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Bordeaux En Primeur 2010 – On Scores and Pricing

Jancis Robinson has published a “hand-wringing plea” on her Purple Pages website as to when she should publish her much sought after tasting notes and scores on the 2010 En Primeur wines in barrel. The UGC tastings traditionally start in the first week of April and are held for the Trade and the Press only (for a guide to the En Primeur Week see Gavin Quinney’s piece over on Liv-ex). However some people do get to taste the Primeurs earlier than this – I tasted some 2010 wines last month when I visited various chateaux. The chateaux usually ask that you do not publish in advance of the UGC tastings and there is an embargo on publishing any notes or scores before the 4th April. Jancis publishes her Bordeaux Primeurs tasting notes and scores as soon as possible after the tastings and Robert Parker’s are normally published slightly after Jancis’.

James Suckling seems to have upset the apple cart by publishing his 2010 notes and scores on his new website this year – well in advance of anyone else . . . which in my view has done more to promote Suckling than the wines he has tasted. You may well be asking why should we care? Well, both Jancis and Oliver Styles raise some important points – by publishing the notes and scores for wine before they are priced are wine critics really helping the consumer? If a wine is given a great score then the chateaux feel justified in the price they apply.

Of course it is the scores that Parker gives that lend the most weight – the 2008 Primeurs were unusual in that the First Growths released before Parker’s all-important scores. The prices were between 20 – 40% down. Then Parker released his scores, which were high, declared the vintage “excellent“ and implied it equalled the 2005. Overnight, wines shot up in price. What’s more it begged the question as to whether the chateaux would ever release their prices before Parker published his scores again.

Last year, when writing about the 2009 Primeurs I suggested that:

“in future vintages it would be best for all concerned if Robert Parker’s scores and tasting notes were published at the end of the En Primeur Campaign as he did with the 2008 vintage, rather than at the beginning, as he did with the 2009. With the 2008 vintage it was obvious that the châteaux owners didn’t believe they had such a good vintage. After selling their wine at En Primeur 08 Robert Parker released his scores and I think the châteaux owners were somewhat aggrieved by the prices they had released their wines at. In Bordeaux it became common knowledge that a number of châteaux owners wished they had released their prices at a much higher level.”

If wine critics hold off from publishing their scores will the chateaux simply dig their heels in and refuse to release a price until they are? Jancis has said:

“I am seriously tempted to see if I can persuade some other commentators to hold off in a similar fashion. Perhaps if enough of us do it, we might have some deflationary effect.”

You may not think that Suckling’s early publication would have that much effect on pricing – but chateaux owners have already taken note. Jean Luc Thunevin, owner of several chateaux and Bordeaux negociant, writes: “Let us remember that the comments and awards are important, the subscription to the site of James Suckling costs $144 U.S. for our fellow traders and owners interested in a U.S. Review . . . “

I don’t hold out much hope for all the wine critics to agree to a strictly enforced embargo and a universal publication of scores en masse. So should the chateaux be forced to uphold the embargo and not give private tastings in advance thereby giving everyone the same starting line? How would it be policed? However all this speculation becomes useless should Bordeaux have a poor vintage on their hands – I doubt very much that chateaux owners would be keen for bad reviews to circulate prematurely.

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