Bordeaux En Primeur 2015
Bordeaux has a special place in my wine stained heart for several reasons. It was through Bordeaux that I first ventured into the world of fine wines. During my 1 year stint as a restaurant manager in the Czech Republic couple years ago, it was Bordeaux that I worked with most - our cellar specialized in it - and it was quite a revelation. Up to that point I was more of a low-key-low-price wine kind of gal (something that stemmed from my modest college budget) and I enjoyed the beverage but couldn't really understand why anyone would be willing to spend a bigger buck on a bottle of wine. Safe to say that things have changed since then. I fell in love with the elegance, history and flavors of the region and I'll never forget the experience of finishing off my year at Chateau Herálec holding a tasting of Chateau Angelus - led by the wonderful and charming daughter of the owner Coralie de Boüard - the day after the chateau got promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé A. We were one of the first to officially taste their wines after the announcement and it was a pretty spectacular and magical evening.
I have since been to the region a couple of times both during and outside of en primeur. What is this en primeur you ask? Well! Put in simple terms, if that's possible, it is a system of purchasing wine where you are essentially buying wine in the future. Strange you ask? Well it gets stranger. The system works in a couple regions around the world but Bordeaux is most famous for it. Always taking place during spring time, chateaus release samples of their wines from the previous vintage, meaning en primeur this year was samples from the 2015 vintage. These wines come straight from the barrel - a bottle for these wines is a future lover they have not yet met as they will only be bottled after en primeur. The tastings are only allowed to be attended by journalists, wine merchants and a few of their clients and you've got to sign up before hand. Tad elitist, yes, but it prevents people who just want to jump on the band wagon of a good vintage taking the space of people who have been loyal customers for years. And there ain't that much of this fine wine to go around.
After negociants, wine speak for merchants, have tasted everything in their capabilities and have seen the en primeur prices released by chateaus, they place orders on the wines they liked and the wine then gets delivered to them usually 2-3 years after the purchase to be resold to customers. Bottled obviously. Whyyyyy so complicated you ask? Well mostly because it's historically worked that way for a long time and en primeur prices are usually lower than the prices after the wine has been released on the market. Usually that is. Here's a nice little article by the Decanter magazine explaining the whole thing in more detail. There's been some debate on the merits of the whole system that I won't get into a.) because I don't really feel qualified enough to talk about it and b.) because I sense it will bore you. However! A nice article by the Wall Street Journal here sums the debate up pretty nicely.
Like last year, I attended the en primeur campaign with the fabulous team of Slovak wine merchant Provino who works primarily with Bordeaux negociant Duclot. Now - it may seem like 5 days of wine tasting from the early morn' to late in the afternoon is amazing and the life and no work at all. And don't get me wrong - it's pretty great if wine is your passion. But it is simultaneously pretty exhausting. Last year we counted that we tasted around 250 samples in 5 days and the schedule is crazy - wake up around 7, 9:30 first chateau, one chateau after the next in 15-30 minute intervals where you run in, taste, write a couple notes and on to the next one, squeeze in a tight lunch where you finally get to have your first actual glass of wine, in between tastings you squish in a minivan with 7 other people and then get back to your hotel in the evening half passed out having difficulties remembering what you tasted two hours ago, let alone in the morning. But that's why you write notes! And the amount you get to see in such a short amount of time is insane, you meet tons of people from the industry and let's be honest, you drink a lot of great wines during the week. So it's worth it.
That being said, in my opinion once you've done two or three en primeur campaigns in a row unless you need to for work I think it's good to take a break and come back some time after - the whole week is very hectic and you don't really get to enjoy the atmosphere of any particular chateau to it's full potential. But it's still a lot of fun, especially if you forget to spit some (a lot) of the samples during the day. Oh my god, what did I just say! I didn't spit all the samples?! How unprofessional of me. But yes - I don't truly believe anyone does spit a 100% of the time and yes I may have inadvertently been tipsy around three times a day but being able to writing decent tasting notes under such conditions should be considered as some kind of achievement in itself.
I could write an article for each chateau, let alone each day, region or whatever other category one could choose to describe the experience but that would take a lot of time that I do not have and I think a 'best of' visual photo jumble perfectly describes what the week was. A jumble tumble of amazing experiences and visual and taste inspiration overload. Last year I feel like I didn't really pay attention to the wines or the places that intently but this year I was overwhelmed by the aesthetic beauty everywhere. Also - what a vintage. Based on what we tasted, it's safe to say 2015 is going to be a grand beauty. There was variation - for me the strongest areas were the Right Bank as a whole, Margaux, Pauillac and some wineries in Pessac, but an absolute vast majority of the wines were showing beautifully.
Generally speaking what surprised me most was that the wines were already drinkable - last year with the '14 a lot more of the samples were closed off and needed time. Obviously the '15 needs time too but despite being an infant it is a very promising one. The wines had great fruit, definitely present tannins but not too overwhelming and refreshing acidity. Just wines with a lot of potential that reminded me of a mixture between the '09 and beastly '10 vintage. Those that stood out were samples that had that touch of complexity and elegance to them, while still having a good body and power to them. Which elegantly brings me to the only thing that I found as a downside. There were generally larger alcohol levels - some chateaus especially in the Left Bank managed to contain the level beautifully such as Chateau Margaux at 13,5% - but a majority of the chateaus were 14% and above, usually around 14,5%. On one hand it makes sense - a good harvest, like the one last year, means fully ripened grapes and it's not about any residual sugar obviously since that's controlled at low levels and that ain't the kind of wine we're talking - but at the same time in a general climate of moderate to low alcohol levels in wine being globally trendy it seems a bit over the top. I for one generally prefer moderate alcohol levels in wines - it's like the perfect middle ground between not busting your balls and your taste buds and not being too bland - but I'm not opposed to having a 15%, even 16% Cab for example (or any other grape variety that can "take it") if it's made well, balanced and delicious. Nowhere in this en primeur did I find the alcohol to be overwhelming to a negative degree, but it's something to consider when thinking of this vintage.
Another thing that I found positive about this year's campaign is that a lot more young people were present than last year. To put things into perspective - the kind of wines I'm talking about here, the really high quality fine wines, make up only around 5% of the whole production of the region. Which is not a lot to say the least. Most of the production is cheaper to cheap bulk wines that end up in restaurants and shops over France or in supermarkets all over the world. I'm very happy and grateful to be in touch with fine wines and to even have the opportunity to be writing about them but for somebody my age it's definitely rare and it's not really where the mass market it. Now obviously - fine wine is basically a luxury product that is by definition not aimed at a mass market. But for the future, I think it will be really important for wine regions all over the world to take the fact that they have to appeal to and educate younger customers about their wines in an attractive way into account if they are to be successful in the long run. Something that I think applies to fine wines as well - understanding why a bottle of wine is so expensive and what the quality is that it offers is just as important as understanding why a bottle of something labeled Bordeaux can cost 5 EUR on a supermarket shelf. So to me the larger presence of fellow young peeps was very encouraging.
For those of you who find the idea of this whole en primeur business frightening or unappealing, do not worry! Bordeaux, the city as well as the region, is in my opinion a beautiful place to visit even if you aren't so crazy about wine. The city is gorgeous - large boulevards, the river Garonne providing great views and plenty of good restaurants and parks to sneak off into (just be careful with opening times - you're not eating anything between 3 and 7 p.m. unless its a cold baguette and stale pain au chocolat) and the wineries, whether Right or Left Bank are worth visiting just for the views. The region is ideal for a weekend getaway but I think it will forever be a more fancy than fun wine destination - something that could be dangerous if the fine wine market was to collapse for whatever reason and young people on a budget won't have much incentive to visit. But I'll always come back when the opportunity presents itself. J'taime Bordeaux. A bientot.