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Why Bordeaux 2019 Vintages Are a Potentially Difficult Debut

The Bordeaux 2019 en primeur samples are outstanding – but will oenophiles still pay top prices in hard times?

If Bordeaux offered its 2019 vintage right now for 30 to 40 percent less than last year’s offer of en primeur, or futures, would you buy? I’m sure you haven’t thought much about the 2019 vintage in Bordeaux. Buying futures is the last thing on the minds of most wine lovers as the world deals with Covid-19 and the global economic crisis. And most people would rather spend money on wine that’s in the bottle and ready to drink than one that’s ageing in a barrel in a winery. Bordeaux only releases wines on to the market two years after the grapes are harvested. So, the 2019 wines will be available in 2021.

Winemaker and Oenologist Hubert De Bouard (centre) at his Château Angelus Winery

However, I’ve tasted about 1,000 barrel samples of 2019 Bordeaux in my Hong Kong wine bar, James Suckling Wine Central, and I was happily surprised with the quality of the samples – the wines are of outstanding quality. Plus, it looks like prices for the 2019 wines will much less than for those of 2018. Château Pontet-Canet recently announced its high-quality wine at more than one-third less than its 2018. Wine merchants in Bordeaux reported that their email inboxes were filling with orders. One London wine merchant was already offering six bottles of the Pontet-Canet 2019 for US$462, compared with US$816 for the 2018.

The 2019 vintage is not an exceptional year like last year’s 2018 from barrel, when Bordeaux winemakers pulled off a near miracle in their vineyards, picking ripe and opulent grapes in a late, dry and warm harvest following months of problems, including hail and mildew. But so many of the 2019 wines are at the same level of quality as 2018, albeit with less exuberance and plushness in fruit and tannins. The wines seem more typical for Bordeaux – which is a good thing – with a balance of alcohol, cool and blue fruits and fine linear tannins that are refined and driven.

“I prefer 2019 to 2018, as the wines have this depth and density of the 2018 or 2010 (maybe a little less power) with the sensuality and sexiness that you really liked in 2015,” said Thomas Duclos, one of the most popular consulting oenologists in Bordeaux, who makes refined and polished wines. “The great evolution of Bordeaux in recent years seems to me to be this ability to make great wines more accessible in their young years. And I think 2019 is a very good example of this.”

Hubert De Bouard (left) at Château Angelus in Bordeaux

It’s the consensus on the quality of the vintage and the general nature of the wines that’s interesting to me as a longtime wine critic and journalist. It doesn’t happen very often. And the consistency in the quality of the wines from straightforward wine-merchant blends to complex grand chateaux samples highlights this agreement. It means that the wines will be excellent in bottle, regardless of when they sell.

“The wines in 2019 are perfect for greedy wine lovers,” said Hubert de Bouard, whose family owns one of the top growths of the Right Bank, Château Angelus, and who is also a leading consulting enologist in Bordeaux. “The wines are already really tasty – and they’re sexy wines. In 60 percent of the wines I made I prefer the 2019, and in 40 percent I prefer 2018.”

The question now is whether people will buy 2019 Bordeaux as futures or en primeur under the current societal and economic conditions. Most of the winemakers and wine merchants in Bordeaux I spoke to agreed that prices have to come down.

“If we want to have success with en primeur in 2019 then the price must be down,” said de Bouard. “I don’t know [if it should be] 20 percent. I don’t know 15 percent. I don’t know 30 percent. It depends on the brands.”

Some wine merchants who specialise in en primeur in London and Hong Kong apparently sent a written appeal to Bordeaux vintners, urging them to not sell en primeur this year. It’s certainly understandable. But some merchants I spoke to say their customers are interested in buying 2019 futures.

“I have customers now who are asking me for 2019 Bordeaux,” said Eric Desgouttes, general manager of Hong Kong’s Kerry Wines. “Why shouldn’t we offer the wines for sale? Let the market decide.”

It might seem surreal to think about selling 2019 Bordeaux as futures now, against the grim backdrop of Covid-19 and the damaged global economy, particularly in the United States and Europe. But the wines I’ve tasted so far from 2019 seem good to excellent and comparable in quality to 2018, 2016 and 2015 – all excellent vintages.

And if you love wine, you should find it reassuring to remember that wine has always been made, sold and drunk even during terrible moments in history, from wars to pandemics. So, the market will indeed decide whether now is the time to buy 2019 en primeur, when the wines begin selling in a few weeks.

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