Adam Lechmere is editor of decanter.com, www.decanter.com, the web arm of Decanter, the leading British wine magazine. The opinions expressed are his own.
By Adam Lechmere
LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The Bordeaux 2009 en primeur campaign has caught fire after a sluggish start.
It now looks as if the prices of the top wines - the First Growths together with the right bank blue chips like Petrus, Angelus, Ausone and Le Pin - are going to be consistently 300-400 percent more expensive than the 2008 vintage, and considerably pricier than the great 2005.
Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Mouton Rothschild released their prices on Friday, June 18, to considerable gnashing of teeth among the bloggers, and some merchants. Others are more sanguine. Lafite, long the favorite first growth of the new millionaires of the Far East, priced its first wine at around 450 euro ($560) a bottle.
Negociants - the middle men to whom the chateaux sell the wine - announced they would sell it to wine merchants at 550 euro ($680). It should reach the market at around 7,500 euro ($9,300) a case. Mouton has come out at the same price.
This represents a leap of more than 300 percent on the price of the 2008, and more than 50 percent on the release price of the great 2005 vintage.
Wine merchants are flustered.
The chateaux traditionally release their en primeur wine in tranches. The first tranche is a toe in the water - they watch to see how the market behaves, and price subsequent tranches accordingly.
A leading Bordeaux source quoted on Monday on www.decanter.com (www.decanter.com/bordeaux2009) highlighted that chateaux such as Lafite were keeping back ever-increasing amounts of their production for sale in later years. "The en primeur campaign is a mere coup de pub (publicity stunt) for the money that is going to be made by the chateaux from these wines in the future," the source said.
Merchants won’t sell the wine until they know how expensive they are going to become.
“There’s no point in us selling the wines at one price if the next tranche comes out at a far higher price,” said Simon Davies at UK merchant Fine & Rare.
No one really knows how many of Lafite’s 20,000-odd cases have been released in the first tranche, but merchants, scrabbling for their allocations, agree they are smaller than ever this year.
“Every year we lose a percentage,” said Sam Gleave of London merchant Bordeaux Index. “Soon all we’re going to get is a six-pack. But what can we do? We’re hamstrung by it.”
Gleave may grumble about the lack of ‘transparency’ in the system, with no real idea of the number of cases released and merchants at the mercy of the chateaux, but he agrees it’s all part of the game.
“We’re just negotiating as hard as we can,” he said.
But to the bloggers, crouched in their garrets over wine-stained keyboards, the prices are beyond the pale.
Some, like Oliver Styles on wine-life, have called on the world to boycott Bordeaux on the grounds it has collectively taken leave of its senses. Others express shock and surprise.
There’s intemperate comment on Twitter, and American merchants are similarly outraged. Many will not touch the top wines fearing that if the euro drops, they will be left with literally millions of dollars of unsold wine on their hands.
But looked at dispassionately, Bordeaux 2009 is healthy.
There are slow-burners, but at all levels, most wine merchants in Britain report generally good sales.
“Everything is selling well,” said Davies. “Leoville Barton and Langoa Barton sold out quickly. I wish we’d bought more Lynch Bages. Our biggest seller is Pontet Canet, and at 1,200 pounds ($1,780) a case it’s expensive.”
The top wines of Bordeaux are in the superleague of luxury goods. As Davies said: “These aren’t tiny properties. These are huge estates which unfailingly produce world-beating wines. They have always been very expensive.”
Indeed they have - and there’s always been disbelief. In March 2001, decanter.com asked the director of Mouton, Herve Berland, if there was any credence in the rumor that his wine would reach a release price of 1,000 French francs a bottle — then the equivalent of about US$135.
“Of course not,” he scoffed. “It would be totally stupid to do that.”
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith