the rising stars of claretdom, like 2009 Château Pontet-Canet, which was sold out, "en primeur" at a mere €72 a bottle at the château gate. It can now be bought, if you are lucky, for around £100 a bottle in London.

Traditionally, when the big name châteaux prices go through the roof, the middle and low market Bordeaux wines also do well. This year, despite the universal excellence of the 2009 vintage, prices for "ordinary" and "superior" Bordeaux, and the hundreds of obscure châteaux, remain at rock bottom.

You can buy a barrel of 900 litres (1,200 bottles) of basic "appellation contrôlé" red Bordeaux or claret for €650 wholesale – little more than the price of one bottle of 2009 Château Margaux. There has never been such a discrepancy in price – 1 to 1,200 – between top and bottom.

Why? The prices of the big names are being forced up by quality, by speculation and by shortage. The 2009 harvest was relatively small. Its excellence should mean that it will be prized, and traded like gold or impressionist paintings, for decades to come.

Some, not all, of the big châteaux have been deliberately increasing the scarcity. They have been holding back some of their 2009 stock in the hope of cashing in when prices rise in five or 10 years' time.

The Chinese have also been bidding energetically for the top claret names this year for the first time. (Who in China, one wonders, is drinking €500 to €1,000 bottles of wine?)

The low- and middle-range Bordeaux, by contrast, are stuck in the depressed global market for medium priced and cheap wine. Even the official French marketing agency, Anivin, announced last week that the future for such wine may be in a few, mass-produced, reliable brands, not in the preservation of hundreds of relatively unknown châteaux names.

Depressing? Yes. But in the short term there may be terrific bargains for people who like to drink claret, rather than hoard and trade it. At the lower levels of the market, the 2009 wines should be drinkable in five or six years' time, or even less. There are plenty of websites which give good advice on which cheap and medium Bordeaux are worth buying and drinking.

Support the oenological sans-culottes, not the aristocrats.



Fashion week leaves some feeling beardy-eyed



Real men wear beards, according to L'Express. The magazine reports that the trend amongst male models as the Paris Fashion Week has been the sauvage, virile et bestial (which needs no translation).

Long and shaggy black beards and chest hair resembling hearth rugs have replaced shining, smoothe torsos and designer stubble. Out with David Beckham and Thierry Henry; in with Sebastien Chabal and Rasputin.

Could this be anything to do with the failure of the France football team?



Spot the difference



I have been struck by the remarkable likeness between the blameless, entirely honest, new British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, and the alleged French rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel.

Would you trust either of them with a lot of money? It is something about the eyebrows and the hairline and that look of – untrendy – clean-shaven, boyish innocence.

Mr Kerviel's three-week trial for losing €4.9bn in unauthorised trades in 2008 has just ended. He and his lawyers tried, with partial success, to blame his bank, Société Générale and the whole banking industry.

Mr Osborne's trial is just beginning.

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