On the Trail

2014 Bordeaux Revisions

David Driscoll

I wrote an article here about a year ago breaking down the early misperceptions of the 2012 Bordeaux vintage, how the cold conditions led to cautious and calculated scores, and how the prices were therefore much lower than the quality of the wines would later suggest. When you're in the Bordeaux wine reviewing business, your credibility is everything. Thus, it's better to under-promise and over-deliver than it is vice versa. If you know that about the business, however, and you're able to read between the lines of what's being said (and what's not being said as well), then it's easy to know when there's a deal to be had. Scoring Bordeaux en primeur is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It's still cold in April, the wines are tannic and just barely beginning to show fruit, and you're expected to make an assessment about their potential from which customers all over the world will ultimately make their purchasing decisions. I went last year to evaluate the 2015 vintage and that was a rather ripe harvest. I can only imagine what it must have been like to go the year before with the 2014 wines; a classic Bordeaux vintage that likely did not yield much early on beyond acidity and tightly-wound fruit.

Yes, "tightly-wound" is exactly how the wines start out, before they slowly come unraveled and begin to show you what they're truly made of. That's why most Bordeaux critics go back each year after the harvest to retaste the wines and see how they're developing. As you can probably guess, the wines typically get better scores the second and third time around. As I'm sure you can also conclude, the better the scores, the higher the prices. It's exactly for that reason that my colleague Alex Pross and I have been jumping up and down, waving our hands, and trying to convince our best Bordeaux customers to buy into the 2014 vintage while we still have the original pricing—the costs attributed to the wines after that initial and cautious first round of scoring. You may have seen my post from a few weeks back about the 2014 Domaine de Chevalier, a wine that started out between 90-92 points from most of the main critics, before leaping up to a whopping 96. All of a sudden people began uttering phrases like "wine value of the vintage" and other such accolades, which only increases demand and encourages the vendors to up their price tags. As I was rounding up final allocations from our negotiant partners in the region, I noticed the prices had already gone up significantly once the new round of scores began to break. Luckily, we had committed early and still held our original costs. Many of the wines that had long been available in large quantities were now on the verge of selling out. In the end, we're no different than the pre-arrival consumer in this game: the more research we can do early on, the better the price we're able to buy for. If you're a savvy shopper, you know it's better to get in first.

Antonio Galloni from Vinous came out a few weeks back with this summary, one that follows everything we've been harping about for the last year here at K&L:

Most importantly, 2014 is a very consumer friendly year. The market for Bordeaux tends to divide between those vintages that are considered ‘great’ and are therefore subject to massive price speculation, and those that are ‘average’, which are seen as much less desirable by many marker constituents. This market dynamic creates a significant opportunity for savvy consumers to pick up any number of gorgeous wines at fair prices. Two thousand fourteen is an ideal vintage for consumers who buy wines to actually drink them (because prices should mostly be favorable) and members of the wine trade who have a commitment to serving those consumers. The 2015s, and most likely also the 2016s, will be surrounded by much more market hype. Some of that enthusiasm will be warranted, some not, but what is almost certain is that both vintages will be more expensive in bottle than the 2014s.

Yep. And how about this recent statement from James Sucking:

What makes the 2014s even more appealing is their prices. This may be the best value in Bordeaux since the 2008 vintage.

That sounds about right! Of course, the real value comes with pre-arrival ordering, as in paying upfront now and getting the wines later when they're finally released in bottle. I'd expect the 2014 Chevalier to jump from $49.99 to $59.99 by the time we actually get it in stock. 

-David Driscoll