The sun sets on Bordeaux en primeur 2018

Wine Lister spent a week in Bordeaux tasting the 2018 vintage in April, and has dedicated the last two months to covering en primeur releases for its Pro Subscribers. After what has been an unpredictable and puzzling Bordeaux en primeur campaign, we have conducted more than 20 interviews with our Pro Subscribers and Founding Members to find out how it went for them.

Below you will find our conclusions on the Bordeaux 2018 en primeur campaign, which combine our own intimate knowledge of the campaign and its peculiarities with invaluable insights from the trade.

Timing

The campaign lasted 62 days compared to 59 last year (from the date of the first major release to the last standard-channel releases). One clear improvement, thanks to a concerted effort by courtiers, was the spacing out of releases more evenly over the period. However, this did not address the more acute concern around the overall length of the campaign, with the wine trade expected to concentrate on the new Bordeaux vintage for two whole months of the year.

Pricing

A more major frustration was pricing. Over 80% of Wine Lister Pro Subscribers / Founding Members surveyed said prices were too high. On average, prices were up 13% on 2017 and 2% on 2016 release prices. This only made sense where 2016s had gone up in the market since release – not often enough the case. As a result, 2018s came onto the market on average 1% above the current market price of 2016, despite the latter – one of the vintages of the century – being physically available.

Needless to say, many wines stalled upon release due to over-ambitious pricing. When we asked the trade which wines sold the worst, more than once the reply was, “too many to mention”.

Desire

However, one of the more unfathomable motifs of the campaign was that in several instances, this highly ambitious pricing was accepted by the market, and the wines sold through. These were wines with good momentum behind them and a particularly loyal following, but most of all they were wines with a specific story that superseded any thought of value relative to prior vintages.

Examples of this phenomenon are Domaine de Chevalier and Palmer. Both were released into the market above every recent back vintage, and yet both met with demand thanks to the stories behind each wine. Domaine de Chevalier’s owner, Olivier Bernard, started sowing the seed several months before the campaign saying his 2018 was the best wine he’d ever made, a statement reiterated by the rest of his family and gradually absorbed through the fine wine chain. Unable to use conventional sprays, Palmer lost two-thirds of its crop to mildew, and made a striking, unusual wine that Managing Director Thomas Duroux said would “go down in history”.

“The market is very smart and only follows brands that it’s imperative to buy en primeur,” states Laurent Bonnet, Export Director of négociant L.D. Vins.

It was a campaign that favoured top names, not value wines. Wines below €50 were largely unsuccessful (with a few exceptions such as Laroque, Capbern, and Potensac – the three most affordable Bordeaux 2018 Wine Lister MUST BUYs).

David Suire, Managing Director of Château Laroque – a Bordeaux 2018 WL MUST BUY

Volume

After pricing, the most cited frustration was reduced volumes. On average, leading properties released around 20% less wine than last year. “The number one cause of reduced volumes is lower production in 2018 compared to previous years,” said Mathieu Chadronnier, Managing Director of négociant CVBG, who, like other participants in the campaign would have liked to have more volume to sell of certain wines. “It is a frustration, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” he concluded.

Certainly several properties produced less wine due to mildew and a very dry summer. Others made a commercial decision to keep back more wine – a continuation of the gradual trend for Bordeaux châteaux to release less wine en primeur, whether to create an impression of rarity, and / or to partake in the future upside by selling the bottled wine later once it has – they hope – increased in value.

Bonnet underlines the irony of having less and less stock of the wines that sell well, and too much of those that don’t: “The ‘not enough of in-demand wines / too many wines to hold as stock’ equation is difficult for négociants to resolve,” says Bonnet, cautioning that, “the financial stakes are high.”

Good news stories

While Asian buyers were reported to be less present than in previous years, other geographies remained strong – the US, continental Europe, and especially the UK.

The 10 greatest success stories of the campaign included six Wine Lister MUST BUYs: Calon Ségur, Canon, Carmes Haut-Brion, Rauzan-Ségla, Léoville Las Cases, Mouton Rothschild, and Lynch-Bages.

Revenues were up on 2017 across the board, in many cases very significantly. The majority of respondents reported en primeur revenues the same as or above 2015 levels, with only a couple of exceptions. However, very few managed to equal 2016 revenues.

Future(s)

On the one hand, it seems obvious that the 2018 Bordeaux en primeur campaign could have been more of a roaring success with more astute pricing and in some cases a bit more volume to go around. On the other, many of our Pro Subscribers and Founding Members have been pleasantly surprised by the outcome, and will conclude their campaigns with better revenues than they expected.

This leaves many convinced of the merits of en primeur, if frustrated that it’s not reaching its full potential. “We could have done £35m,” said Max Lalondrelle, Fine Wine Buying Director of UK merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd, which in fact made c.£22m in revenues on the 2018 Bordeaux en primeur campaign.

Meanwhile other members of the trade have ceased their Bordeaux en primeur activity altogether over recent years, and some are questioning its future viability. For the time being, the sun has set on this year’s campaign, but it will rise again next year on the utterly unique global marketing and distribution tool that is en primeur.

Read more about our new MUST BUY tool in our recent blog here.


Bordeaux wines that the trade is backing

Included in Part II of Wine Lister’s Bordeaux Study 2019 (released last week), are results of our latest trade survey. Wine Lister asks its Founding Members (c.50 key players in the global fine wine trade) to give “confidence” ratings to more than 100 key Bordeaux wines on a scale of 0 to 10; 0 being zero confidence.

For the third consecutive year, no Bordeaux wine received a perfect 10/10. Wines retaining their 9/10 confidence rating since last year are Le Pin, Margaux, Mouton, and Petrus. Joining them in 2019 are Lafleur, Latour, and Vieux Châteaux Certan – the latter being a particular source of interest, given its average price of £139, or just 13% of the average of the rest of the group.

Meanwhile the two remaining left bank first growths, Haut-Brion and Lafite, have slipped down into the next confidence band, receiving an average of 8/10. Saint-Émilion superstar, Canon, has also moved down one point since last year, despite also being cited by the same trade group as a wine seeing the sharpest rise in demand, and a wine of likely future prestige.

The 8/10 category contains 24 wines, compared with 21 in 2018. New entries into the 8/10 category include two of the best performers en primeur – Beychevelle and Les Carmes Haut-Brion. Others moving up to this category are Cos d’Estournel, Les Forts de Latour, and Léoville Barton.

The improved confidence in Pomerol within the top two groups is noticeable, with Lafleur and Vieux Château Certan effectively taking the places of Canon and Lafite, and two wines from the Moueix stable – La Fleur-Pétrus and Trotanoy moving up into the 8/10 category this year (at the expense of Ausone, La Mission Haut-Brion, Léoville Poyferré, Montrose, and Palmer, which have all moved down into the 7/10 group). As well as earning high confidence, Pomerol also achieves the highest number of wines in the 2018 Quality top-25.

Visit Wine Lister’s Analysis page to buy and/or download the full report, and see confidence ratings for all other wines in the study (available in both English and French).


10 must-have Bordeaux wines for your collection

As en primeur 2018 picks up pace, we consider the 10 Bordeaux wines that any fine wine collector should acquire for their collection. These are based on the results of Wine Lister’s latest Founding Member survey, gathering the views of over 50 key players in the global fine wine trade.

You can download this slide here: 10 must have Bordeaux wines for your collection


Bordeaux 2018 en primeur part II : the campaign

The campaign in 2018 “won’t be a record breaker,” thinks Mathieu Chadronnier, MD of négociant CVBG, “but everything is there for it to work well.” There are also some potential pitfalls. In this article we consider the role that volume, pricing, and timing will play in the success of the 2018 en primeur campaign – already well underway.

Volume

In 2018, yields were often slightly below 2017 levels. Last year, frost damage provided a cover for releasing less volume into the market. Will mildew serve the same purpose in 2018? There were some extreme mildew casualties across the two banks, mainly for organic and biodynamic properties such as Palmer, which produced just 11 hl/ha. In Pomerol, L’Evangile made 20 hl/ha, less than half what it would have produced under conventional agriculture. In Pauillac, Pontet-Canet made just 10 hl/ha in 2018 – one third of its usual production, losing 15 hl/ha to mildew and another 5hl/ha due to dried out grapes.

The cellar at biodynamic estate, Château Palmer, emptier than usual due to tiny production in 2018 following severe attacks of mildew.

François-Xavier Borie, owner of Grand-Puy-Lacoste, believes that the real burning issue for en primeur is the volume released onto the market – or not. Some châteaux release nearly all their production, and others as little as 30%, keeping the rest back to create an artificial rarity in hope of selling the rest at a higher price later. Borie believes the right amount to release en primeur is “at least 80 percent,” cautioning that “releasing 30 percent and pretending it’s a real price is dangerous.”

Nicolas Ballarin of courtier Blanchy et de Lestapis agrees: “The problem of Bordeaux’s distribution is not in the price but in the fact that we don’t put enough wine into the market en primeur,” he states. “The real paradox is that knowing there’s none left at the château makes it more valued,” explains Ballarin, adding, “the négoce know they won’t get more.” He concludes that “prices only go up if there’s no more wine at the château.”

And after all, every producer’s objective is for their prices to go up. Many try to force this through their en primeur release price, while others let the market do the work. More than ever in 2018, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to bringing them onto the market.

As we saw in part I of our en primeur blog, 2018 was a vintage where producers’ decisions counted for a lot. In the words of Nicolas Glumineau, Managing Director of Pichon Comtesse, it is “a year with very important personal choices.” He was talking about the winemaking, but could just as easily be referring to the sale of the wine. “There won’t be any blanket tendencies,” says Frédéric Faye, Managing Director of Figeac, underlining that, “each château has to decide for itself and not look at its neighbours.”

Pricing

The only golden rule that the trade seem to agree on is that the 2018s should not be priced higher than the 2016s were upon release. “It would be a massive mistake for prices to be above those of 2016,” declared George Wilmoth, Head of Sales at UK merchant Justerini & Brooks. In Bordeaux, Edouard Moueix, Managing Director of Etablissements Jean-Pierre Moueix (producer and négociant), agrees, saying 2018 prices, “cannot be higher than 2016, it’s impossible.”

The exception to this rule of course, is where the 2016s have increased significantly since their release. Stephen Browett, Chairman of UK merchant Farr Vintners, reminds us that, “the vast majority of 2016 Bordeaux wines that customers bought en primeur are still available at delivery time at the same price as they paid two years ago, and in some cases less,” but there are exceptions, such as Lafleur, whose 2016 has increased 109% since release. When it released this morning, the château could therefore up its 2016 release price by 12% and still offer a 2018 that remains significantly cheaper than the current market price of the 2016.

An excerpt from Wine Lister’s Bordeaux Study part I, showing the 10 2016 Bordeaux whose prices have increased the most since their release two years ago.

“At the end of the day the châteaux will charge what they can get,” states Mathieu Chadronnier, MD of négociant CVBG. The allocation system in Bordeaux means this is often more than what they should arguably be charging, because négociants don’t want to risk losing share to competitors in future years. However, some did refuse allocations in last year’s campaign, and this could happen again – and maybe on a larger scale – if prices are too ambitious.So far there have only been small instances of this.

Timing

The campaign is a precocious one, with Angélus releasing on 16th April, and a few dozen releases since, including well-known names Branaire-Ducru, Langoa-Barton, and Labégorce. However, it doesn’t really seem to have got going. Some of the Wine Lister team is just back from two days in Bordeaux speaking with négociants and courtiers on the Place, and there is a distinct lack of energy so far.

However, after yesterday’s bank holiday in France, and a handful of releases today, things are set to pick up pace in earnest next week. We expect a series of releases from châteaux that have historically judged their en primeur prices well, and this could breathe some life into the campaign. On the other hand, these are the very same châteaux who can actually conceive of increasing their prices, given their market value has risen sufficiently.

Some fear this will set the wrong precedent for their neighbours, which is why it is more important than ever for each property to consider its pricing strategy in the context of its own performance, and not what its neighbours are doing. Châteaux need to “make sure that their en primeur price to the consumer is lower than that of older vintages,” says Browett. In part I of our recent Bordeaux study, we looked at a case study of a hot property in Bordeaux that did just that in last year’s campaign.

A masterclass in en primeur release pricing – the chart above shows Carmes Haut Brion’s 2017 release prices versus previous vintages on its day of release last year. Today the market price of 2017 is £65 (16% above release), and the 2016, £133 (109% above release).

Let’s hope that more and more châteaux follow this formula as the campaign continues to unfold next week. The week after that is Vinexpo in Bordeaux, and most big-name releases will begin in earnest from 20th May.

Watch this space for the release of Wine Lister’s Bordeaux Study, Part II, before then.


First-mover advantage for Angélus 2018?

Yesterday saw the surprise release of Angélus 2018, catching much of the trade off guard. Last year the first major release was Palmer 2017, which came nine days later on 25th April. The year before that, early bird Cos d’Estournel released its 2016 on 24th April.

Angélus 2018 is being offered in the UK at £255 per bottle (£1,530 per case of 6), and in Europe at €295 per bottle. This is 9% below its 2017 price, and equivalent to its 2015 en primeur release price. This makes the wine available at a small discount to the 2009, 2010, and 2016 vintages. However, 2014 and 2015 are physically available in the market for less.

Being the first out of the blocks gives Angélus an advantage: not only does it have the trade’s full attention now, but it also has a long stretch ahead for the wine to sell, and its discount on 2017 may end up looking attractive if others don’t follow suit.

None of Wine Lister’s partner critics has rated the wine yet. We tasted it 10 days ago at the château and found it delightfully fresh, precise, and crystalline, in a more restrained and elevated style than in the past, but still with impressive density. It is an excellent wine, and needs to be at this price.

After years of price repositioning since its promotion to premier grand cru classé A in 2012, Angélus was smart in making this step to “correct” its price (and arguably it could have gone further).

Nonetheless, the gesture seems to have been appreciated by the market, whose hope is that this will start a trend for the upcoming campaign, of châteaux decreasing on last year’s release price. Only time will tell whether others follow suit, or if this is a mere anomaly.



Champagne – slow and steady wins the race

At the end of last year, Wine Lister released its first ever Champagne report. As well as exploring a handful of key trends as identified by Wine Lister’s Founding Members, the report also sheds light on top Champagnes as compared to other regions in terms of economic performance.

Prices of the top Champagnes (Dom Pérignon, Krug Vintage, Louis Roederer Cristal, Salon Le Mesnil and Dom Pérignon Rosé) have seen a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.8% over the last six years. Relative to other major fine wine regions, this long-term growth is slow, as shown in the chart below, but also stable.

One notable advantage of Champagne as an investment option it its low volatility. Indeed, Champagne prices show a much better level of stability in the secondary market (deviating by just 2.5% from the average price over 12 months) than any other major fine wine region. Slow and steady wins the race.

Moreover, recent price performance shows Champagne accelerating. Prices of top Champagnes are starting to grow at a faster rate than their counterparts in California, Bordeaux, and Tuscany, beaten only by Piedmont and the seemingly unmatchable Burgundy. Indeed, as of December 2018 top Champagnes had seen a 12-month price growth of 11%. The region’s potential for long-term investment is already being acknowledged by the trade, with one of our Founding Members, a top tier UK merchant commenting “Champagne (Salon especially) has experienced solid growth and has become a reliable investment for collectors”.

Salon Le Mesnil is the number one performing Champagne for price performance, with an Economics score of 978, closely followed by Krug’s Clos d’Ambonnay (962). Krug also tops the Champagne Economics charts with its Clos du Mesnil, Brut Vintage, and Collection. Interestingly the only NV Champagne to appear within the top 10 Champagnes for Economics is grower Jacques Selosse’s Brut Initial, with an Economics score of 911. Its price, £106 (per bottle in-bond), is a mere 18% of the average price of the other nine top Champagnes by Economics score.

To read more key findings from our in-depth Champagne study, read the free summary here. (The key findings and full study are also available to download in French on the Analysis page.)


Bordeaux 2009 vintage tasting highlights

Wine Lister is experiencing a touch of Bordeaux fever. Having re-tasted Bordeaux 2016s in January, Wine Lister’s founder, Ella, attended BI Wines’ “10 years on” tasting last week, revisiting the iconic 2009 vintage.

As expected, the vintage yielded some truly exceptional wines, thanks to excellent weather conditions, especially around harvest time. However, some producers fell into the trap of waiting too long to pick, and high quality in 2009 is not a given. Ella has picked out 26 of the most successful examples of a unique and pleasure-giving vintage, hailing from across all of the best-known red wine Bordeaux appellations (N.B. no white wines were tasted).

The most heterogenous appellation was Saint-Emilion, with some wines rendered hot and hard by high alcohol, while those at the very top level were some of the best 2009s out there. Cheval Blanc, for example, achieved a “mystical, beguiling bouquet…like a magic potion”.

Pomerol did not seem to suffer from the heat in the same way, and made beautiful wines in 2009. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Le Pin garnered some exceptional comments, including “the richest, most decadent, abundant nose of the whole tasting”. Other Pomerol picks displayed an unusually dark-fruited character. Petrus (“not worn on the sleeve like the Le Pin”), had a “refined dark fruit character”, Hosanna “piercing damson fruit”, and La Conseillante boasted a “carnal, purple-fruit sweetness”.

On the left bank, Pessac-Léognan and Saint-Julien achieve joint-first place, earning five highlights each. Arguably the most impressive of these were La Mission Haut-Brion and Haut-Brion with the former described as “sensual, ethereal, and breath-taking”. Pape Clément showed almost “Rhône-esque animality”, while Malartic-Lagravière was “opulent” and “left you wanting more”.

Saint-Julien presented expected names – second growths Gruaud-Larose and Léoville Barton (described as “ultra-classical” and “thoroughbred” respectively), as well as a surprise in the form of Château Gloria, the only Cru Bourgeois to make it into this list of Bordeaux 2009 tasting highlights.

The remaining left bank appellations did not go wanting of favourites. Latour earned the comment, “impeccably turned-out, this wine demands attention”. Elsewhere in Pauillac Pichon Comtesse was “beguiling” and “gradually confident”.

In Margaux the appellation’s first growth namesake was hailed “quite the showstopper”, while Brane-Cantenac was “lifted, lovely, and luminous”. While Saint-Estèphe earned only one mention, its representative, Montrose surpassed expectation, appearing “supremely poised”.

All those wines marked “*” above currently qualify as Wine Lister “buy recommendations”. The Wine Lister team has been working hard to create a data-driven list of the ultimate best wines to buy – watch this space while we fine-tune the algorithm!

Other wines featuring in the Bordeaux 2009 highlights are: Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pichon Baron, Haut-Bailly, Angélus, Figeac, Pavie, Troplong Mondot, Branaire-Ducru, and Ducru Beaucaillou.


Bordeaux 2009 vintage, 10 years on

Yesterday marked the annual BI Fine Wines’ 10 years on tasting, this year focusing on the iconic Bordeaux 2009s. Below we explore what light Wine Lister data has to shed on the 2009 vintage including quality, price performance, and best wines for good value.

Wine Lister’s holistic and dynamic approach allows us to not only see which appellations produced the vintage’s best wines, but also demonstrates if and how the market has since reacted to their relative quality.

You can download the slides here: Wine Lister Bordeaux 2009 vintage overview

Featured wines: Margaux, Petrus, Lafleur, AusoneMouton, Capbern, Lilian Ladouys, Couhins-Lurton, Fourcas Hosten, Guillot ClauzelClos Saint-Martin, Lynsolence, La Cabanne, and Pavillon Rouge.


On the table for Lunar New Year

In honour of Lunar New Year, Wine Lister decided to examine wines with the strongest restaurant presence across parts of one of the major fine wine markets of today. Analysing presence in the best restaurants of mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, the resulting top wines prove to be appropriate for this year of the pig – a Chinese symbol of wealth or fortune. The 12 wines (in this lunar year of the twelfth zodiac animal) with the best restaurant presence in these countries achieve an average price of £407 per bottle in-bond.

Latour achieves the strongest presence, appearing in 86% of the best restaurants across China, Singapore, and Taiwan. On top of breadth, Latour also achieves depth, with an impressive average of 13.6 vintages and/or formats in each of these restaurants.

Louis Roederer’s Cristal shares the horizontal presence top spot, even beating Wine Lister’s perfect Brand scorer, Dom Pérignon – the number one wine for presence in best restaurants worldwide.

The remaining wines all achieve presence in 79% of the best restaurants across China, Singapore, and Taiwan, and make for an interesting mix of traditional candidates with some a little less expected. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is not what appears, but what doesn’t – Lafite is conspicuous by its omission from the top 12 (with 71% presence). Though not making the top spot horizontally, Lafite does achieve vertical presence equal to that of Latour, with particular concentration in Hong Kong and Macau. The other three Bordeaux left bank first growths, Haut-Brion, Margaux, and Mouton all appear in the top 12.

Achieving the opposite effect is Gruaud Larose, the only non-first-growth Bordeaux to feature in this top-12 list. Its restaurant presence across China, Singapore, and Taiwan is an impressive 115% higher than in the rest of the world. It is also by far the least expensive of the group at £53 in-bond (over seven times less than the average price of the group).

The sole Burgundy to feature is Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s Romanée-Saint-Vivant, achieving 60% more presence across China, Singapore, and Taiwan than its worldwide average. For vertical presence it is overtaken by a handful of its rarer siblings – La Tâche, Richebourg, and Echézeaux, which achieve a collective average depth of 5.2 vintages and/or formats.

Earning the most impressive concentration of presence compared to its global average is Opus One. It not only appears in 147% more restaurants across China, Singapore, and Taiwan than in the rest of the world, but does so with an average of 5.4 vintages and/or formats per restaurant.

Also featuring among the top 12 wines for restaurant presence in China, Singapore, and Taiwan are Krug Grande Cuvée, Salon le Mesnil, and Vega-Sicilia Unico.