2019 Bordeaux from MWH Wines

Later than usual, and under the most unusual circumstances in its history, the Bordeaux en-primeur has begun.  Normally this frenzy of speculation, critiquing and buying would be coming to an end by mid-June with only the traditional latecomers such as Petrus, Le Pin and Ausone yet to release their wares.  This year, however, we have seen a flurry of big-name releases from the likes of the hugely sought-after Pontet Canet, Lafite, Mouton and Cheval Blanc all racing to get their wines to market.  Their urgency is understandable; these are extraordinary times, the campaign is very late in getting started and the owners must be cognisant of both the oncoming summer shut down and the imminent recession that will undoubtedly affect demand. 

In normal times this is a campaign that would have everything in its favour.  The quality is meant to be good to very good – though we have relatively few people’s word on that given that the usual tastings in April in Bordeaux were cancelled owing to the Coronavirus outbreak.  Prices are generally lower than 2018 despite wines being as good if not better and, with a few notable exceptions such as Lafleur which you won’t find for love nor money, most are readily available.  In short then this is en-primeur campaign that we should all be flocking to and filling our cellars with wines that will delight in a decade or so, right?  Well yes and no, for as we’ll see, while 2019 does have plenty to offer it might prove to be too good to be true for some…

2019  Bordeaux Vintage Report

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the marketplace, let’s take a quick look at the vintage itself.  The quality overall is very good to excellent.  Many châteaux believe that they have made wines as good if not as freakishly luscious as the 2018s (Pontet Canet are unlikely to ever make anything as decadent as their 2018 again).  A few have gone as far as to say their wines are fit to rank with their 2016s which is high praise indeed.  Others compare them to the 2010s or 2009s without the notable backbone of those austere, backward beauties.  

A vintage of contrasts, a cool spring was followed by (yet another) hot summer which resulted in high alcohol Merlots with balancing Cabernets.  There’s definitely more classicism to the vintage than we have seen in recent years.  There’s little evidence of 2018’s super ripeness, 2016’s fantastic concentration or 2010’s jaw breaking firmness.  The wines are elegant, poised, well-fruited and, in many ways, the epitome of what great Bordeaux should be.

To Buy Or Not To Buy, That Is The Question…?

Great wines at good prices, surely this a vintage to buy?  Maybe, for as is often the case with en-primeur there are a few things to consider before taking the plunge.  This year our thoughts are:

  • Are you buying to invest?
Fine wine has become a major investment vehicle over the past couple of decades and return-hungry investors have sought to snap up big names early to make the most of the opportunities.  This can definitely work: Just ask someone who bought Lafleur 2018 early and see the smile on their faced.  Then again it can go spectacularly wrong as anyone who took the plunge on 2009s will tell you.
What 2019 has in its favour from an investment perspective is the prices.  2019s have come out at as much 30% lower than the 2018s.  The 98-point Pontet Canet was released at around £750 a case versus £1080 for the 2018.  The Bordelaise have been under pressure from the wider trade to reduce prices for some time and with an economic storm on the horizon, they seem to have listened.  Problems remain however.  Should 2020 turn out to be even better, as happened in 2008 and 2015, the prices could fall.  As we noted in this blog last year in our article, ‘Is Climate Change Killing Bordeaux With Kindness?’ good years are coming thick and fast and there’s only so much that investors can take.  Exchange rates could also scupper things as they did in 2007 where the wines decreased in value by the time of shipping.  Then there’s the wider economic outlook.  At the start of 2020 the world’s economy looked set fair.  The US was growing fast, the UK and Europe were at the start of trade negotiations and confidence was growing that 2020 would mark a turning point.  Then came COVID-19 and all that came to a crashing halt.  Predictions are that the UK will see its sharpest recession since 1706 and the global outlook come the autumn is bleak.  Now this may be a ‘V’ shaped decline; short and sharp with a steep recovery.  Then again it may be ‘U’ shaped recession – sharp but with a prolonged period at rock bottom – or even a ‘W’ shaped one, up and down again and extremely painful.  None of these are ideal and the fine wine market will not be immune.  Ultimately you pay your money, you take your chances. 

  • Are you looking for wines to drink?
This looks like a safer bet.  The quality is definitely there and unlike wines from 2016, 2015 2010 or 2009, they are wines that are likely to be approachable just a few years after release.  That said if you are looking for great value claret for drinking now there are plenty of other options to choose from, from vintages that are already available.  There’s always a veneer of excitement regarding the latest vintage.  Its new and shiny and the best/most interesting/most compelling ever… till next year’s comes out.   2003, 2004, 2005 and 2008 all offer wines that are excellent, physical and drinking now.
  • Are they really bargain prices?
Much has been made of the prices this year, and relative to 2018 they are well-priced.  That does rather overlook the fact that the Bordelaise have been ‘ambitious’ with their pricing over the last decade or so.  Even admittedly moderate years like 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2017 were hardly given away so while it’s good to see prices come down, they are still pretty high.  Talbot 2019 is expected to work out at about £600 a case delivered and that’s historically one of the best value properties there is.

2019 Bordeaux Worth Waiting For?

We are quite torn over the 2019s.  We have no doubt on the quality of the wines and we’re looking forward to tasting them when they come to London either later this year or early in 2021.  They are undoubtedly good wines that will be well worth seeking out.  The question is when to buy?  Now they look well-priced and it could be a great opportunity to buy to drink or invest.   Outside of the very top wines, however, there seems little reason to rush.  We bought the much-lauded (and frankly fantastic) Pontet Canet 2018 as soon as we tasted it last May.  Today it’s worth about £50 less than we paid and there’s no shortage of it.  We may be wrong and we will look back ruefully saying if only we’d invested… but there’s something that tells us that caution will pay and that by waiting until these wines are physical will pay dividends, particularly as the early omens on 2020 are promising.

Like Some More Help?

If you would like some help getting some great red Bordeaux for drinking or investment, or would like some fine wine advice, then please get in touch.  You can call us on 0118 984 4654 or email us and we’ll be more than happy to help.