2016 was the first year I was invited to the Primeurs in Bordeaux. I felt proud to be the only Brazilian at the Union des Grand Cru de Bordeaux (UGCB) tastings, as Brazil is not, traditionally, a substantial market for Bordeaux wines.
After I received the invitation, I started reading about En Primeur on the news, and felt a bit unenthusiastic. I read Robert Parker’s interview in The Drinks Business, saying that “Bordeaux primeurs is largely dead”, and then I read an article by Jancis Robinson that said, “Bordeaux primeurs tastings shrunk”. This last article pointed to the fact that the tastings would be at the Bordeaux Stadium and not at the Châteaux anymore, and that tastings were not blind.
At first, I did not really understand all the questioning of the stadium tasting. I’ve been to the Anteprimas in Italy and to the VDP Tasting in Germany, and all these important tastings were done in one location only, and the tastings were not blind. No journalists, writers or wine critics went to the properties to taste the wines. So why complain?
I had to arrive in Bordeaux to understand this.
First of all, there is the tradition behind the process. Primeurs was done at the Châteaux for decades. Châteaux owners or winemakers would welcome the press, serve the wine and talk to journalists. They were able to build a relationship. By putting the press into a stadium, the chance to talk and mingle would be definitely decreased, even though this year producers came to have lunch with us wine writers at the Stadium.
Then, there is the atmosphere. It might be fun to taste wines looking at a soccer field, but it is much more enjoyable to taste wines looking at old art, beautiful vineyards and historical buildings.
Apparently, the President of the UGCB, Olivier Bernard, justified the changes by saying that the tasting conditions at the various Châteaux were very different. There were complaints from the journalists about these differences throughout the years. So by putting the press in a “clean” environment, the tasting conditions for all wines would be the same, and no wine would be at a disadvantage.
I do understand both sides. Tasting at the Stadium was not so beautiful, but it was quick, effective, and very professional. For me, looking at labels and tasting wine not blind was a learning experience too. Many famous producers did not meet my expectations and other not so famous wines pleasantly surprised me.
I talked to other wine writers and they said that the idea was fine. In fact, to taste wines in different Châteaux means that not only do you need a car for transportation, but also a lot of time to travel. We tasted about 60 wines each day at the Bordeaux Stadium and we did that in two hours, more or less. I could not have done that in the same two hours if I needed to drive to different places.
However, people said that UGCB should choose a place not as “cold” as a soccer stadium (funny fact: the AC was really cold on the first day, which, with the slow service and novelty contributed to many people being upset). A more beautiful venue should be chosen, such as the Bordeaux Opera House or maybe a hotel in the city center.
For me, the tasting at the Stadium was fine and I will certainly go back next year, but I do have a confession to make about the whole process.
The first tasting we had was at Chateau d’Yquem, where we tasted the 2015 vintage. We had lunch there and attended a press conference on the 2015 vintage, it was an extraordinary experience.
It was a grey and cold day in Sauternes, and we arrived at 12pm at Chateau d’Yquem. Pierre Lurton, the managing director, welcomed us warmly and we were taken to a room to taste the 2015 vintage and to have a light lunch. Finger foods of all kinds, from sweet to sour, salty and umami, were served with Yquem 2015. Everything paired beautifully with this exceptional wine.
The tasting room had gold tones in decoration, and there was a wall entirely made of Yquem capsules. On the outside, the vines right beside the splendid castle were just starting to wake from their resting period and the river Ciron could be spotted in the distance.
The paintings on the external walls were impressive. One of them, called “les parfums d’Yquem”, showed Yquem aromas, such as pear, peach, orange, vanilla and bees wax. The atmosphere was breathtaking and the wine was so impressive, so complex and had such a long finish that I wish I could have a glass right this moment, as I write this article.
So I understood them finally. Yes, it is different to taste wines at the Châteaux for Primeurs, even though I was not tasting blind at Yquem. However, I was a bit blinded by all that gold and the enveloping ambience. In fact, I just imagined the experience of tasting all wines at a Château like Yquem. I would surely feel much more excited being there instead.
From what I saw, Bordeaux primeurs is not largely dead. The 2015 is a very good quality vintage and Château owners, winemakers and the press were very enthusiastic about it. Now, we just have to wait for the prices to be published to see if consumers will be pleased too.