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How to secure Bordeaux vintages that aren’t overly popular

You may find some treasures beyond well-known Bordeaux vintages if you try.

The current coverage about the 2015 vintage in Burgundy and Bordeaux in the wine press is reminiscent of the enthusiastic wine press reviews in May-June 1983 about the (now-legendary) Bordeaux 1982 vintage.

Having just begun an interest in wine, including collecting, I realised that this was a huge stroke of luck, to be able to catch this great vintage on release from the chateaux.

I was also fortunate to be introduced to Decanter, then the premium wine magazine. Its Bordeaux 1982 reports proved immensely helpful for their recommendations of the best of the new releases.

Armed with this information from Decanter, and not being at the time familiar (at all) with Bordeaux, neither the chateaux nor the trade, one was forced to rely on sources in the London trade – the London wine merchants. (There was no Internet then and the quickest method of communication was the long-distance call.)

I still recall the faint tone of surprise in the voice of Richard Peat, then managing director of Corney & Barrow, who took my call, when he learnt it was from Singapore. Introducing myself, I informed him that I wished to order two cases each of Petrus and Trotanoy 1970, they being the UK’s representative for the Moueix group, owners of Petrus and Trotanoy.

The 1982 Bordeaux en primeur campaign was my first experience of this system of the annual Bordeaux marketing campaign. Not at the time in communication with any Bordeaux negociant or merchant, we had to rely on London’s wine merchants of the likes of Justerini & Brooks, Berry Brothers and Corney & Barrow, among others. And they proved most helpful.

Everything was done by long-distance call or cable. It was an exciting time. Lafite Rothschild 1982 opened at £235 per case of 12 bottles, and so did the other Firsts – around the low 200s.

Not knowing much at the time, but enough to recognise a gift horse, I quickly ordered two cases each of the 1982 Lafite and all the other First Growths.

Unfortunately, budget considerations at the time precluded a much bigger collection.

Having learnt the system, thereafter it was a matter of keeping a sharp lookout each May/June for Bordeaux’s opening prices. It became an annual sport – chasing the Bordeaux en primeurs.

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The decade of the 1980s proved to be a successful one for Bordeaux – 1983 very good though less classic, 1985 a lovely vintage for early drinking, etc.

The current vintage, 2015, is regarded as one of the greats, comparable to 1982, 1961, and as far back as the 1945, in both Bordeaux and Burgundy. 2016 is also worth serious consideration as it is said to be more classic. I am reminded of previous pairs, such as 1982/3. 1989/9. (When in doubt, buy both vintages.)

What could not be foreseen nor even thought of, at the time, was how prices for the 1982s would rapidly escalate to their current heights. Especially following the introduction of the 100-point scale in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

Similar escalations are less likely today, although it can be expected that the 2015, in both Bordeaux and Burgundy, may prove to be a younger brother to 1982 in terms of its future value.

Should one concentrate only on the 5-star 100-pointer wines/vintages? Some people do, quite happy to be drinking the same wine year after year. Such a policy is not in the nature of life. Diversity and non-uniformity in Nature are all around us. Would it not be a dreadful bore if all of us looked alike?

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The Bordeaux chateaux, in their en primeur marketing system, release the opening prices of their wines in May of the year following the vintage. Thus, the release of the prices of the 1982 Bordeaux in May 1983, while the wines were still maturing in their oak barrels. The bottled wines would only be released in the late spring of 1984, a full two years later.

This system of marketing applies only to Bordeaux. It does not apply to Burgundy, nor for that matter, to any other wine region. In any case, Burgundy growers do not sell direct to private customers. They sell to the trade within Burgundy and abroad, which for us in Singapore would mean the London trade.

The output from Burgundian growers is small, ofttimes pitifully so. Hence the difficulty in securing reasonable quantities (for example, even 12 bottles of one wine), except in the case of large companies, like Maison Joseph Drouhin, who are both negociant as well as growers (with their own vineyards). Or in a few instances, from the local sole distributors of the producers.

It should be noted that local sole distributors are offered allocations, without the luxury of being able to state their own preferred requirements, and such allocations ofttimes amount to six (or as few as three) bottles of a much-sought-after wine, for example Domaine Leflaive’s Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru. Sometimes only one bottle is allotted, for example, Domaine Comtes Lafon’s Montrachet.

Footnote: For Bordeaux en primeur offers, try most of the major wine retailers in Singapore, and for wider range, the London wine merchants. For Burgundy try to get on the list of “favoured customers” of local major wine retailers, which really means buying on release every year. Buy the less popular as well as the most popular wines.

 

This story originally appeared in the wine column by NK Yong for The Business Times.