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Bordeaux – Evaluating en primeur

Its judgement day for Bordeaux en primeur as Liv-ex casts an eye over the best and the rest in its prestige survey.

Aside from the critics’ scores and commentaries on Bordeaux en primeur, there is, since 2003, one account that provides a valuable reflection of the latest vintage from this single fine wine region. It considers the general quality, comparisons with previous harvests, the best labels – and most disappointing – as well as the vintage’s commercial potential.

Dubbed the En Primeur Survey, it’s compiled by Liv-ex, the global fine wine trading platform and data analyst, using information from its near-400 trade members. These comprise the world’s leading merchants, and hence, not only the top professional tasters of young Bordeaux, but also the world’s biggest buyers and sellers of fine wine. In essence, the results are a reliable reflection of the nature of the vintage, providing a consensus of informed opinion.

This year there were some notable outcomes, the most remarkable of which was perhaps Lafite’s position as the “most disappointing” wine of the 2011s. Jack Hibberd, research manager at Liv-ex, expresses his surprise, commenting, “Lafite has been the darling of the trade and it is normally right up there in terms of the top wines of the vintage every year.” However, Mouton’s appearance behind Lafite is less of a shock to Hibberd (see table, page 66). He points out that it was on this list last year, and seems to be a wine that dramatically divides opinion. Indeed, both in this and last year’s survey, Mouton featured on both the best and most disappointing top tens.

As for the top wine of 2011, that accolade goes to Latour (see table, above right). It’s a powerful vote of support for this label, and just as the property announces it is to quit the en primeur system of selling wine before its bottled.

Interestingly, continuing the focus on standout brands, Grand Puy Lacoste was heralded as the best in terms of value for money for the second time in a row (based on an expected release price of under £500 per case). Perhaps this cinquième cru Pauillac property should join Pontet Canet and Lynch-Bages under the “flying fifths” descriptor for wines outperforming their 1855 classification. Indeed, if you look back to November’s issue of the drinks business Hong Kong, Grand Puy Lacoste was one of the few new entrants in the Liv-ex Power 100 – a list of the world’s most powerful fine wine brands.

In terms of more general views on the vintage, the 2011 Bordeaux was awarded a score of 91 overall, which was the same total given to 2008, a year this latest release has been widely compared to in terms of style, and as a result, price too. Aside from 2008, parallels have also been drawn to 2001 and, going rather farther back, 1975.

As for whether the Right or Left Bank performed better in 2011, certainly Parker picked out Pomerol as the top commune in this year’s en primeurs and it was this area’s Ausone property that was his only potential 100 pointer. The Liv-ex survey echoes his views, with the Right Bank’s Vieux Château Certan, Cheval Blanc, Ausone and Eglise Clinet jostling among left bank big hitters as the best wines of the vintage.

The survey also collects overriding sentiments on the vintage, giving the merchants a chance to express their true feelings anonymously. Hibberd points out that normally there is a clear consensus among the comments, but this year he says “opinions were all over the place”. Some were “relatively positive” about the vintage, he records, while others were critical. The most common word used to describe 2011 was “variable”, and, as with Parker, Pomerol emerged as the strongest commune, but, unlike Parker, who declared Pessac-Léognan/Graves the least impressive, Liv-ex respondents picked out Margaux as the weakest.

Finally, in terms of commerciality, the Liv-ex members called for an average 42% price reduction on 2010 to successfully sell the wines. Nevertheless, Hibberd summed up, “In our view that is not enough, and a 50-60% price reduction is what’s needed to get this campaign off the ground.”

Justifying this comment, he adds, “This is not an investment vintage but a drinkers’ vintage and, if you want to provide an incentive for buyers to tie up their cash for two years, then the prices on release must be cheaper than the prices of what’s on the market already.

”Certainly the release of a new vintage is always an important time to reappraise those wines already on the market, which, after all, benefit from a full analysis of their nature after bottling – a far more reliable indication of quality than the en primeur reports, which are based on barrel samples of unfinished wines.

1. Top 10 overall wines from Bordeaux 2011

1. Latour
2. Vieux Château Certan
3. Margaux
4. Pontet Canet
5. Cheval Blanc
6. Léoville Las Cases
7. Mouton Rothschild
8. Ausone
9. Haut Brion Blanc
10. Eglise Clinet
The results above show the top 10 wines of the vintage according to the respondents, irrespective of price. Wines ranked number one by respondents were awarded 10 points, second were given five points, third three, fourth two and fifth one. Latour retook the top spot in 2011, repeating its performance of 2009. Last year’s winner, Margaux, moved down to a still-impressive third place. Vieux Château Certan followed up last year’s top 10 debut by taking second place.(Source:


2. Top 10 value wines from 2011

1. Grand Puy Lacoste
2. Calon Ségur
3. Brane Cantenac
4. Armailhac
5. Batailley
6. Gruaud Larose
= 7. Lacoste Borie
= 7. Chenade
9. Léoville Barton
= 10. Angludet
= 10. Haut Batailley
Those wines expected to be released at under £500 per case were ranked as above. Grand Puy Lacoste takes the top spot in the value wines top 10 for the second year in a row, with Calon Ségur, the winner in 2009, in second place. Brane Cantenac, Lacoste Borie and Chenade are all newcomers to the list. (Source:


3. Top five most disappointing wines

1. Lafite Rothschild
2. Mouton Rothschild
3. Carruades Lafite
4. Léoville Poyferré
5. Lascombes
Lafite Rothschild makes a surprise appearance at the top of the most disappointing wines list, with its second wine, Carruades Lafite, following two places behind. For the second year in a row, Mouton Rothschild makes an appearance on both the best and most disappointing top tens. (Source:


4. Score for 2011 overall

91 points (average out of 100) The Liv-ex Membership gave the vintage 91 points, the same score that was awarded to the 2008. (using Parker scoring model. Source:


5. Comparisons to previous vintages

= 1. 2004
= 1. 2001
3. 2008
The 2011 vintage was compared to 2001 and 2008 an equal number of times, suggesting a good, but not exceptional year. Interestingly, two respondents with longer memories said it most resembled the 1975 vintage. (Source:


6. Rank of 2001, 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2011 in terms of quality (for first growths only)

1. 2001
2. 2008
3. 2011
4. 2004
5. 2007
The 2001 vintage was the clear winner here, with almost 60% of respondents choosing it as their number one. The 2007 vintage was an equally clear loser, with 85% of respondents putting it last. The battle between 2008, 2011 and 2004 was a much more equal fight, with 2008 eventually coming out on top. (Source:


7. Level of demand (by volume) expected for the 2011 campaign

More than last year: 2%
The same as last year: 0%
0-20% Less than last year: 12%
>20% Less than last year: 86%
 On this question the view from the trade was clear. Almost all respondents are expecting to sell substantially less of the 2011 vintage than they did of the 2010. (Source:


8. Prices, in €/bottle, ex-negociant, predicted (not wanted!) for the following wines on release

2011 average price prediction (€)

2011 predictions range (€)

Versus 2010 actual release

Versus 2008 actual release

Cos d’Estournel
Mouton Rothschild
Vieux Chateau Certan
Leoville Las Cases
Cheval Blanc
Mission Haut Brion
Total Basket
 To keep the traders honest, Liv-ex offered a magnum of Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Auslese Goldkap 1990 to the participant who came closest to estimating the correct opening prices for the basket of wines listed above.According to the Liv-ex Membership, the wines will be 42% cheaper at release than their 2010 counterparts (in euro terms), with the biggest decreases expected to come from those higher up the value chain. Nevertheless, even a reduction of this magnitude will equate to a doubling of prices over the 2008 vintage release. As always, however, the true test of the campaign will be how cheap the wines are when compared to the current trading price of vintages of a similar quality level. As such, a drop of closer to 50-60% will be needed from most châteaux to spark the market. (Source:

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