The prestigious Grand Crus of Bordeaux are among the most speculative wines in the world. One stellar vintage, or one bad review from a select number of critics can change the buying price by as much as 50% – this is the draw and the danger of the top Chateaux.
The last two vintages of Bordeaux have been hailed as the best of the decade. Parker gave an unprecedented sixteen 100 point scores to wines around the Bordeaux region for the 2009 vintage. Producers celebrated and prices were set to match.
However it seems that the millennium party is over…..
The 2011 vintage was mired by a difficult growing session, and although it is praised by many as being an ‘accessible wine’ –ready to be enjoyed earlier than many Bordeaux selections —it did not live up to preceding vintages.
The top Chateauxs have now started to release their prices for the 2011 En Primeur- or Futures Campaign. Chateau Lafite Rothschild opened the ‘bidding’ at €420 per bottle to the wine trade – a 30% reduction from last year’s price of €600.
The pricing bar was further lowered yesterday with the announcement of Cos d’Estornel’s 2011 vintage at €108 per bottle ex-negociant, half the price of last year but still around twice the price of other vintages. This is in stark contrast to past vintage price points such as 2009 when the Chateau tripled its asking price.
How can the Chateauxs get away with varying their prices so drastically from year to year you may ask – well not everyone can do it, and it is becoming risky even for the Top names. The risk of course is that by lowering their price one year it is difficult to raise it again in future vintages. One solution practiced by many Chateauxs is to simply reduce the number of bottles released from their first wines (while keeping the price fairly steady) and make up the difference with the second or even third wine.
Cos Estournel will release 12,000 more cases of its second wine compared with last year
In the 2011 vintage only 30% of the harvest went into the first wine at Cos Estornel, of which only 9,000 cases were made, compared with 21,000 last year, according to numbers given by Decanter. While 21,000 cases of the Chateau’s second wine, Les Pagodes de Cos were produced compared with last year’s 9,000. The reason being that the winery was more selective in choosing its grapes for its top wine. However pricing certainly plays a role: prices on Les Pagodes de Cos are down only 25% from last year.
Chateau Latour will no long pre-sell their wines to negociants
Other big news from the region is Chateau Latour’s ground breaking – and highly anticipated- announcement that its 2011 vintage will be the last sold using the en primeur system. Instead the first wine, Chateau Latour, and the second wine Les Forts de Latour, will be sold – through the traditional negociant structure – when the Chateau believes they are ready to be opened and enjoyed. The reason given for this change is the Chateau’s desire to control the conditions in which the wines are kept and limit the growing amount of resale, a problem that has increased in recent years, particularly in the Asian market.
So does this mean that all of the Grand Crus will be exiting the En Primeur system – not likely. For many Chateauxs the En Primeur campagne is a positive source of media attention. Also En Primeur – which allows Chateauxs to sell their wines two years in advance to Negociants- is an important source of early revenue – central to investments and the daily functioning of many groups. Chateau Latour, owned by billionaire François Pinault, also the owner of Christie’s Auction House, has the luxury of holding onto their wines for as long as they deem necessary.
What are your opinions on fluctuating prices? Is it good news that top wines in Bordeaux will come at a more accessible price point? Do you think Latour will lead a movement away from the traditional En Primeur system? Let me know your thoughts.