Bordeaux2011, Part 1 - Doctor, I may be suffering from Bordeaux Fever!

In the modern world, it may seem a little ridiculous that we could have ever looked upon Bordeaux fever as anything other than a psychological problem. Nevertheless it is originally thought to have been caused by bad air; subsequently it was believed that poor hygiene was causing the condition to spread through stemware. We can look back with some amazement that many years were spent looking for some kind of pathological cause. It was only relatively recently that we came to understand the condition as a form of mass hysteria.

The condition manifests itself in three stages. The initial symptoms include wine merchants categorically stating that prices are “ridiculous and there needs to be some kind of sanity” and the buyers saying “no way, not at that price”.

Stage two is generally brought about by the inevitable announcement that the vintage turns out to be the “best ever”, or at least “unexpectedly/remarkably good despite the weather”.

When wine buying goes bad

The symptoms of this phase are known as the appeasement stage, because wine merchants agree to take wines at prices at which they baulked at only one week before. Simultaneously, Collectors realise that they really do need another vintage of Bordeaux in their cellars, even if that is at the cost of wines from another region that has experienced better growing conditions.

In addition the collector has an overwhelming urge to part with his or her money immediately, even if the wines are not the ultra scarce first growths or trophy wines.

Following stage two there is generally a long period of approximately ten to twelve months where the patient suffers from remorse, which generally manifests itself in verbal protestations of “never again” for collectors and “prices must come down” for merchants.  

Relief eventually comes following the third and final stage when the sufferer realises that in actual fact the previous vintage was not so good after all, or it was good, but “not as good as this one”. This phase of the condition is known as the qué sera stage and many experts believe that there is a link to seasons as recovery is almost always occurs shortly after the start of spring.

Clearly more research is needed into this debilitating affliction. It is true that it may not be terminal, but the relapse rate can be as high as 100%!

There is a serious underlying comment to this story and that is that techniques in the vineyard have raised standards and we have possibly, or at least largely, seen the back of the truly ordinary vintage. It is unlikely that we will see a repetition of the awful 1977 vintage, or even the pedestrian years that followed the great 1990 vintage. Instead we see fairly good wines, with drastically reduced yields.

Should wines be judged against vintages of the previous decades?

Clearly critics must do so, because they are rating the quality of wine as they find it. Their palates and reviewing procedure must be consistent with other regions and previous vintages; otherwise their notes and ratings would be worthless.

If this is the case perhaps it is up to the collectors to judge wines against recent similar vintages and make allowances when deciding whether to buy into yet another “surprisingly” good year.

Published 2nd April 2012

Part 2 - Will buyers and Châteaux arrive at an entente cordiale, or will they agree to disagree?

Part 3 - We all know that Sauternes is a swan yet we treat it like an ugly duckling


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