Bordeaux en primeur out of favour?

After starting with a whimper a month ago, the 2010 En Primeur season
in Mid June.  All of a sudden 35 Chateaux released on
one day. Big names such as Lynch Bages, Pontet Canet, Montrose and Pichon
Baron all came out, some with eye watering prices. The whole train came to
a crashing halt two days before the opening of Vinexpo when one of
Bordeaux’s négociants, the aptly named Barrière Frères wrote to the
Chateau and its clients , explaining it ‘is had enough’ and wouldn’t be
taking up the allocation of Rauzan Ségla after such massive price hikes.
Why?  Rauzan Ségla released its price 40% above its €60 2009 release
price which was 100% above the €30 2008 release price!

Wow! That is one courageous négociant… There are many larger sized
players in the Bordelais and Barrière Frères has said what we have been
whispering since Smith Haut Lafitte released its 2010 at €77 per bottle
(vs €62 in 2009 and €28 in 2008). The Bordelais are a cliquey bunch
and I guess  Barrière Frères is blacklisted for the foreseeable future at
Rauzan Ségla which happens to belong to the Wertheimers of Chanel fame.

For some time there has been some talk about change in the En Primeur
system outside of Bordeaux, in the blogosphere and by the wine critics.
Jancis Robinson mentioned before the huge Union des Grand Cru en primeur
tastings in April that critics should hold back their ratings until prices
were announced (and check Jancis’ member forum for the backlash on 2010
pricing!). Robert Parker headlined his 2010 tasting notes ‘Titus
Andronicus’ the vengeful Shakespearian play and ended with a quote from Bob
Dylan’s “God on Our Side” song a cryptic side remark towards the chateau
owners. He also recently told AFP that prices were getting toppy. James
Suckling even wonders whether the en primeur system will survive.
Well sounds like lipservice to me, this was said in 1995 and 2005 – nothing has changed since.

Vinexpo closed its doors and attendance was up 3% on 2009.
Interestingly amongst the foreign visitors, 30% were Asian representatives
– with China doubling in size and UK and US visitors both were 10%. Asia
has taken over the space left behind by US buyers who retreated post credit
crunch, and the Chinese market has put upwards pressure on Bordeaux prices.
Sales of Bordeaux wine has increased 100% from 2005 to 2009 and is expected
to double from today to 2015 again.

However, our cellars are stacked full of 2009 en primeur, so why buy
another vintage of the century? Therefore négociants and merchants were
getting worried that in order to retain their allocations in the future,
they would need to cut in to their 2010 margins in order to sell to grumbling
consumers. The Chinese and anybody else does not like to be ripped off, whatever the
quality of the product.

We are now at the tail end of the en primeur campaign and last Monday,
Ducru Beaucaillou and Cos d’Estournel kicked off with lower prices than 2009! The message seems to have been received.

Most First Growths came out at €600 a bottle (Bordeaux price not retail price) for their first tranches and are now trading at around between €775 and €1500 per bottle (Lafite Rothschild, bien sur!). Strangely La Mission Haut Brion came out at the same price – the owners obviously believe that it should rank as a First Growth too. Latour broke rank and released at €780 (+30% on 2009) and the bonkers release of 2010 was Cheval Blanc at €850 per bottle (+21% on 2009). At least Yquem came out 22% below 2009!

So what to do? There are much better priced opportunities in the back
vintages and if you really want to get stuck in to the 2010 vintage I would
look at good price quality wines such as in Pomerol – Vieux Chateau Certan, Providence, Petite Eglise, Clinet
come to mind, and in St Emilion – Monbousquet, Certan de May, Canon la
Gaffeliere and la Magdelaine, and in Pessac Leognan – Olivier and Haut
Bailly. I also like Grand Puy Lacoste, Armailhac and Clerc Milon a lot in Pauillac. Margaux is my favourite
for 2010 and would highly recommend Monbrison, Ferrière, and Giscours. In
the Médoc, Chasse Spleen and la Lagune didn’t price too high either. The
same could be said about Montrose’s second wine la Dame de Montrose.

Karel Röell