‘Sleeper of the Vintage’
A long-term customer asked me today about what he called ‘Captain Bob’s jargon’.
‘Please tell me what ‘a major sleeper of the vintage’ means! When I first saw this term, often used by Robert Parker, I thought it meant the wine needed many years cellaring. Wrong – eg Les Cruzelles 2012, where he uses the expression, but says this wine is drinkable now. Then I thought it meant an obscure, easily overlooked chateau, but this does not fit either as he has used it on classed growths.’
He is not the first person to be mystified by this, and my previous answers have not been much clearer than his own assumptions, but www.erobertparker.com does supply the answer, which is that the ‘sleepers of the vintage’ as Robert Parker identifies them, are ‘Where value and overachievement merit attention’
So now you know.
More thoughts on the market
Another merchant (who sensibly does not get involved in the en primeur circus), pointed me in the direction of Neil Martin’s thoughts on en primeur and what is currently going on in the market. It is painfully on the button, and should be compulsory reading amongst Bordeaux proprietors / brand managers / price setters. The full article will require you to sign up to the Wine Advocate website, but it’s a small price to pay. It may be difficult to get the targets (those who set the prices) to read it when he begins:- ‘It is probably mean insisting to the Bordelais that they are about as unloved as a Wall Street banker in North Korea at the moment’.
Going back to 2006, when we were about to start selling the 2005 vintage, I looked at Jean-Guillaume Prats (of Cos d’Estournel) in some incredulity (and naivety, as it turned out) and said ‘you can’t price it that high, the people who bought the 2004 will never follow’. He said smoothly, ‘no, but other people will buy it.’ All through the selling of the 2009s and 2010s and beyond I have wondered what you do when you run out of ‘other people’. The answer for J-G is to get a really terrific job selling luxury goods for LVMH. But what about the successors? Where are their ‘other people’ coming from?
The last time Robert Parker claimed it was a ‘Merlot year’, and that Pomerol was the most successful appellation, and that the Cabernet in the Medoc was not fully ripe, was for the 1998 vintage. This produced a period a really remarkable price distortion. At the time we knew the world had gone topsy-turvy when Château Beauregard in Pomerol came out en primeur more expensive than Léoville Barton. Now I’ve nothing against Beauregard – in fact I’m rather a supporter, but which would you rather have in your cellar now?
The fact is that Pomerol is relatively tiny, and it does not take much demand to send the prices shooting up. It’s sort of alright for the lesser-known wines, but when it comes to the top names there is a danger that you will find them offered at prices comparable to the 2009s and 2010s – and the wines are not comparable. For value the Médoc may still be the best value hunting-ground. There’s not much wrong with most 1998 Medoc crus Classés now as they approach maturity. And are the Pomerols really that great?