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Fine wine in focus: 2012 Bordeaux

Following Robert Parker’s in-bottle scores of the 2012 Bordeaux vintage some of the wines, including Haut-Brion, have seen substantial price increases.

The en primeur campaign “bombed” as Parker predicted it would, the wines, although better than the 2011s, suffering from release prices that were still too high and buyers’ general disillusion with Bordeaux.

Parker re-rated the wines at the beginning of May and he noted their quality was much improved since the original tasting and although the Médoc remained a “mixed bag”, there was a lot to like in the best wines, particularly from Pomerol, Pessac-Léognan and “parts of” Saint Emilion.

This view was echoed by merchants, Toby Herbertson, fine wine buyer at Goedhuis, telling the drinks business that a recent Bordeaux tasting including several 2012s had revealed, “some really nice wines and approachable now but with some stuffing to be good medium to long-term drinkers.”

Although Parker’s amended scores still reflected the strength of the Right Bank in the vintage and his preference for them in his original scores, it was first growth Haut-Brion that stole top honours with a solid 98-points that deposed former favourite L’Eglise Clinet which ended up with 96-points.

As is often the case with Parker’s scores – and despite evidence of his waning influence – prices have moved on the back of these scores and Justin Gibbs, director at Liv-ex even suggested to the drinks business that: “as we draw to the latter part of his career, his thoughts could take on even more weight.”

Berry Bros & Rudd’s fine wine director Max Lalondrelle told db that the cases of 2012 Haut-Bailly, d’Issan and Pape Clement were snapped up by buyers just prior to and after the release of the scores.

“Parker still has it,” he said, “and he is the only one who can move markets like that.”

Liv-ex figures show that six wines rose over 10% in price between 23 April and 25 May (the notes were published on 30 April), the highest riser being one of Parker’s perennial Pomerol gragiste favourites, La Violette which has gone up 29% in price from £1,535 to £1,980 per case.

La Conseillante has appreciated 27% over the same period while d’Issan, which received a huge boost from 87-89 points to 95, has gone up 22.5%, hot property Haut Bailly 17.5%, next super-star Haut-Brion 13% and Hosanna 12.5%.

A raft of others have enjoyed rises of varying degrees and others have fallen in price as well, as Gibbs pointed out, “the wines that went up were upgrades and the ones that went down were downgrades.”

So Lafite which dropped to 91 after an initial rating of 92-95 fell 4.5% to £3,000 a case and for failing to capitalise on its 100-point potential, L’Eglise Clinet has tumbled 9.5% to £1,900 p/cs.

As is often the case however, the drop in price has been something of a boon and 2012 Lafite has been seeing some activity.  Just as Parker’s influence hasn’t waned entirely it goes to show, said Gibbs, that Lafite’s brand power is far from finished and, “because it’s the cheapest [physical] Lafite in the market,” people have zeroed in on it.

Gibbs also drew attention to Haut-Brion which, as well as being one of the cheapest of the first growths, time after time picks up the best scores.

“One wonders how much longer Haut-Brion will trade at a discount to the others [first growths]?” asked Gibbs.  “Against Lafite in the great vintages it scores higher, trades lower.”

Comparing 2012 Lafite and Haut-Brion side-by-side one sees what he means, the former on 91 points trades at £3,000 p/cs currently and the latter with 98 points trades at £2,740 and the disparity used to be greater before the re-score.

Wines in the Clarence Dillon portfolio did well in general; La Mission Haut-Brion (originally rated 91-94 and now 97) rising 8.5% to £1,419 p/cs and the second wine formerly known as Clarence de Haut-Brion (88-90 now 90) going up 6.2% to £482 p/cs.

Two other strong risers were second wines Pavillon Rouge and Petit Mouton, both of which are now rated 90 points and saw respective rises of 3.3% and 3.5%. As was noted in the last “In depth” report, the market for the first growth’s second wines remains buoyant.

Pavie and Angélus raised merchant’s hackles during the campaign when they decided to “celebrate” their elevation to grand cru classé “A” status with price increases of 58% and 30% to €180 per bottle apiece.

Since then the two have nonetheless defied expectations by appreciating, particularly Angélus which is now close to £1,000 more expensive than it was on release.

Both were rated 94-96 by Parker (technically 96+ for Pavie) and both received in-bottle scores of 95. Released at £2,000 a case, Angélus has continued to see interest, rising 1.2% in the period to £2,850 p/cs. Pavie however appears to have hit something of a limit, declining 1.3% in the same period to £2,123 p/cs.

What’s more, two wines that weren’t even re-scored by Parker (they will be), Vieux Château Certan and Cheval Blanc, have seen movement, possibly in anticipation of improved scores. VCC with a current rating of 92-94 has risen 4.2% as the rest, while 94-96 rated Cheval Blanc hasn’t moved quite as much, up just 0.9%.

Yet, as Gibbs points out, Cheval Blanc consistently “suffers from high release prices” and at a current price of £3,077 p/cs to VCC’s £921, it’s clear that the latter has more room to appreciate.

Nonetheless, despite the positive movement of the 2012s post-Parker re-score, it should be noted that the increases have generally only succeed in boosting the wines back to their ex-London release prices.

The “Bordeaux 2014 price guide” that Liv-ex sent out just before en primeurs started in March showed that Haut-Brion’s 2012 was 10% below its price at release in 2013, Lafite was already 16% down, Haut-Bailly 14%, Clarence de Haut-Brion 13% and La Mission 11%.

The uptick merely means that most of these wines are now back around their release prices – a little under or over such as Haut-Brion which at £2,700 p/cs is just below its release price of £2,800, while some, such as Lafite, have fallen even further away (Lafite released at £4,000 a case back in spring 2013).

One of the best performers in fact is Petit Mouton which at £1,044 p/cs has advanced steadily since its ex-London release of £760 p/cs.

Furthermore, the scores, despite generating some activity, have not made any appreciable dent in stocks of 2012 either. As Gibbs says the release of the in-bottle scores and the wines themselves “always leads to a bit of action,” and some “realignment and adjustment” but as Tom Hudson, director at Farr Vintners, told db demand is, “fairly minor really.”

“Nothing yet,” agreed Gary Boom of Bordeaux Index. “A bit of Haut-Brion but no-one really cares. The ‘12s are lost in that murky ’11,’ 12’, ’13 band. I don’t see a lot of interest in ’12 for at least five years.”

By contrast the continued slide in price of the 2009s and 2010s is ensuring there’s still a healthy interest in those vintages and interest in the 2005s is also building ahead of Parker’s 10 year retrospective this summer.

“All eyes now are on 2005,” said Gibbs, while Boom pointed out how they’d been underscored by Parker originally and were back to their release prices or less in many cases. “There’s massive scope for upgrade for these wines.”

All of which is helping to keep the 2012s in the shade, despite their very real potential, as Herbertson pointed out, of admirably fulfilling the role of solid short to medium-term drinkers.

Poor 2012s: underrated, lost in a disastrous campaign and still unwanted.

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