2021 Bordeaux En Primeur report by Lin Liu MW

1. Left or right, time to reset?

When we think about international, socio-political events, there is a tendency to summarise them by dividing them in binary fashion.

Looking at the wine world, the tendency of dividing things in a binary way also seems to be unavoidable in many aspects – natural wine, oak usage, organic or biodynamic, and so on. To be or not to be. Not exactly conducive to meaningful debate, but rather a matter of simply picking sides.

Bordeaux is no exception.

And the good old questions are still with us: is it a Left Bank vintage or a Right Bank vintage? Is it a Cabernet Sauvignon vintage or a Merlot vintage, or perhaps a Cabernet Franc vintage? And so on.

It depends.

A vague answer doesn’t immediately resolve the question, but oddly enough, in some ways, it can.

Like many other wine lovers, I certainly hold a special place in my heart for Bordeaux, although when one looks at the market, it is nowhere near as popular as it was when it was at its peak.

In terms of high-end wines, Burgundy leads the pack with some astonishing price surges. In more accessible segments, Bordeaux still faces the stylistic choice between easy-drinking (« digeste » and traditional (age-worthy). Needless to say, there are 50 shades of grey in between, but nevertheless. La Place on the other hand has added many outsiders, non-Bordeaux wines, to the list.

Bordeaux’s trading system based on the distribution network of La Place and its négociants has been solid and reliable. It thrived in good times, and sailed through many difficulties. If we flash black to the challenging times of 1971 – 1974, 1985 – 1988 and 1991 – 1994, or more recent times, Bordeaux has always managed to overcome the difficulties with a great vintage and reasonable pricing.

Fast forward to 2022 and it’s a different story: there has hardly been a more complicated time, with so much political and economic uncertainly on a global scale.

How the big names of 2021 Bordeaux en primeur will be priced is certainly the focus of the trade. There is a great deal of debate, and rumour has it that some estates are considering a price increase.

They have their reasons. Smaller production, relatively satisfying quality including some that actually perform extremely well.

But will the market buy it? Trade is always a balance between demand and supply. The initial idea of en primeur was to either secure rare wines which would otherwise be difficult to obtain, and/or to invest in the hope that prices would rise in the future.

But if we look at the global market place, it is surprisingly easy to find Bordeaux bottles from the past decade or even older, at very reasonable prices, sometimes even lower than when they were released. So what would be the motivation for buying this vintage? How can consumer purchases be driven? Must we wait for journalists to publish batches of ever-higher points?

I recall an interesting quote from Philippe Blanc, General Manager of Château Beychevelle: “Our objective is to make sure everybody is profitable in our supply chain.” I am thrilled by his openness with regards to his business strategy. A healthy business relationship doesn’t necessarily attract instant cash flow, but cultivates trust and thus builds support in challenging times.

To be continued.