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BORDEAUX (Reuters Life!) - The 2008 harvest for Bordeaux wines makes for a better quality year than the past two but prices will be lower thanks to the financial crisis, according to experts at the Bordeaux primeur tastings.
"This 2008 (harvest) is promising. I prefer it over 2006 and 2007," said Annie Geoffroy, of wine traders Winag.
"There is a wide diversity of aromas in the same appellation. This harvest takes the small houses to the level of the big one," she added during a tasting.
She was at Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, a grand cru at Pessac-Léognan where tens of people, armed with a glass and a notebook, were tasting the young wines for sale that will be delivered next year at the earliest.
During the week some 5,000 professionals, journalists and other visitors from 30 countries went through dozens of tastings.
"We're looking for good deals," said a New York wine importer who made the tour of the caves hoping producers could show some "realism" on prices this year.
After three harvests during which the prices for top wines sky-rocketed, wine professionals expect a reduction of up to 50 percent compared to recent years.
Unsold stocks at some traders have reached such a level that special campaigns have been organized to reduce them.
Hubert de Bouard, owner of Château Angélus, a grand cru of Saint-Emilion, said on Tuesday he had set the price for the 2008 harvest at 50 euros per bottle, a cut of 41 percent compared to the 85 euros of 2007.
"We are adapting to reality... With this significant price cut are coming back to the price of 2004," he told Reuters.
While primeur sales concerns the top wines, other Bordeaux wine growers have seized the opportunity to pour out their wines to the professionals and journalists, such as during a buffet dinner last week in the city of Bordeaux.
"We attracted more wine growers and vistors than in recent years. We need to organize events like this because we believe Bordeaux Superieur is positioning itself for the future," said Bernard Farges, president of the wine association.
"It is not a discount wine, it's a key market that is developing at some 4 to 8 euros per bottle," he said.
While mainly the top wines posted big price gains in the past few years, the current pressure to push prices down is more general and a big worry for the more modest growers, many of whom have stopped making wine.
"Today, we are selling a barrel of red at 850 euros ($1,150) and that price is already too low," said Didier Cousiney of the winegrowers collective. "They tell us that the prices of the grand crus will come down. If that has an effect on our prices we have no option but to quit."
In the other well-known big French wine growing area of Burgundy, stocks of wines at traders have decreased by 4.5 percent and reached their lowest level for 10 years, the BIVB sector organization said on Monday.
There was a weak harvest in 2008 and sales of the 2007 harvest have only just begun.
"In this period of crisis, the name of Burgundy is a safe-haven for consumers all over the world as a guarantee for authenticity and quality," the organization said.
Burgundy exported 93 million bottles in 2008, down 15.5 percent, for a value of 635 million euros which is down 11.7 percent on the previous year.
In France, it sold 100 million bottles which is about the same as in 2007, with a noticable rise in sales to tourists visiting the vineyards.
The last quarter was particularly low with a 28 percent drop in volumes due to the crisis and the currency effect of a weaker sterling and dollar which made the euro-prized wines more expensive in the two top export markets for Burgundy.
"Burgundy is reactive and mobile. She has the capacity to rebound permanently. Our companies are not large aircraft carriers that can change course only slowly, but rather fast vessels that can react and go anywhere," BIVB president Pierre-Henry Gagey said.
For more Reuters stories on wines see [nWINE]
Writing by Marcel Michelson, editing by Paul Casciato