Why is no one buying Sauternes?

The Sauternes estates have made an early bid for attention in this campaign but despite repeated price cuts since 2010 it’s still not selling.

coutet sauternesSpeaking to the drinks business, Berry Bros & Rudd’s fine wine buying director, Max Lalondrelle said that the merchant had sold “under 20 cases of the cumulative total of what’s been released”, which so far includes Doisy-Daëne, Doisy-Vedrines, Suduiraut and Coutet.

This is in contrast to over 600 cases of Angludet BBR shifted in a day and will likely be exceeded by Sociando Mallet which it is offering today.

The problem does not lie in the quality of the wines, either from this vintage or previous ones, but rather the price – even though current release prices are as much as 50% lower than they were in 2010.

“Very few of the releases of the Sauternes have made sense in terms of pricing,” Lalondrelle continued, “not doubting the quality but it’s difficult to say, hand on heart, buy it now when it’ll be cheaper in two years.”

When Suduiraut released this week, BBR sent its offer with the caveat that there were still stocks of older vintages, the 1989 and 2010, available.

“The release prices of Suduiraut is €47 [a bottle ex-merchant],” explained Lalondrelle. “We have bought and still have in stock some 1989 [17 cases], not as fine as 2014 but ready to drink and delicious at €44 [a bottle].”

As such, although admittedly a “very good wine” he continued there is, “absolutely no incentive as far as consumers and we are concerned,” to buy the ‘14.

Although BBR hasn’t offered any more, the problem of cheaper back vintages is not unique to Suduiraut. Lalondrelle said it was perfectly easy to find and offer consumers 2002 Coutet at €23 a bottle when the 2014 – which he admitted was a “pretty good” price – is €25.

Ditto Château de Malle, which is being offered at a reasonable €20 a bottle but the 2003 can be bought for €14.50 – BBR currently has 100 cases to sell.

The problem is a large amount of back vintages on the secondary market which are either sitting unsold in négociant and merchant’s cellars or are being resold by consumers who need to make some space in theirs or who realised they just don’t drink enough Sauternes to hold on to what they’ve got.

The result is price depression and leaves current vintages being released as more expensive or only marginally cheaper than physical and ready-to-drink vintages – which no one appears to be drinking either.

Sauternes has some of the worst performing wines over the last 10 years, average prices for Coutet, Climens, Rieussec, Suduiraut and Yquem falling between 19% and 37% between 2004 and 2013 according to Liv-ex.

The 2004 vintage is the last time any of those estates saw a return on investment and a couple have declined in price every year over the past 10.

As such, merchants are often unwilling to actively point consumers towards Sauternes. Particularly in these rather more parlous times for en Crus classé Barsac Sauternes 2008primeurs, merchants want consumers to splash out on the more lucrative reds and not be put off buying a case of claret from Château “X” because they’ve already spent part of their budget on Sauternes. And, more altruistically on their part, because the price doesn’t make sense.

“We don’t tell people to buy it in the majority of cases because there’s no deal,” said Lalondrelle. “We want to sell but we’d rather they save their powder for something they really want.”

This is especially cruel for Sauternes which, above all producers and regions in Bordeaux, has done its upmost to cut prices over the years even though the region has consistently produced some of the best wine from Bordeaux in the last decade and a half and has production costs two to three times above Bordeaux reds.

But consumers don’t want sweet wines.

“Sauternes is facing a huge consumer problem,” said Lalondrelle, “I’m not blaming them, maybe some at the top, but it’s the state of the Sauternes market. A bit like the Port market 10-15 years ago and as it is still. There aren’t enough consumers there.”

The flipside is that there are lots of affordable old vintages of Sauternes on the market and in more positive news is that these do seem to sell quite well.

Lalondrelle reported that the 2002 Coutet and 2003 de Malle are selling quite well and that BBR had sold 70 cases of 1996 Yquem in the past few months.

But to add yet another problem to the mix, it’s going to take a long time for that pool to contract. Joss Fowler of Fine & Rare said that the merchant has over 1,000 Sauternes listings on its system at the moment, the choice is “broad” and it’s highly unlikely even the most ardent Sauternes lover is going to pick up 10 cases.

“I can find any vintage of mature Rieussec and I just need one case,” he told db having revealed that despite loving Sauternes he couldn’t remember the last time he’d opened a bottle.

“It offers extraordinary value for money, like vintage Port,” Fowler continued, “But like Port even people who like it don’t drink it very often.”

So what of the 2014s? “The beauty is in 10-15 years we’ll be able to buy some old Sauternes,” suggested Laondrelle – and then not drink it.

6 Responses to “Why is no one buying Sauternes?”

  1. Pierre says:

    I’m a Canadian wine educator who’s been in China for the last 9 years. Here in China I have no trouble selling value priced sweet wines, be it Moscato d’Asti, late harvest Torrontes or my Cadillac botrytized wines (my best sellers). I do agree however that it’s very difficult to sell premium wines such as Sauternes and Tokaji wines. Customers don’t seem to grasp the amount of investment involved, not only financial but in time, in producing such wines.

    With a market flooded with sweet “white” Zinfandel (Walmart recently started selling them in China as well) and vodka-based cocktail bottles (made in China, absolutely found everywhere in every market and convenience store), I spend much of my time having to educate my customers to make them understand the fundamental differences. Icewines sell well here, but much of what I find is fake, or with misleading labels (late harvest being promoted as Icewine) so I haven’t added any (yet) to my portfolio. Big Chinese wine companies are also getting in on the action and are now producing “made in China” ice wines and sweet sparkling wines.

    So to conclude, there IS a demand for sweet wines, just not much yet at the premium price point. As a big Sauternes fan myself, I hope things will change. Time will tell.

  2. Cyril says:

    Pierre
    If I understand correctly you agree with Rupert that Sauternes wines are too expensive for the consumers. But, unlike Rupert according to whom the Sauternes market is in a dead end as out of fashion, you reckon there is a market for sweet wines in China up to a certain price point. I find this very encouraging for Sauternes wine producers – as I thought there was no market for white wines (let alone sweet ones) in China – and would like to better understand what is the price range consumer are ready to pay for the value wines you mentioned.

  3. s brown says:

    its ignorance ..sauternes need better marketing…i have lived in china for 30 years ….one of my friends said how nice the 2001 latour was that they had the night before…and how they loved a sweet wine…never heard of suaternes of the 2003 la mall they had..i believe there is a huge market potential given their sweet tooth

  4. AY says:

    Enjoy liquid gold when it’s dirt cheap

    I’m a huge fan of Sauternes, whether Sauternes is out of fashion or not, as long as price is reasonable and it’s great vintages, then it’s a signal for stocking up. It’s sad that 2009 and 2010 vintages are sitting in cellars collecting dust but based on history, this is a historical vintage where it will go down the history books. The day when people want to buy Sauternes again, they’ll be searching for these legendary vintages For me, if nobody wants it and I think it’s worth it, I’ll get it. The last thing I want is to is to buy it when the mad crowd rushes in bidding up the prices.

    60 year old granny

    Whether the price of Sauternes is cheap or expensive, I have some reservation. To me it all depends on the quality, and longevity. I don’t drink wine often so the last thing I want is to open a bottle and find out that salad dressing tastes even better than it.

    The advantage of Sauternes is that it can outlive most of us. On average, Sauternes, Barsacs, and maybe the Renaissance Tokajis can lastt between 20-50 years ( I recently bought a 375ml Chateau de Fargues 2007 for only $32US. If I have $30 US and to choose between a red or Sauternes, of course I’ll go for Sauternes ( I might get even more if they go on sale). I have my doubts if a $30 red will last for 20+ years but I know that for Sauternes, it will last for generations to come. Even if I don’t finish my stash, I’m leaving them a piece of history for the future generations to come.

    In summary, it’s a blessing for the prices of legendary vintages to be a bargain. It’s like a Chateau Lafite or Romanee Conti selling for $90 ( I’m exaggerating but u guys get the point). For me, as long it’s reasonable, and I can drink it whenever I want without worrying that it’ll turn to vinegar by next day, I don’t see why not getting several bottles or cases to lounging around in my basement. The herd usually catches the wind at the last leg, just enjoy as much Sauternes while prices are affordable. Yea it might be pricey comparing to table wine but I don’t have to worry about it going bad and undrinkable.

    Cheers.

  5. Lia00027 says:

    Ok i really like sauternes wine and i am not really an addict wine drinker here is my conclusion based on my life experiences, so in developed country (i was living in singapore) where most of the people already knew and educated about wine they will fine sweet wine not interesting since their food taste is of the original from the ingredients which is rather bland so the food pairing will be contrasted and high price is a big no however for the developing country (i am living in indonesia, jakarta) where the high life style is everything and many rich live here sauternes will be like a gold for them simply because Indonesian food is full of seasoning tasted salty, spicy, and sweet so the indonesian will be liking the sweet wine more than the dry or semi-dry one. Take a note also Indonesia Is a new market for wine producers since In jakarta the capital city of indonesia was introduced with wine culture drinking almost 6/7 years ago, and the expensive price for the sautern is not really a big problem here since even though it’s a bit expensive but because the rarity of the wine so people will grab it note that many rich people live in Jakarta. It was quite difficult for me to find sautern and if there is a store selling it it usually will be out of stock soon. So if the producers of sauternes want to survive the biz they will have to look for a new and potential market beyond their borders since Asia is well known for the vast economy growth, in Indonesia in Balii there are several wine producers now and they are creating sweet wines but still it can’t be compared like Bordeaux wine so producer what are u waiting for?????

  6. Rob says:

    And no one listens to jazz or classical music.The owners of vintage classic cars, like Packards are all dying off. Not going to deter me from enjoying some of the best liquid in existence!

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