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Bordeaux 2010: Release prices?

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

So we have a week to collect ourselves during Vinexpo, Bordeaux’s wine trade fair that runs this week, to assess just where we are with the controversial release prices of the 2010 Bordeaux vintage. If you thought prices for 2009 were a bit heady then so far the prices of some 2010s have been eye-watering. In certain notable cases prices are up 40% year on year and that on top of similar increases last year. You wonder why Bank of England chief Mervyn King is losing sleep about the UK’s paltry 4.5% inflation rate. Small beer Merv, get with it. Bordeaux’s up ten times as much.

Clearly though this sort of price inflation is not a good thing unless you own a super second chateau. There’s more than a few siren voices saying that inexorably rising Bordeaux prices will end in tears, even Robert Parker’s reportedly been talking about a market crash. Price hikes can be sustained so long as demand from Asia, China especially, is maintained. But what if it doesn’t? In the past, a long-term view, say a 5-10 year period, generally produced significant gains for those buying the top chateaux. That is certainly true for anyone who bought 2000 or 2005 on release, but, as we’re always told, past performance is no guide to future return. In these increasingly crazy and uncertain times and with so much speculative money now tied up in wine, it may not take much for some of it, maybe quite a bit of it, to take fright and set off in search of the next big thing investment wise. That would certainly lead to a market ‘correction’.

I’ll put my hand up here. I’ve bought big chateaux in the past with a mind to drinking them if I become a millionaire – or to selling them at some point if I don’t – the much more likely bet. Yet with opening prices being pushed up so much by the top chateaux in the past few years, the market for blue chip Bordeaux is starting to feel crazy.  How much further up can it go realistically? Pyramid selling only works if you can find someone to buy your share at a higher value than you did. Can you realistically assume that if you buy super second Bordeaux for £1500 now it will be worth £2500 or £3000 in a few years time? I’m not so sure.

I’d certainly be concerned if I was a merchant landed with buying 2010 and then selling it on, particularly after the feeding frenzy that was 2009, no matter what merchants may say publicly. Decanter reported last week that the upward movement in price of Chanel owned Chateau Rauzan Ségla 2010, itself up 40% on 2009, prompted one Bordeaux negociant, Barrière Freres to refuse its allocation of the wine because of the ‘ludicrous’ price. Having said that said Chateau Pichon Longueville 2010, also up 40% on 2009, was flying out the doors according to the UK’s most well healed wine merchants last week, that along with Pontet Canet and Lynch Bages 2010 at not dissimilar prices.

We’re still waiting for the really big guns of the first growths and others like La Mission Haut-Brion, Cheval Blanc, Cos d’Estournel, Léoville Las Cases, Palmer and Ducru-Beaucaillou. Given the already super high prices for these wines, first growths especially, it’s difficult to imagine significant increases in wines priced around the £8K-£15K mark. Still you never know. This is Bordeaux and money’s the bottom line. Price was the founding principle of the 1855 classification. This year’s rule of thumb seems to be increase price by 10-20% at the least, 40% if you really want to be taken seriously. Of course this is just the top few hundred properties, not the thousands of petit chateaux at the other end of the spectrum, struggling with debt and struggling to sell their wines.

So if you aren’t a speculator and you haven’t got bags of cash, as a consumer what to do? I’m not sure buying 2010 en primeur makes that much sense this year to be honest, unless you’re trying to secure the finest and rarest. There’s still a good deal of 2009 still around at prices that haven’t shifted much since last year, and that’s a fabulous vintage which will be most likely drink nicely as soon as you take delivery of it. 2010 will always feel denser, more brooding and tannic by comparison because of the vintage drought and comparatively cool conditions. Yes the vintage has produced remarkable wines but I’ve not been in a hurry to dip into my pocket, admitted partly because, possibly like the rest of you, I’m spent out on 2009. Even if I had the cash available, I’m not sure about the prices commanded by the top wines now if you are interested in actually drinking them. I’d also be surprised if you were unable to pick up most 2010s next year at the similar prices. I could be wrong, but that’s certainly still true of 2009.

Not that all 2010s are overpriced by any means, in fact the hikes are really amongst those that are considered [or consider themselves] investment grade. Jean Gautreau deserves a round of applause at Chateau Sociando Mallet, his 2010 was released lower in price than his 2009. At £265 [versus £310 or so for the 2009] that looks a reasonable buy for the quality. There was no increase at St Estephe’s Chateau Lafon Rochet, though the price did go up a fair bit last year and I preferred their 2009 to the 2010, though both are excellent wines. Chateau Ormes de Pez is reasonable value at around £250-260 and is an excellent wine, Chateau Le Crock is also good in 2010 (£160 or so) but 2009 was more immediately appealing.

If you are thinking of dipping your toe in the water in 2010 and looking for Haut-Médoc cru classé pedigree or equivalent then Chateau Belgrave, Chateau Cantemerle and Chateau Angludet still offer reasonable value. The first two properties have pretty much maintained their prices on 2009, though have made very different wines in 2010 as I’ve said before, as good but in a different, more classical style. Chateau Angludet, up a bit in price (£260] is still very much worth it and the 2010s looks very strong to me. Indeed if you’re a Margaux fan, like me, do have a look at Chateau Labégorce, one wine that I have bought already in 2010. It’s a comparative snip at £180 or so a case in the UK.

Amongst the Pauillacs Chateau Batailley is still worth considering for the quality. It’s now at £300 a case. This is expensive when you consider the impressive 2005 was released at just £180 a case just five years ago but despite this Batailley remains one of the cheapest Pauillacs in an appellation that now seems to exceed Pomerol in price. In St Julien Chateau Gloria is up at £325 [£285 or so for the 2009] but it is a really good wine. Chateau Gruaud Larose really impressed me in 2010 and it was released around £550 a case, not much up on last year. I’d certainly take three cases of that St Julien over one case of Pauillac’s Pichon Baron, a great wine in 2010 certainly, but [at £1600 a case] looking distinctly pricey if you’re not a speculator. Chateau St Pierre [£600] also looks good but these are pretty high prices if maybe not by comparison. In Pessac-Léognan Chateau Pique Caillou looks great value at £135 a case and worth snapping up I’d say. Chateau Bouscaut too at £198. Domaine de Chevalier has increased a little over 2009, but at £550 or so way to pricey for me now. Their 2008 was pitched at £288 just a couple of years ago, difficult to believe the 2010 is twice as good. In fact, if you’re really into drinking wine then head to the 2008s – the last realistically priced Bordeaux vintage available – or the 2004s….

If you are a UK Wine Society member then their recently released first offer of 2010 Bordeaux has a number of relative bargains on it nevertheless. Amongst the reds look for Chateau Cissac [£90 per dozen] along with Chateau Charmail [£129] – always safe and rewarding bets that have been reasonable in the pricing for many years given the quality achieved at both estates. Chateau de La Dauphine in Fronsac also looks like a good buy [£135]. There is also a useful range of wines offered in half cases which makes the likes of Belgrave, Poujeaux and Ormes de Pez much more affordable. So do with fine Pomerols Domaine de L’Eglise and Chateau Bourneuf. Their offer ends in early July and is only open to members.

Also if you are looking at sweet wines then Chateau Liot looks goodish at £70 per six on the Society’s list, and Chateau Doisy Daene at £158 per six looks good too. In value terms Sauternes and Barsac can at least justify their prices due to the appalling economics involved in fine sweet wine production. From what I can see very few chateaux have increased prices on last year. If Sauternes is you thing then do check out specialists Bordeaux Gold – they seem to sell everything going. In terms of the Bordeaux specialist UK merchants, I follow Berry Brothers & Rudd, Farr Vintners, Lay & Wheeler and Lea & Sandeman. There’s still a lot of 2010 about, even the top names if you want them. Read the small print on whether delivery is included or if credit card purchases cost more. Obviously other reputed merchants like Bordeaux Index, Corney & Barrow and Justerini & Brooks all have good 2010 en primeur offers along with a host of others. And do have a peek at the 2008s and 2004 where they are available. You could have them sitting in your glass immediately.

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