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Bordeaux 2013: less negativity but worries persist

Merchants returning from Bordeaux are now less worried about the quality of the wines than the point of buying them if prices stay high.

Vue du Château Smith Haut Lafitte 3 Photo Deepix copy
Smith Haut-Lafitte – the dry white may be one of the buys of the campaign

After some initial trepidations about wine quality following a difficult growing season, most reports filtering out from merchants and journalists is that many wines are “pleasant”, even very good but very few are great.

As a result, more than ever pricing will have to be keen if a wine is to stand out from the pack.

“The vintage on the whole isn’t as bad as you’d been led to believe, particularly if you have a plate that likes a bit of acidity,” Joss Fowler, director of fine wine at Fine & Rare, told the drinks business.

“There are some very pleasant short to mid-term drinking wines,” confirmed Ben Kennedy, a négociant in Bordeaux.

“And they’ll be fun to have if the prices are very attractive.”

On the other hand, Kennedy told db, while the producers who have produced decent wine deserve some credit for doing a good job, “please don’t pretend that they merit the huge prices these wines have risen to in previous vintages as they still haven’t come down far enough through ’11 and ’12.”

He added that these wines should be “impulsive” buys but because “everyone is scared of lowering prices” they will no doubt languish in storage as many 2011s and 2012s are still.

One fear is that the Bordelais are effectively going to ask consumers to pay more or less what they paid for the 2012s (and so far some 20% more than was asked for the 2008s), for a vintage which might be good at best but which will not serve as an investment because it will not stay the course and will need to be drunk before either the 2012s or 2008s.

As such, a “symbolic” price cut will not wash with consumers.

Fowler had to admit that he thought most of the wines would probably be around in five years time when they begin to drink – and at the same price if not cheaper.

“There are some wines I cant wait to try in five years time,” he said, “but I’ll buy them in five years time unless there’s a compelling reason to do so now.”

Yesterday’s releases didn’t “set the world on fire”, he continued, admitting only one case of Pichon-Baron had been sold, which “isn’t exciting”.

He didn’t criticise the château’s price drop, in fact he lauded it as a “brilliant gesture” considering it dropped nearly 20% on its 2012 price but with prices already so high it still wasn’t quite enough.

As a property that is at a certain level in terms of winemaking prowess and knowhow, despite making a good wine in 2013, it still doesn’t stand out quite enough for it to be a compelling buy en primeur.

“If its fellow estates come out at that level it won’t work,” said Fowler, adding that Pichon-Lalande might be excepted from that statement as it had produced “something special”.

Will Hargrove, head of fine wine at Corney & Barrow, told db that a strangely quiet morning today following poor sales yesterday (C&B sold “a few” cases) was perhaps a sign that producers had been sent a “strong message” that they need to “have a hard look at their prices”.

“They’re not as low as they need to be,” he said. “Hopefully there’ll be a realisation that a 15% cut from Pichon is fair enough but it needs to be lower if it’s going to actually sell.”

Although Fowler admitted not tasting as many as he would have liked, one segment of Bordeaux 2013 that he could see selling are the dry and sweet whites.

Produced in limited quantities and with “fantastic” quality (particularly Suduiraut’s Sauternes and Smith Haut-Lafitte’s dry white), they offer what en primeur is supposed to offer, the chance “to buy something you can’t buy later on.”

He thought he might do a “very gentle” marketing push on the whites this year.

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