L’Amateur de Bordeaux
You firmly undertook on the greatness of the vintage 2009. Yet in 2000, 2003 and 2005 had already been judged as vintages of the century. How is 2009 compared to those vintages?
2009 is the greatest vintage for Cabernet Sauvignon I have ever tasted in Bordeaux. It is a historic vintage for the Médoc, but 2005 and 2000 certainly are great vintages as well, with 2003 very irregular, especially in Pomerol, St. Emilion, and Graves. Moreover, as you are probably aware, the alchohols were slightly higher in 2009 than they were in either 2005 or 2003.
Is there still a market for Bordeaux futures in the U.S.? And even in Europe?
There remains an excellent market for Bordeaux futures in the United States. It is impossible for me to comment on the market in Europe, but even with the high prices of 2009, there has been an adequate market for Bordeaux futures in the United States. It is not as strong as it was in 2005 or in previous vintages such as 2000. Let’s not forget, the USA is still going through our worst recession since the Great Depression of 1929.
What do you think of rising prices of first growths and “super-seconds”. Is there still a market for that price?
I think we only have to look at the last 25 years of history to see that people thought 1985, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, and 2000 Bordeaux prices were too high, yet looking back now, those prices look very realistic in 2010. There is a larger and larger marketplace for great Bordeaux that will probably support these high prices. The one caveat is that if there were to be a worldwide economic collapse or a catastrophic terrorist attack, either would have a significant impact on all wine sales, including the high-end Bordeaux.
For very great wines, is there a credible alternative to great Bordeaux?
There are many alternatives to Bordeaux, such as California (in particular, Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon and Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon, some of the better Cabernet Sauvignons made in Australia, as well as the finer Merlot- and Cabernet-based wines from the Tuscan coastline. Moreover, the Malbecs of Argentina and Cabernets from Chile are noteworthy competitors. If you are talking about Cabernet, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc-based wines, the great virtue of Bordeaux is that they tend to be lower in alcohol than most New World versions of the same wine, and are more digestible and easier to pair with an assortment of cuisines.
Faced with the folly of prices of some 2009, what are the 2008 or 2007 that you recommend?
In either vintage, I found Bellevue-Mondotte, L’Eglise Clinet, Pavie, Croix de Labrie, and Pavie-Decesse to be excellent wines that were priced more reasonably than some of the most elite producers. I would also recommend the 2007 Troplong Mondot, the 2008 Ducru-Beaucaillou, the 2008 La Violette, the 2008 Branon, the 2008 Cos d’Estournel, the 2008 Leoville Las Cases, and the 2008 Montrose. (See attached list of recommended 2008 Bordeaux.)
Bordeaux in the future
It has been about thirty years since you visit every year or more Bordeaux. What are the major changes that you observed?
There have been major changes in Bordeaux.over the past 32 years. Certainly, there has been more investment in the cellars in terms of high-tech equipment, refrigeration, and better sanitation. In addition, the vineyards are clearly better cultivated. Throughout the course of the year, from viticulture to winemaking, there is far more meticulous handling of the vineyards and the harvested grapes. And certainly the crop yields since the early 1980s have dropped significantly for the top properties as a result of crop thinning. There have also been investments in Bordeaux, coming from large insurance companies and other very wealthy firms who recognize that the great Bordeaux wines have become a luxury brand, much like haute couture, fine art, luxury cars, and high-end watches.
While the world scrambles for the top Bordeaux wines, the “petits Bordeaux” are in great difficulties. Is it a matter of taste or a problem of communication? What advice would you give them? The “petits Bordeaux”, do they still have a future?
I spend a lot of time trying to find good values in petits Bordeaux, and I think many of them should just forget about aging the wine in oak — pick the grapes when are very ripe, age the wine in stainless steel, and bottle it very early. It tastes like Bordeaux, it has lots of fruit, and since these wines are meant to be drunk in their exuberant youth, they have no investment in wood and make a fruitier, better wine that would be widely accepted throughout the world. I do believe the petits Bordeaux have a future.
The global wine market
Will the increase in importance of Asia change the face of wine?
Asia is already having a dramatic impact on the world of fine wine. Having spent the past 12 years conducting educational tastings in Asia, there is an extraordinary market in countries such as South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, and to a lesser extent, Thailand. It is a growing market, where the consumers have a tremendous thirst for wine information. How much wine they will buy, and whether they will get past the so-called “luxury image” of fine French wine remains to be seen.
Is there a universal taste for fine wines?
This is like asking if there is a universal taste in art, music, or fashion. I do believe there is a consensus as to what constitutes high quality. If that were not the case, the first growths of Bordeaux would not fetch the prices they do, a Picasso work of art would not sell at astronomical prices, nor would the music of great composers such as Beethoven or Brahms be universally regarded. Of course, there is a certain degree of subjectivity, but there has never been any disagreement regarding the greatest wines or the greatest vintages.
You have decided to restrict access to your forum to your subscribers. What are the reasons?
The internet is a wonderful place that I have adopted vigorously. At the same time, it is a place of anarchy, chaos, and anonymity. Many unsavory troublemakers inhabit the internet blogs with the sole purpose of creating chaos and negativity through misrepresentation, the dissemination of false information, and character assassination. We are confronted with a sort of digital Mao-ism that I began to notice when I was hired as the first wine blogger for a service called Prodigy. It started off civilized, but then disintegrated into a polarized community driven by a minority of malicious posters. The same thing began to happen on my public forum athttp://www.erobertparker.com. We decided several years ago that if it did not stop, we would change it to subscription only. We have done that and we are thrilled with the results. The commentary is at a far higher level of intelligence, and far more civilized. People still disagree, but they do it in a much more polite manner.
Through forums and the blogs, consumers talk to consumers. Is there always a place for impartial critics such as Robert Parker? How “Parker System” suits he face this new situation?
It is my experience that the more “white noise” that comes from free wine forums and blogs, the higher the amount of irrelevant, badly written, grossly incompetent, and negligent wine information is posted. If anything, the proliferation of free wine forums and blogs has actually pushed more and more people to seek out experts who do the work, who have no agenda, who study and appraise the situation fully. There is no substitute for full-time professionals immersed in their field, and intelligent people recognize this. This has only benefited people such as me and other experts in the field.
Will Internet change the world of wine?
The internet may change the world of wine due to the fact that the dissemination of information about wine is immediate. However, that also the depends on the dissemination of fair and balanced information about wine and its producers. If that becomes corrupted, then it will only lead people to more credible authorities on the subject, which I believe is already happening.
Thank you very much.
All the best in wine and life,