Thu 15 May 2014

Bordeaux 2013 Vintage: The View of Our Buyers


Tim Sykes

Tim Sykes

A great deal has been written in recent weeks about the 2013 Bordeaux vintage, much of it less than complimentary, with some commentators not even taking the trouble to taste the wines at source. Our own experience is that there are plenty of attractive wines in 2013 if you know where to look, and we have been particularly rigorous in our selection process this year.

Selecting the wines
In early April, we (Joanna Locke MW, Sebastian Payne MW and I) spent the best part of two weeks in Bordeaux, tasting and retasting several hundred wines from the 2013 vintage. We tasted most of the top wines at the châteaux, and many other wines were on show at the communal tastings organised by the Union des Grands Crus.

Here is an extract from our itinerary on a typical day:

Tuesday 1st April:
9.30 UGC St Julien (CH. LAGRANGE)
10.30 CH. LATOUR
15.30 UGC Pauillac/St Estèphe (Lafon Rochet)

Despite the challenging schedule we were able to come up with a clear view of the most promising wines of the vintage. It is impossible to generalise about which communes fared better than others in 2013, as we found that it was individual châteaux, rather than particular regions or communes that succeeded or failed.

This year, more than any other in recent times, required severe fruit selection by the châteaux, and as buyers our selection process has had to be equally rigorous. In both our pre-order (online) offer and our main (printed) offer, we have reduced considerably the number of wines offered. Those that have made the final cut are the very best, within their price category, that we tasted over the fortnight in Bordeaux.

François-Xavier & Marie-Hélène Borie made standout wines in 2013

François-Xavier & Marie-Hélène Borie made standout wines in 2013

The style of the 2013 vintage
2013 is a Bordeaux vintage for drinkers rather than speculators, and will appeal to those members looking for wines with finesse and poise, rather than power. The red wines have fresh acidity, modest alcohol levels, perfumed fruit flavours and moderate tannin structure, and most will be drinking in the next five to ten years. The châteaux that made the most attractive wines avoided over extraction in the winery, carefully handling the grapes to ensure that the perfume and charm of the vintage were not lost.

The standout wines for me, and the ones which display the most appeal overall, are those from the François-Xavier Borie stable (Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Haut-Batailley and Lacoste Borie), Beau-Site and Batailley from the Castéja family, Angludet in Margaux, and Cantemerle. At the upper end of the scale, Mouton is probably the finest of the first growths, with Haut-Brion a close second. On the right bank, Grand Corbin-Despagne is particularly attractive, and Figeac is exceptional. All these wines will provide a great deal of medium-term drinking pleasure for claret lovers.

Tim Sykes
Head of Buying

Our main offer, which will include the majority of wines selected by the buyers and most of the more moderately priced wines, will be available from 27th May.

Some wines from our initial offer of the most highly sought-after wines are still available. Please call Member Services on 01438 741177 if you would like to order these wines.

Categories : Bordeaux, En Primeur


  1. JerryW says:

    Hmm, I imagine you mean to impress but that is not an itinerary I would fancy much myself. Does the thirty minutes allocated to Ch. Mouton Rothschild include travelling time?

    • Tim Sykes says:

      Yes, it includes travel time, although the itinerary is organised so that the distances between appointments are kept to a minimum. It also includes the 2-minute ride on a golf cart between the reception at Mouton and the tasting room!

  2. Hi Tim
    Agree with you on the analysis – but how do you feel on prices this year? Not many came down much and that’s what makes en primeur attractive. Look forward to your offer though as there are certainly wines to consider – the whites and sweet whites looked very attractive and there are definitely reds to think about where the price is right.
    Jeremy Williams

    • Jo Locke MW says:

      Hi Jeremy,
      Tim is away, but regarding your query: given the small crop and the strict selection by the châteaux who made the best wines, even a modest price decrease was welcome, and some went much further. This may not be a vintage for speculation, which is after all not our game, but we do feel there is value to be had….and we agree, some very good dry and sweet whites too. Watch out for the second offer from 27th May!
      Jo Locke MW
      Society Buyer for Bordeaux

  3. Cookson says:

    You say: This year, more than any other in recent times, required severe fruit selection by the châteaux. I am sorry but we seem to be told that every year these days, except for 2009 and 2010! The problem is that the top chateaux are able to cope successfully with the characteristics of any year nowadays. As a result, there is little incentive to invest en primeur in any of them. Which is why the speculative factor has disappeared from Bordeaux wines and en primeur campaigns seem to have little point. Certainly no excitement these days, which is perhaps a shame. The days when a great year was rare and stood out even for the best wines are now gone with the advance of technique and realization by growers that good small crop is more profitable than lesser quality large crop. Scarcity creates value, as any economist can tell you!

  4. Nick Martin says:

    But as exceptional as Figeac 2013 might be, is it far better than 2008 in your view?

    My perspective is not that there might be some very nice wines, but is there a genuine incentive to buy in advance of the wines begin bottled and shipped?

    If the benefit is marginal, against which possible price drops need to be weighed, why fund ultra-wealthy producers who are sitting with plenty of cash in the bank, fattened by the golden years and who yet have also been happily taking agricultural grants off the EU to build expansive new chais?

    The argument for scarcity is one limited to a few properties.

    Producers want an en primeur mechanism, but don’t want to give the buyer much of an upside. That’s not a good deal for the consumer. Unlike the 2002s, 2004s, 2005s (those hammered on price over the last 30 months), lovely 2006s…which seem very worthwhile buys.

    The great benefit of a mutual organisation is presumably that it doesn’t have to push wines every year?

  5. alex coren says:

    Yes, agree. Price is the elephant in the room here. Older (and better) vintages are much cheaper and widely available especially after factoring in storage costs. The rationale to buy has been price and availability – neither applies now. En primeur appears to have become relatively pointless.

  6. Trevor Bayley says:

    I have to say that the observations of Nick Martin above ring a strong chord with me.
    Are we to share the reply that his comments and questions have elicited?

  7. John Latty says:

    Yes , I am in broad agreement with above contributers in that there is little or no incentive to buy wine en primeur these days . I have carried out many price comparisons in recent years en primeur verses mature ready to drink wines and in most cases there is little or no advantage in early investment and in some cases a positive disadvantage . So yes , I agree that all we are really doing is lining the pockets of the growers , bring your prices down .

    I have been purchasing en primeur from our beloved society since the late 70’s and back then it truly was worth it . My fondest memory of this period was a case of Batailley (12) , for £50 , by the time it was ready to drink, that case was worth roughly £360 !! I rest my case , pun intended .

    Having said all that , there is no doubt that there is far more choice buying en primeur as many of these wines never appear again in The Society’s lists .

  8. Tony Brown says:

    The prices in this region have been crazy since 2005. It is hyped beyond belief. Let the Chinese have it and look to new regions I say!

  9. Mike Maloney says:

    I can’t really see the point of buying average years en primeur. They will appear on the list soon enough and you can try them then and decide if you like them. I only tend to buy good years which I can (hopefully) get to drink in my retirement – or else sell if the liver packs up!

  10. Sebastian Payne MW says:

    Many thanks for all your comments.

    We recommend wines which, from many years of tasting en-primeur, we are pretty sure will turn out very well and give considerable pleasure. You decide whether to buy now, later or not at all.
    Standards at the chateaux have risen enormously, as well as prices, partly because of much more rigorous selection. Pichon Longueville, for example, made 10,000 dozen this year. In 1995, they made over 30,000 dozen.
    Haut Brion and Margaux made 5000 dozen, which is not much for current worldwide demand. A property like Vieux Certan made about 900 dozen of delicious wine which many more than 900 people will want to buy. Fifth growth Belgrave made half an average crop, and so on.
    Best wishes,
    Sebastian Payne MW
    Wine Society Buyer

  11. JMillar says:

    The comments of other members are interesting and they make many valid points.

    So the above is a snap shot but it raises a number of questions. Did the tasting team taste on the right bank at all other than at the UGC tasting?

    I was interest to see Calon Segur was tasted but the society has chosen not to offer it EP this year? Was this due to the quality or the price? At circa £200 a case, Calon represents far more value than something like Pontet Canet for me. Their second wine Capbern Gasqueton looks even better value. The reviews for Calon were generally good and it hasn’t sold out in other merchants so volumes can’t be an issue.

    In short yes 2013 is a difficult year but the offering represents the usual suspects. I am not calling into question the buyers choices but again I have to bang this drum. I’d like to see a broader selection including some wines not previously offered by the Society. This is a lean year for sure and the Bordelais continue to ignore the market calls for price cuts. Yet the Society’s leaning towards the staid and increasingly expensive left bank offerings, is not encouraging.

    This is a year more than ever when members will demand diversity and plenty of bang for their buck if they are going to be parted from it. Maybe it is also a year to experiment with new choices. With most members I’ve spoken to turning their back on the 2013 vintage, couldn’t those members be tempted with some alternative offerings? Surely a year like this represents an opportunity to forge new relationships with vignerons for the future?

    I constantly read about the quality of Denis Durantous (of Eglise Clinet) other wines. Of those I’ve tasted from earlier vintages I’d agree he’s doing some interesting things. Moreover, from a value perspective, these seem hard to ignore. In 2013 Les Cruzelles and La Chenade were reviewed well and were all offered under £150 a case. Yet the Society ignores these outliers of Lalande Pomerol in favour of the usual well-trodden suspects. I’d love to buy Durantous wines from the Society, but again this year, I am forced to source these elsewhere.

    On a positive note, Roc De Cambes, La Pointe, GPL, Beaumont are all wines the society should be offering, so no complaint there. More curious is the focus on the big names again, many of which have not sold out in recent vintages. If they didn’t buy them in 2012 who is buying some of the Grand Marques in 2013? Or is this a hedge to preserve allocations in vintage years? If the Society is going to offer Ausone, Mouton or Lafite then why not Lafleur or even Pensees Lafleur, the latter being called the wines of the vintage.

    Finally praise for the Bordeaux Blanc offering from the society this year, but it could have gone further again I’d like to see more choices here. Domaine Chevalier have second wines too.

    I accept it is impossible to please everyone and there will of course be views different to those above but I feel some change is needed if the Society is going to continue to offer en primeur.

    • Tim Sykes says:

      Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments. Yes, we tasted at a number of châteaux on the right bank, including some who aren’t members of the UGC. With regard to Calon-Ségur, I’m afraid we were rather disappointed by the wine this year. In fact St Estèphe was on the whole a disappointing commune, but inkeeping with the above assessment that it was a vintage of individual successes rather than communal ones, there were one or two exceptions.

      As buyers we love to ring the changes and even more to offer new discoveries or wines we do not tend to follow regularly. Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc is one such this year. Cos d’Estournel is a wine we have not bought consistently but have found particularly good in the last couple of years. It is no accident that many of the same names do appear regularly in our primeur selections: many members like to follow particular properties; we feature some properties more often than others because at their level they do a good consistent job despite the vagaries of the weather. However, of course, the wines have to speak for themselves which is why some favourites miss out in some years. Rest assured we kiss a lot of frogs to come up with our selection, even in the best years, and we often taste several times in order to confirm or cull.

      Thank you for your feedback regarding Durantou. I’m afraid we didn’t taste the two wines to which you refer. We did however taste a considerable number of wines from all the main and satellite right bank appellations. The wines in our offer are our pick of our favourites, and the ones we believe will have the best potential once in bottle. There are stylistic differences as well as communal and terroir-led differences in Bordeaux: some of today’s wines are impressive in their youth and popular – and sometimes expensive – as a result, but we do not yet know how they will develop in bottle, which is why we have increased the number of petit châteaux wines made in the more modern style but few (sometimes none) at the top end.

      Regarding dry whites: as we will not ship these wines for a couple of years and most second wines today are made to be drinkable younger than previously, we prefer to limit the selection of dry whites to those with proven keeping potential.

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