This is going to be a somewhat different ramble from previously, vis-à-vis the curious concept of buying claret while it still lies in a wooden barrel. Good thing, too – much too much repetition the last time around.
Let’s go back, if we may, to the morning of Sunday 29 March: I had planned my morning stop-off to be the tasting-rooms at Château Rauzan-Ségla, a stone’s throw from the great Château Margaux – it would have been abuzz with wine trade from all over the globe, opening sips and slurps to be taken of last year’s vintage. Well, obviously not: all bets had been called off a couple of weeks previously.
So, what were the Bordelais going to do? No tastings, so no international trade, no journalists… how to build a campaign? A shame when the outlook for the wines had been rather alluring: word on the street talked of excellent quality, possibly a nudge up on the 2018s, and initial feedback certainly appeared untainted by ‘vintage of the century’ hyperbole. One was (almost!) quite looking forward to the vinous onslaught.
There then came talk of bottles being sent to offices. Now, the immediate thought was that to taste a cask sample via DHL was not ideal – us wine bores like to pour fresh liquid into the glass in order to get some sort of handle on it. Conversely, it could be said that anything showing well after being Fedexed might have made us think that we were onto something.
In the end, however, it was simple: buy only the wines that one knew extremely well (classics, like Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Château Léoville Barton); buy from properties that had been on recent, hot streaks (Château Branaire-Ducru, Château Canon); and buy from estates with a bit of an inside track from Bordeaux contacts (Château Batailley, Château Cantemerle). And if all three criteria were met, only purchase when the price dropped significantly. Of course, on that last condition, we didn’t hold out the greatest of hopes; past pleas have tended to fall on deafish ears.
But lo and behold, wonders never cease: 28 May saw Château Pontet-Canet come to the ‘place’ at a 31% discount to its 2018 showing. The mighty Mouton Rothschild soon followed suit, as did noble Palmer, and now the template was set up beautifully – we didn’t see too many more 30%-ers, but we were awash with mid-twenties. Some proper deals were on the table, now helped by the fact that some journalists had actually managed to taste, finding plenty to charm and beguile. Demand was correspondingly buoyant.