BFM Business Interview | Analysis of Bordeaux’s 2019 vintage

For any wine enthusiast looking to put together an investment cellar, Bordeaux’s grands crus have always been somewhat of a rite of passage. Particularly cuvées bought en primeurs. This year, Bordeaux didn’t get to run such a big campaign for its latest vintage due to the covid crisis, but has it managed to adapt?

France’s lockdown forced a pause in the primeur calendar, but this issue has come back into the news. These events are crucial for the Bordeaux market since selling their latest vintages en primeur makes up over half of their export sales. Of course, this year hasn’t seen the usual meeting of thousands of wine professionals from across the world. This means that the properties have had to be creative in order to let people taste the 2019 production despite the weight of the current situation. There have been video presentations, samples sent around the globe (though some chateaux have been reluctant in this regard), live sessions on Instagram…a dynamic response that should be given credit. And all of this before the vintage an be put on the market.

What kind of vintage has 2019 produced? A small one, great, legendary even?

The Bordeaux properties have been especially keen to get this vintage out there for the world to taste. However, 2019 wasn’t a smooth ride for production. January was extremely cold followed by a tropical February, then there was a gloomy spring that brought frost as far as May; June was very warm and July saw an unprecedented heatwave – one of the hottest July months of the past 30 years. During the summer, stormy periods made sure that the vines in certain parcels kept growing, as they had been suffering from drought. September, however, was magnificent, offering the ideal conditions for harvest. Some properties chose to harvest early in the morning to preserve the freshness of the grapes.

2019 worked out best for the Merlot vines, as well as the Cabernets. In the end, the wines turned out to be dense, powerful, and some have a high alcohol level, though they all manage to offer freshness and elegance.

So how would you rate it compared to others?

Since you’re after a catchy soundbite, I’d say the 2019 vintage is a true ‘9’ year!

Fans of Bordeaux will know that the years ending in 9 often turn out to be especially fine vintages. Some of the wines we’ve tasted are reminiscent of the superb 2009 production. And 1989 was certainly a big one…But I couldn’t say at this point if the 2019 will be as legendary as that!

What I can say for sure is that this vintage is notably accomplished on the part of several properties, particularly those who opted for gentle extractions and more delicate vinifications.

Have any of the appellations particularly stood out?

2019 worked in the favour of terroirs with clay soils, since this acts as a kind of sponge, holding onto water during periods of little rain. Also, old vines have resisted well during episodes of high heat because they are rooted much more deeply. These two criteria have made all the difference.

Successes have been seen in all the appellations, with one characteristic standing out: certain wines that are already especially good in their youth. As vinification methods evolve, you no longer need wait decades for a Bordeaux wine to develop. The 2019 is the perfect example of this.

We should also highlight that some of these wines have a notably good acidity, often a good indicator of longevity. And this is something to bear in mind when investing!

Ok so the 2019 vintage is good, but who’s going to buy it in such a context?

I don’t think I need to explain here how fragile the current situation is, especially as two of Bordeaux’s biggest export markets have been weakened over the last months: China, which is the region’s top international buyer and hugely impacted by the coronavirus, and the USA, the second market, where Trump’s taxes on wine imports has taken a toll.

In Europe, the impact of covid is still being felt, with restaurants only just beginning to reopen and the tourism industry yet to get going again.

Honestly, all will depend on the relationships established between the Bordeaux properties and their clients, markets, and import networks.

Would it not have been better for them to skip the primeurs campaign this year?

Absolutely not, and this is for two main reasons. Firstly, for some properties, the primeur events are crucial for them to balance the books. We should note, in passing, that the yields are at a good level this time, so there is wine to sell! This is important after a few hard years of frost (2017) and disease (2018).

Secondly, Bordeaux really needs to stay in the fine wine market. Nowadays, nothing can be taken for granted and historical prestige is not enough. We have already seen a general reduction in the region’s percentage at auction (43% volume sold in 2019, 40% in value). It would be dangerous for Bordeaux to simply disappear from the market, especially with such a successful vintage. Their dynamic response is a good sign.

Whilst just 200 châteaux sell their wines en primeur, the whole region benefits from the spotlight.

Have the properties felt the need to lower their prices?

Château Pontet Canet sent a strong signal by lowering primeur prices by 31%. Important to remember that this pioneer in Bordeaux biodynamics had seen real increases in recent years. Château Palmer, also a biodynamic domain, has shown a decrease of 32%, and Cos d’Estournel of -25%.

The properties know better than anyone how important it is for them to fix a price, especially considering the current context in all their main markets. This decision will have to be made in a way that is coherent with the prices seen in previous years, especially with regards to the quality of those vintages in comparison.

So is this vintage one to buy?

Having seen the quality of these wines, a good vintage like 2019 could turn out to be a really good opportunity, keeping in mind several sometimes contradictory factors: the price, of course, which is yet to be confirmed from many properties, as well as the relative rarity of the wines this year and their ageing capacity.

See the Bordeaux wines currently for sale at iDealwine