A wine strategy for the New Year

ON the threshold of another new year - what can we look forward to wine-wise? First, what can we expect of vintage 2015? This vintage was discussed in this column a few weeks ago and merely needs a brief mention here (a) for the benefit of those who missed it; and (b) because in the interim several other reports have been published which all concur: 2015 will be a very good to great vintage, in almost all major wine regions in Europe.

Production levels are expected to be good, that is, near normal levels. It will be the best vintage since 2010 for sure. I shall be looking forward to the Bordeaux 2015s en primeur tastings in May/June, and will also expect to look at the 2015s in Burgundy, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Next thought: what should one buy or look forward to buying? As most readers are aware, only Bordeaux runs an en primeur campaign in the middle of the year, offering barrel tastings of the recently harvested vintage and releasing en primeur prices soon after. All other major wine regions - Burgundy, Rhone, Italy, Spain, Germany, et al will not be releasing new vintages until the third spring after the vintage. Thus the 2015 from Burgundy, Germany, Italy and Spain for example will not be released for sale until 2018 spring or even later.

As for pricing, Bordeaux 2015 en primeur prices promise to be high. They will undoubtedly be higher than 2014, which is to be expected, BUT the burning question is "how much higher?"

The Bordeaux market took a bad hit in the beginning of 2011 and has not really recovered as yet. At one stage it sank nearly 40 per cent below its height in 2010. Recovery began slowly this year but still way below 2010 levels. The question (with capital Q) is how high will the 2015 Bordeaux en primeur prices go?

Common sense dictates that in order to resuscitate a very sluggish market, price increases should be tempered with moderation but sadly that is the singularly missing element in the Bordeaux market today. We shall see.

As for Burgundy, expect more of the same, that is, rising prices, against an ever-increasing demand and in recent vintages lowered productions, sadly no such hopes can be entertained. Prices of top Burgundies have soared as a result of an increasing and insatiable demand against the diminished productions of recent vintages.

Release prices from Domaines can be expected to be higher and rightfully so, but the great thing about Burgundy is the admirable restraint that Burgundian growers and producers have always exercised in respect of their pricing policy. It is the secondary market where the escalation takes place, and rapidly too at that.

Apart from these two markets, Bordeaux and Burgundy, it has been my observation that everywhere else reason and common sense prevail.

What would be a good strategy wine-buying-wise? I think this is the time to go against the trend, against the market. The reason is quite simple and makes sense - to me! The Bordeaux market is in the doldrums. Perfectly good and eminently drinkable wines have become relatively affordable and are lying there waiting to be snapped up. Forget the 100-pointers! Forget the First Growths.

Look at the Seconds, the Thirds, the Fourth and the Fifth Growths, as well as the second wines of the Firsts and the lower Cru Classes. I have been doing a broad study of the market for these wines, especially in the so-called "off" vintages, such as 1997, 1999, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, and more. These are the neglected vintages, dismissed in favour of the "biggies" - 2000, 2005, 2009, 2010.

The huge advantage they offer is price. Their advantages are several, they are much more affordable, easier to come by, and will be ready to drink much earlier. Tonight I drank a Chateau Cos d'Estournel 2007 at dinner in my favourite Thai restaurant in Bangkok, from where I am writing this.

We drank it with Thai green curry beef. It was still a youthful colour, dark red with brownish touches, a light cedary and blackcurrant bouquet, good ripeness of fruit on the palate, very classic Bordeaux, fresh and lovely, still youthful though. It will be needing a few more years to peak, but will still be at peak in 2020. Market price today of this wine is between S$150 and S$200.

There are numerous examples of very good pedigreed Bordeaux at affordable prices. Consider these: Chateaux Canon 2006 S$100, Canon 2008 S$115, Canon la Gaffeliere 2005 S$170, Clerc Milon 2009 S$185, Grand Puy Lacoste 2007 S$110, Haut Bailly 2004 S$95, Haut Bailly 2005 S$175. The list can go on and on. Undoubtedly these prices are FOB Europe, that is, before freight, local duty and GST, but the fact is that it has not been so good for wine lovers for a long time!

This article was first published on January 1, 2016. Get The Business Times for more stories.