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May 20, 2015

Bordeaux 2014 En Primeur Report

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Bordeaux 2014 En Primeur, a return to form?
We spent last week in Bordeaux tasting the 2014 vintage from barrel and speaking to chateaux owners and negociants. The two perennial questions surround the quality and potential release price; we will address the question of the latter later in this report.

The quality of the 2014 vintage is good, often very good and in a few cases truly exceptional. 2014 is comfortably the best vintage since 2010. In fact, excluding 2010, 2009, 2005 and 2000, 2014 is potentially better than all other vintages, going back to 2000; only 2003 and 2001 compete. In particular, the Left Bank estates made some truly superb wines, especially in St.Julien, Pauillac and St.Estephe; we found Margaux variable. James Suckling compares 2014 to the 1996 vintage, ‘when again the Left Bank was better than the Right Bank.’ He went on to say the left bank made ‘terrific wines similar to excellent 1996s but with modern fruit and precision.’ The Right Bank on the other hand was heterogeneous, quality was generally more uneven, except amongst the leading estates which benefited from either the clay knoll of Pomerol or those on the St.Emilion limestone slope.

The growing season
A mild and rainy winter recharged the ground water tables, inducing an early bud-break. May was cool, slowing down the vine growth, however, flowering began at the end of May and early June. June was sunny with some rain and the vintage appeared very promising, set for an early September harvest. However, July and August was marked by clouds, rain and humidity, causing the vines to shrink back and the grapes struggled to ripen. By the end of August, producers were concerned with slow ripening. However, what followed was exceptional, the longest Indian summer on record; September and October provided temperatures two degrees higher with half the rainfall than the average since 2000. Days averaged 30 degrees Centigrade and nights 16, providing superb diurnal temperature variation, perfecting the berries maturity and preserving acidity. September was the warmest since 1921 and 1961, while October was a series of dry, sunny days, only interrupted by a few beneficial storms necessary to prevent stress to the vines.

The Left Bank excelled, with the dominant Cabernet Sauvignon grape capable of countering the wet effects of July and August. On warm, gravelly soils its thick skin benefited from the superb Indian summer in September and October. James Molesworth of the Wine Spectator states ‘On the Left Bank, Cabernet Sauvignon picking stretched into October, with some rains providing a lifeline to vineyards at the end of their growing cycle.’  Most producers picked Merlot in late September, with Cabernet picking extending to the first two weeks of October. On the Right Bank, Pomerol saw more rain in September and October, the former experiencing 2.4 inches of rain contrasted with just 0.66 inches in Pauillac. Frédéric Engerer director at Latour, who also oversees other vineyards on the Right Bank concludes that ‘overall the wines we’re tasting now are rich, dense and very long.’

In particular, we thought St.Julien stole the show, Leoville Las Cases and Ducru Beaucaillou are truly special wines in 2014, while Beychevelle and Leoville Poyferre were superb; Talbot will represent superb value for money. The top wines of Pauillac and Pessac- Leognan were not far behind and it is a very good year for First Growths from both – while Pichon Lalande, Lynch Bages and Pontet Canet made excellent wines. The top wines of St.Estephe, Montrose and Cos d’Estournel, are very fine indeed and Calon Segur will be a strong buy once again. The Right Bank should certainly not be written off and the wines with the best terroir in St.Emilion and Pomerol are excellent.

Dry Whites and Sauternes
Dry white wines are excellent in 2014, they are fresh and focused with good acidity, while the warm weather later in the year meant they are round, with lovely purity of fruit and ripe notes. There was absolutely no problem with oxidation in 2014.

Sauternes are utterly superb, thanks to intermittent rain in September, combined with warm weather, particularly in the afternoon. The Indian summer created grapes that are ripe and balanced with fresh acidity. All this created almost perfect conditions for botrytic development, Sauternes and Barsac experienced an August in October, with afternoon sun ensuring noble rot, fundamental for botrytis. These late conditions were similar to the great 2001 vintage in Sauternes. However, while the 2001s were very ripe, the 2014s possess a superb balance of acidity and fruit ripeness, combined with incredible botrytic characteristics. Suckling says of the vintage ‘The dry and sweet whites were excellent. It’s amazing to see 2014 added to a range of wonderful vintages including 2011, 2010, 2009, 2005, 2003 and 2001’. In fact we could not help but seek out Sauternes at every tasting.

Price?
While it is broadly accepted that 2014 is a very good vintage, all the talk in Bordeaux last week was about price. Bordeaux is in need of an exciting campaign to breathe life back into the en primeur system. Christian Seely, managing director of Château Pichon Baron, categorically stated to us that the ‘2013 vintage would be the cheapest we will ever see again from the Estate’, fair enough. 2013 is accepted as a less than stellar vintage, resulting in chateaux reducing prices to reflect this and the general sentiment surrounding Bordeaux wines at the time. However, following the overpriced 2011s, good but luckless 2012s and the poor 2013s, chateaux and negociants are buckling under the weight of holding stock. Negociants were verbose about their commitment to communicating the market’s condition to the chateaux, while global merchants expressed a similar sentiment.

We can confirm at this point that it is highly unlikely Euro release prices of Classified Growths will be reduced in 2013, if any do, they will be superb buys. We also believe very few Classified Growths will release at the same price as last year, with the chateaux owners cognisant the quality is far higher. Some of the larger negociants to whom we spoke believe a 5% euro price rise will be the general increase, if this is the case we could be in for an excellent campaign due to the strength of US, UK, Hong Kong and Chinese currencies against the Euro. A slight increase given the weak euro presents a situation where the final price could be below, or equal to 2013. Where this is the case the 2014 vintage is a strong buy. Last year the Euro to Pound in April averaged .80, compared to .73 today, a change of 8.75% so this pricing dynamic is very possible.

The table below represents the London release price for the 2013 vintage (Ex-Lon £) and projections of 2014 release price given the Euro/Pound exchange rate today. As one can see from our selection of some of the top wines, the scores are excellent, far exceeding 2011s, 2012s and 2013s, from James Molesworth of the Wine Spectator (WS) and James Suckling (JS). Robert Parker will not be tasting in 2014s, instead Neil Martin will represent the Wine Advocate; adding weight to Molesworth and Suckling’s scores.

table

This represents an interesting cross-section of price pressure in a very good vintage, meaning that for the first time since 2008, prices that incentive one to purchase on release and quality may potentially meet harmoniously. This presents a real opportunity. Most buyers over the last three years have largely stayed out of en primeur, only buying sparingly, it is hard to argue against the fact that the last five years of en primeur has been overpriced, with prices dropping since 2010. As such 2014 is in a similar situation to 2008 which followed a poor vintage, 2007, and a very expensive one, 2005. During the 2008 campaign the market was crying out for a well-priced campaign, the Bordelais took heed and the 2008s represented an excellent short term investment for buyers. However, 2014 is better than 2008 and with the Euro weak, if the leading estates keep to a 5% Euro increase, en primeur could be back!

We will provide in-depth analysis of the vintage as it unfolds. We are waiting on the first releases and as soon as they are announced we will be releasing our general offers. If you would like to speak with an adviser in regard to this campaign please reply to this email or call us on 0203 195 8066.

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