Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Influential US critic gives Bordeaux 2007 thumbs down

Influential US wine critic Robert Parker has drawn long faces in Bordeaux, handing out a series of low scores, and telling buyers not to bother with the 2007 vintage unless chateaux owners cut prices substantially.

"There is unquestionably little need to buy these wines as futures, unless dramatic price reductions occur. I don't expect that to happen," said Parker in his annual vintage review, titled "2007 Bordeaux: Who Will Buy Them and at What Price?"

Bordeaux wine primeurs, or futures as they are also known, are barrel samples of the latest vintage, tasted by critics in the first week of April and sold in the following months -- two years before bottling. Prices are released on a chateau by chateau basis, with the most famous often waiting till the end of June.

Parker's annual review is always eagerly awaited in Bordeaux, and while he publishes a written opinion, it is his score out of 100 to each wine that matters most. With Bordeaux producers convinced of the importance of the score in determining demand, many wait for Parker's review before issuing prices.

"You know how the saying goes -- if it's over 90 you can't find it, if it's below 90 you can't sell it," said Bordeaux-based wine merchant, Jeffrey Davies.

He added however that winemakers and buyers often did themselves injustice by dismissing wines that got a Parker score of less than 90. "An 85 to 89 is actually a B+, that's a good score," he told AFP.

But Parker's severity this year has left a bitter taste.

"Parker is a good taster, and I have great respect for him but some of these scores are really unjust," said Benoit Ricaud Dussarget, a Bordeaux wine broker reacting to the 2007 report.

"A score in the 70's for a good Bordeaux is crazy," he said. "He has assassinated some of the wines."

To date, only a handful of lesser known chateaux have released their prices following the publication of Parker's review a few days ago.

All prices to date Tuesday are slightly lower than the 2006 vintage, but the reductions of between 3 and 11 percent are not expected to be big enough to tempt the main primeur markets, Britain and the United States, given the uneven quality of the vintage, and euro-dollar, euro-sterling disparities.

"The 11 percent reduction from Chateau Quinault (one of the first reds to release its price after a 93 score) only scratches the surface of what is necessary to attract the attention of anyone outside the euro zone," said Davies, who was hoping for cuts between 30 and 40 percent.

Overall, while Parker said good wines from the 2007 vintage were "seductive, and fruit-forward", he opined there were plenty of poor quality ones that were "thin and green".

In total Parker only gave three 100 point scores, and all three were for whites, in a town best known for its reds.

Chateau Pape Clement white and Haut-Brion, were both marked 96-100, and Chateau Climens, a sweet white tasted by Parker's British sidekick Neal Martin, got 98-100.

Of Bordeaux's top five, first growth wines, the highest mark was 94, with Chateau Margaux earning a 92-94, Chateau Haut-Brion a 91-94, and Mouton-Rothschild a 90-94. Chateau Lafite and Chateau Latour both got a 90-93.