The internet wine merchant Winefinder has for five years arranged tastings of the Bordeaux primeurs at the prestigious Munich Brewery in Stockholm. It is the latest vintage from Bordeaux which is still in barrels, the vintage 2014. Nevertheless it is presented now and already for sale. It will not be delivered to the buyer until the first half of 2017, when the wines have spent the full time in barrel and then rested some in bottle. Unfortunately, the premier cru chateau, and those who receive the most money for their wines, usually never participate in these presentations neither here nor abroad. Their wines are sold anyway without marketing. The wines on show here cost between 20 and 100 euro per bottle, as primeurs, if you buy a case of 12 bottles.
Bordeaux is a bit strange. Chateaux almost never sell anything themselves direct to importers or to end-customers. Instead, for over a century they have sold their wines to negociants (wine wholesalers) who then sell them on to buyers worldwide. The wines (of the Medoc) were ranked already in 1855 in different classes and this still controls pretty much what you have to pay today. In April each year negocianter, international wine experts and writers review the new wines, wines that have only been in the barrels for a few months, in the so-called primeur tastings in Bordeaux. It must be extremely difficult to assess them. The chateaux can then charge for their wines in relation to how many “points” they get. After that they try to sell as much as possible to bring in new capital and get paid in advance for goods delivered after a few years.
The wines are typically sold in wooden cases of 12 bottles. The most expensive chateaux are in many cases bought as an investment. But this is something I really do not agree with; the wine is a living product. In order to get a high price for an older wine the bottle must have a high fill level and a perfect label. But older bottles with a perfect label can hardly have been stored in a proper cellar with ideal temperature and humidity. When I worked at the Vin & Sprit sensory panel 5 to 8 years ago at one time the then Prime Minister Goran Persson come for a visit. (Vin & Sprit was the monopoly importer to Sweden until 1996.) One of the chefs told me that among other things they would serve a Château Mouton Rothschild 1945, a wine that on the collector’s market will cost over 5 000 euro a bottle . But if I open the bottle and the cork is faulty, or it has been kept in a bad cellar and the wine is off then it is basically worthless.
But nevertheless a good Bordeaux is always interesting. It was probably the first wine I really got enthused with, when I bought the Vin & Sprit Bordeaux wines, imported in bulk and bottled in Sweden, sold in the 1970s and 1980s, that only cost one or two euro more than the cheapest plonk.
Today winemaking is better than before in Bordeaux, they remove more young grapes from each bunch (so-called green harvest) so that the others will get more concentration and they remove leaves so that the grapes will get more sun. But the climate effect has also increased the alcoholic strength; it used to be about 12.5% ABV and is now 13-14%. Many wines from the 2014 vintage was at 14%.
Winefinder is headquartered in Helsingborg, but the warehouse in Denmark. They have focused on online sales to the Swedish market since 2007. In accordance with ecommerce regulations they pay Swedish taxes and VAT on the wines. A few years ago, they were sued by the temperance movement and by Systembolaget for giving the wine consumers the option to pick up their purchases at any City Gross store (City Gross is a leading grocery store chain), but the court case fizzled out and came to nothing.
Shipping conditions are favourable, the delivery costs only 15 euro whether you buy one bottle or a thousand. It is free if you collect the bottles in a City Gross shop. They sell no spirits, bag-in-box wines or beer, and their aim is to select good wines with the help of their wine tasting panel. If the same wine is sold in the Swedish monopoly shops then they want to have their prices lower than at Systembolaget. This year they invest a lot of money to be able to expand and to compete with Systembolaget.
49 chateaux were represented at the tasting. All but one had brought the 2014 plus an older vintage.
So what about 2014?
In the 2000s, there have been a lot of great vintages. We can start with 2000, 2005, 2009, 2010 and now 2014.
I have gone to many primeur tastings earlier; in 2014 gave me the impression of being elegant and charming with good fruit and good acidity and not particularly harsh tannins. But they are young wines. They will get 8 to 10 months more in barrels and then a year in bottle. They will probably close up to some extent and might then be good to drink about in 4-5 years. The only exception is probably young Sauternes that is fantastically good already!
Among the older wines presented were various vintages: 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. The absolutely best wine over-all was the Domaine de Chevalier 2000 with an exquisite maturity and concentration. But it costs ~150 euro per bottle when buying a case of 12.
The wines from 2005, 2009 and 2010 were all really good, and they will keep and develop a lot over the coming years. 2003 was a really hot year and it too can certainly also be aged for several years. 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012 are probably not for keeping 10-20 years but are better to be drunk relatively young.
My favorites from 2014:
- Château Victoire,
- Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion,
- Château Clerc Milon,
- Château Poujeaux,
- Château Du Tertre,
- Château d’Issan,
- Château Leoville Barton
- Château Talbot
- And of course, all of the Sauternes chateaux
Also interesting was a dry wine from Sauternes called G de Guiraud with over 50% Semillon in the blend (sold under the appellation Bordeaux). With some barrel ageing it becomes quite unlike other white Bordeaux blancs dominated by sauvignon blanc. And it costs only ~15 euro for a bottle.
But the highlight was when the show closed and I and a dozen other writers were invited to a buffet dinner with Wine Finder staff and exhibitors. Every chateau lined up with a magnum bottle from 1996 and forward, the mood became animated as nobody had to spit anymore, and everyone could try it and compare each other’s wines. Just the experience of seeing over 40 opened magnum bottles on a table where you could just help yourself as you liked must be every wine lovers wet dream!
PS: For those who are interested, here are the chateau that participated, and that are available through Winefinder. Chateau Cantemerle and Chateau Camensac, Château Chasse-Spleen, Chateau Poujeaux, Château Brane Cantenac, Château Cantenac Brown Château Durfort Vivens, Château Ferrière, Château Giscours, Château d’Issan, Chateau Lascombes, Château du Tertre, Château Beychevelle, Château Ducru Branaire Château Lagrange, Chateau Langoa Barton, Château Léoville Barton, Château Léoville Poyferré, Chateau Talbot, Château d’Armailhac, Château Clerc-Milon, Château Haut Bages liberal, Château Pichon-Longueville Baron, Chateau Lafon-Rochet, Chateau Phelan-Segur, Chateau Carmes Haut Brion, Château Haut-Bailly, Château Latour-Martillac, Larrivet Chateau Haut Brion, Château Malartic, Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Domaine de Chevalier, Chateau Beausejour Bécot, Chateau Destieux, Château Canon la Gaffelière, Clos de l’Oratoire , Clos Fourtet, Château Beauregard, Château Clinet, Château Gazin, Château La Clémence, Château Petit-Village, Chateau Coutet, Château Guiraud and Chateau Suduiraut.
Roland Eriksson writes on BKWine Magazine on wine tastings with wine merchants and importers in Sweden. Roland is the author of a book on cognac (A Handbook: Cognac, 2007, published in Swedish) and one on rum as well as one on tea.
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