Buying The 2005 Bordeaux Vintage

December 15, 2008 0 Comments

Red Wine

How to Buy The 2005 Bordeaux Wine Vintage

When I was working as a Wall Street broker, I became interested in French wines, how to buy them and even started collecting some great 1985 Bordeaux wines to “lay down” so they would be perfect when I opened them 10 years later. One year I even had the opportunity to attend Kevin Zraly’s Windows On The World Wine School at the top of the World Trade Center. What an incredible experience.

Back then, French wine was expensive but no where near as expensive as it is today. With the dollar being so week and the demand for French wine growing around the world, I thought my collection days were over but then came the 2005 Bordeaux vintage. It was huge and from everything I read, a vintage worth buying and laying down.

Just recently I found a case of 2005 Talbot from the St-Julien area of Bordeaux that was given 92 points from the Wine Spectator. French wine expert Robert Parker says of the wine, “A strong effort for Talbot, the 2005 is more showy and forward than most wines of this vintage. While there is plenty of tannin, it is sweet and well-concealed behind an intriguing bouquet of sweet herbs, licorice, smoked game, black currants, and cherries. This fleshy, medium to full-bodied St.-Julien exhibits a silky sweetness to its texture and tannins. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2020+.”

Now that’s a mouthful!!!

Because I’m not a wine expert, I thought it might be helpful to ask a friend of mine, wine aficionado Todd Ross from Mills Fine Wine & Spirits in Annapolis, Maryland about Bordeaux wines, the 2005 vintage in particular and buying wine futures. I’m hoping to get Todd to become more active on www.reluctantgourmet.com so we can all learn more about wine from his expertise. If you are ever in the Annapolis area, I recommend you go into Mills Fine Wine & Spirit and ask for Todd. He won’t steer you wrong. Here is what Todd had to say when I asked him:

When is the best time to start drinking 2005 Bordeaux?

2005 was a “robust” vintage in Bordeaux; that is to say the wines are very full-bodied and ripe, but with considerable tannic structure. There is always the question of under what conditions will the bottles be stored. If one has a cellar that is at 55 degrees with the right humidity, then there is indeed no rush to get at the bottles.

I had a bottles of 1982 La Lagune (Haut-Medoc), from a very good cellar just a couple of weeks ago. 1982 being another great vintage. La Lagune is always a very nice value. This wine was simply delicious. The tannins were melted and the fruit and minerality came through with nice clarity. So maybe hold the 2005s for, say, 5 to 10 years, then get to “work” on them.

How much does the region the wines come from in Bordeaux effect your buying?

I think that the Merlot-based wines from St.-Emilion and Pomerol, Fronsac, etc. (Right Bank) are going to be particularly good, relatively speaking. Bursting with fruit and richness. On the Left Bank, it appears that some appellations will follow suit, and some (the more northerly) are going to be more tannin-bound. I’m relying on the opinions of others here. I’ll be going to Bordeaux in late January looking for “bargains” and will plan on tasting more broadly then. I’m really a Burgundy/Rhone guy!

How much does it depend on the vineyard and winemaker?

No matter where the wines are from, anywhere, I believe most depends on the vineyard and the viticulture, and only to a small degree does it depend on the winemaker. I like natural wines, not too manipulated, that reflect their vineyard, and that are not influenced by oak.

I think there is a tendency for wines to be too big these days. This is not a cop out or making excuses for skinny wines. In fact, red Burgundy is, to me at least, the most profound of all red wines. It’s Pinot Noir, which is not super dark, and heavy. However, its flavor concentration and complexity is remarkable in the best examples. And it will age very well indeed.

The classic examples of older Bordeaux were very elegant wines by comparison to many of their more youthful examples. But wine is like fashion. It changes with the times and with the taste of the public. It is the wine “business” after all.

Should I be tasting one now and then every couple of years to see how they (2005 Bordeaux) are doing?

I think in this case you can afford to wait about 5 years. There’s no rush.

How do I know when the wine is close to its peak?

The tannins will become more melted, and the “purple” fruitiness of the wine will begin to edge to something more complex, fine and nuanced.

Does each region of Bordeaux have a distinctive taste or is its vineyard by vineyard?

I think that certain regions of Bordeaux are very distinct. St-Estephe can produce the most brawny wines of Bordeaux. St.-Julien’s wines are very perfumed and elegant. What I dislike about many of the “new” wines in Bordeaux, and elsewhere, is that if the fruit is allowed to get too ripe, or if the wine making takes it down the path to making an overly extracted, raw, tannic monster, then the pleasure of the fruit and the wine’s sense of place is lost.

What about storing the wines? Do I have to invest in a wine storage unit or will my cool basement work?

Utilitarian wine storage units are not that expensive these days, but I think that it would depend on the basement. If it were not too damp, maybe that would be okay. I think the rules of thumb are cold (55 degrees seems to be the standard), dark (self explanatory), and stable (constant, unfluctuating temperature and no vibration).

Here it is almost 2009 and the 2005 Bordeaux futures are just becoming available. Why should home wine enthusiasts buy wine futures? What are the advantages? Couldn’t they just wait until they come into your store?

In the old days, when the dollar was very strong against the Euro, or the FF for that matter, and there were fewer retailers in the business of Bordeaux futures, it was, I believe, a much better investment for the consumer to participate in Bordeaux futures programs. One really could buy Bordeaux relatively inexpensively and then hold it well and let it appreciate in value. America was, in the past, a much more important customer to the Bordelaise. The “little” vintages bound for earlier consumption were sold cheaply across the board, too, which was especially appetizing!

There are fewer “bargains” in Bordeaux these days. Russian and Chinese demand has been partly the cause, as over the last several years they have become very important buyers. This may be slowing down, but I don’t think it will go away. As prices have risen, too, in recent vintages, it has had the effect of separating the sheep from the goats as U.S. buyers are concerned; rendering some wines no longer affordable by their traditional fans, and influencing some would-be buyers to explore other regions instead.

I do think that Bordeaux can still offer some of the very best values in Cabernet Sauvignon- or Merlot-based wines anywhere, especially compared with California, if one likes the Bordeaux style. I may be contradicting myself with that point.But my lament is that in the past nearly any customer could afford anything in fine quality Bordeaux, even if it was just a bottle or two, right up to First Growth level wines.

The prices made them accessible (in 1990 we sold First Growths for $799 per case). But 2000 vintage Firsts were $3,600 per case, and 2005 Firsts were upwards of $7,500 per case. You can see where I’m going with this. . . . Production levels for four of the of the five First Growth chateaux range anywhere from 20,000 cases and up (Haut Brion is from 12,000 cases and up).

So there is no real shortage of these wines. It’s all purely based on demand. So these wines, and many others in Bordeaux have moved out of the consumables category into commodities. With some smaller production, boutique wines, one could probably make a case for their prices, if they are high, based on their real scarcity (in fact some small high-quality wines in Bordeaux are very good values). The advantage of futures in this case is that you have the opportunity to purchase them at all.

When you talk about the value of wine futures, isn’t another reason price. I think you told me once your store will mark up the price of a bottle of wine some percentage higher from the wine future price.

Aside from other potential benefits, futures programs are often a way to secure wines in hard to get formats such as half-bottles and magnums, or even larger bottlings. Bordeaux futures typically represent at least a 20% savings over the cost of the same wine when it is released and ends up on the retailer’s shelf.

But one has to remember that the monies paid, for example, in the Spring of 2001 (for 2000 vintage futures) were for goods that would be delivered somewhere during the spring/fall timeframe of 2003. So the money was hanging out there for two years. What could that have earned in the stock market at that time is hard to say.

All that being said, the most sought-after Bordeaux (the top Grands Crus Classe and the top Chateaux from the Right Bank, etc.) still do increase measurably in value after they are released, even if their futures starting points are so much loftier now than in the recent past.

The inflation in en primeur pricing has been shocking, to say the least. And, too, the US Dollar has decreased so dramatically against the Euro, up to 1.6USD/E or so in mid-2008, and now ranging around 1.33USD/E, driving up the prices even further. On the other hand, the current economic trend worldwide has curbed some of the vigor with which Russia and the Far East have pursued Bordeaux. This has been most apparent as auction pricing for wines, especially the world’s most collectible bottles, have steeply declined recently.

This trend seems like it will continue as long as the world financial markets are in uncertainty. As well, I am in hope that there will begin to be some real buying opportunities if motivated Bordeaux brokers find themselves with gluts of very nice wines that are not moving and will cut prices.

Now that the 2005 Bordeaux vintage is showing up in liquor stores around the country, can you give someone who is just starting out buying wines to lay down a strategy for finding, evaluating and buying the 2005 vintage?

One simple way to go about this is to subscribe to the reputable wine magazines like Decanter, La Revue du Vin de France, The Wine Advocate, The Wine Spectator, and The International Wine Cellar, to name a few. Between these publications, who all give broad coverage to Bordeaux, there should be some consensus as to the best wines, for overall quality and value.

As to the purchasing, consumers should buy from vendors with a track record of Bordeaux futures, and their prices are readily comparable via the internet. It takes a little bit of homework, but if one is planning on a purchase that represents a sizable investment, the time taken in making the selections will be well worth it.

Can you give me a list of 5 – 10 lesser growths that they should keep their eye out for, approximate cost and when they will peak?

Five common or easy to obtain Bordeaux that offer nice value in 2005 are:

La Conseiller (Bordeaux Superieur) $23
Gloria (St.-Julien) $35
Les Grands Chenes (Medoc) $21
Poujeaux (Moulis) $28
La Vieille Cure (Canon-Fronsac) $32.

It could be a much longer list, but these are some that are very dependable, and tasty! All of these will be readily drinkable now, and will hold well for at least a decade; the Poujeax is a bit more brooding and will take about five years to come round.

Thanks Todd for your great information,

RG

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