It Takes A Vintage - Can You Judge A Bordeaux Ahead Of Its Time?

Testing, testing - Bordeaux Primeurs 2013
Testing, testing - Bordeaux Primeurs 2013
Laure Gasparotto

BORDEAUX - There are always a handful of professional wine-tasters who will question the legitimacy of the Bordeaux "primeurs" week. Still, the event not only endures, but actually gets bigger and better-attended every year.

The skeptics note that the entire process is built around rating a wine that is only just beginning to age in less than a minute. What a heresy! From this precocious and hasty judgment emerges a ranking that helps determine prices.

For instance, renown American wine critic Robert Parker gave the Château Pape Clément 2010 a 93-95+ mark: a vertiginous disappointment for Bernard Magrez, the vineyard’s owner, who thought he had done everything to produce an exceptional wine. However, a month ago, Robert Parker again rated the vintage 2010, bottled at the beginning of the year. This time, the Château Pape Clément obtained the supreme mark of 100 out of 100!

The investors who had the right inspiration to buy Château Pape Clément 2010 during the primeurs can now rejoice. Effectively, the main use of these primeurs is for making good deals: buying a wine cheaper now that one believes is bound to grow more expensive with time. Yet, the example above shows the limit of the judgment, however sharp it is, of a wine during these primeurs.

What about the 2012 cru? Was it worth running straight to these primeurs? The “first releases” from châteaux, in other words, the placing on the Bordeaux marketplace of grands crus and challengers like some reputed crus bourgeois, started on April 15 last. The Château Gazin Pomerol opened the ball with the announcement of a 7% discount, with a public price of 44.90 euros before tax. The vintage does not look speculative, even though some great châteaux, at the top of the pyramid, have no intention to lower their prices.

Photo by Berndt Fernow

For instance, Château Angélus and Château Pavie, freshly admitted to the top Saint Emilion ranking, with the likes of Château Cheval-Blanc or Château Ausone, have made clear their prices would rise in consequence. The 2012 vintage prices therefore nearly hold more to the particular circumstances affecting châteaux than their qualities.

The châteaux d'Yquem, Rieussec and Suduirat, in terms of sauternes, announced that they would not sell a 2012 vintage, because of a lack of excellence.

"Honesty and coherence..."

A decision like this can have heavy economic consequences, but can also be understood as a "marketing" investment in the long run. This also means that, in spite of new technologies, human competence, wine-producing or oenological command, climate remains the capital element in terms of vintage. During the primeurs week last month, professionals kept repeating that 2012 would never have been so good 20 years ago, yet you can not push a vintage to produce something exceptional when natural conditions do not allow it to.

Let's remember 2012 then: a cold and dry winter, an enduring fresh and wet spring, a late summer, then the hottest month of August since 2003. In short, a hard year for the vine, leading to decreased yields (between 5 and 5.2 million hectoliters in 2012 in the Bordelais, compared to 5.5 million in 2011) and eventually a grape harvest at the traditional time, by the end of September.

Many harvested through the rain: "All of our 100 acres domain was harvested mechanically in eight days, under rough, rainy weather," recounts Stéphane Fort, head of production of Margaux at the Château Paveil de Luze. "And yet, the wine shows no sign of dilution or bitterness, which is good for médoc in 2012."

His wine, which currently includes hints of raspberry, remains typical of its appellation. This year, Margaux is the favorite of critics, just like Pauillac and some Haut-Médocs of the left bank (of the river Garonne). The right bank (of the river Dordogne) is doing rather good, as merlot benefited from perfect maturation. Fruitiness, freshness, and charm characterize the Saint-Émillions and Pomerols.

But 2012 has to be judged on a "case-by-case" basis. This leads Philippe Delfaut from Château Kirwan to describe it is a "stimulating vintage." In his domain, harvesting has been spread according to the maturity of each plot. No contest wine, but wines made not for aging, with lower prices. In short, although investors will not cherish it --especially as the Chinese market is not as present as it was for 2009 and 2010 vintages -- it will only bring smiles to amateurs who prefer drinking fleshy and fruity wines rather than more structured ones.

"Honest wines, coherent wines, living up to the potential of their terroir in the vintage," summarizes the oenologist Pascal Hénot.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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