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               Why Big Red Diary?

random ruminations

Welcome
First let me both thank and welcome Peter Sidebotham and Bruce Palling, each of whom contributed articles under the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2006 ‘banner’. I was unable to attend the London merchant’s tasting this year so they both stepped into the breech. My thanks to both, so two views for you. Peter has a long affiliation with the wines of Burgundy, and today has a business selling older vintages. Bruce is a well-known journalist with a bent towards the culinary and wine. I thank them both.

2007 Vintage
Whilst standing by my original words in the last issue, 2 things worth mentioning – the whites are singing in bottle now, and maybe they represent how the 1996s showed(?) – plenty of acid, but wow. The reds in ranking terms are still below 05 and 06, but there is not a more pleasurable vintage starting with a 2… that you can drink now, or for a couple more years to come I suspect!

epcomp2009The Market
For your interest, to the right I offer a comparison of en-primeur prices in Switzerland (so Swiss francs), that includes some just released, slightly softening, 2008 prices. But back to what merchants are selling today:

Mixed messages come from the trade; 2006′s didn’t have the same feeding frenzy that was witnessed over the 2005′s, but they sold in a reasonable way. One might expect 2007′s to be having a tougher time, but do expectations really live up to reality? The UK en-primeur sales and their associated week of tastings saw people in good spirits, but how many were actually buying? Here are the mixed messages; some merchants are saying sales were better than expected (they had low expectations), whereas others had to re-order having sold out early. Certainly the UK traders have seen good export volumes in the first quarter of 2009, but this is more of a reflection of UK currency weakness (wine flowing out of the UK) than a market that’s holding up – and they were mainly selling older stocks. No real picture can be drawn today, but clearly no melt-down in the first quarter of 2009, as also indicated by this article. Here’s a quote from one UK dealer:

Prices are holding at the top of Burgundy, unlike Bordeaux, as there’s always the rarity/scarcity factor. On the private rather than trade side there is cooler interest in EP and more interest in trading down for moment and from stocks that would certainly have been bought with healthier exchange rate. Folk are all about value in this current climate and like to think they’re getting deals, understandably.

The concept of ‘Trading Down‘ seems to have some factual basis: Merchants who have been in the business for 20+ years are reporting that even ‘nameplate’ producers are offering extra Criots (for instance) without any tie to additional cases of village wines – they have never seen this before – villages are selling very well, but exotica less so. This is confirmed by a second source that tells me they have sold more ‘cheaper’ wine than ever, but that since January, their middle and top tier sales have all-but stopped.

One suggestion mooted by the trade is that if things got really tough, they could lower the price of wines sold in greater volumes – with the expectation that demand would be stimulated – and try to compensate as much as possible with higher pricing for crown jewel wines given that current demand (still) outstrips availability – based on the previous observation it doesn’t look like that will work! I also note that it’s really only in the last 5-8 years that ‘top wines’ became harder to source – will those new buyers still be around? We can only conjecture, but one of my contacts tells me that Hong-Kong is still very much in the market, though orders are ‘less exciting’…

The Weather
It’s been a very cold winter – in some parts of Europe it’s been the coldest for 20 years – Burgundy has not escaped, weeks on-end have seen the thermometer stuck below zero. So spare a thought for the blue fingers and numb toes of the vineyard workers, but don’t worry about the vines, most have had soil piled up against them – called buttage – to afford a little protection and of-course some aeration of the soil as it’s moved there and back. Actually the vines are better able to survive -10°C than the recent mild, damp winters that do nothing to eliminate disease, fungal growths and pests. Such a period of cold can only bring good, helping to ‘dry-clean’ the vineyards and providing 2009 with a clean start – see, even in March I’m making an early hype for 2009′s…

drc_cortonBranding
I have the opinion that the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is embarking on a tightrope walking exercise. With the addition of the vines of Prince Florent de Merode we can expect 2009 DRC branded Corton – or can we? The ‘climats’ are Bressandes (1.20 ha), Clos du Roi (0.57 hectares) and Renardes (0.51 ha) – so, will we get 3 labels or a ‘straight’ Corton? I suspect that decision will only be made quite late in the elevage as the domaine simply cannot launch a sub-par wine, it would reflect poorly both on the team and the brand that they and Aubert de Villaine have been polishing since the early 1980′s – this is their tightrope. Brand extension from Vosne to Ladoix may be a very tricky thing indeed, so unless the weather bestows a vintage of the century (well most vintages ending in a 9 are not bad!) they might for example; deselect 90% keeping only a little for their cellars and sell of the rest, or make a Ladoix 1er Cru Cuvée Château de Serrigny (home to the previous domaine) only to be sold through restaurants. There are many possibilities, but I am yet to be convinced that we’ll see ‘DRC Corton’ from their first vintage, let alone single labels for the climats. As an add-on – a straw poll suggested that consumers would expect such a bottling to command a price at, or slightly below the existing price of the Echézeaux – I wonder if the domaine will agree…

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?