Close Menu
Slideshow

Fine wine trends 2016: the merchants speak out

What fine wines have come in and out of fashion during 2016? How successful was the 2015 Bordeaux en primeur release? And what will do well in 2017? We find out the answers to these questions and more from the world’s top merchants.

fine wine, LafiteAs part of our annual round-up of the major trends in the fine wine market for the December edition of the drinks business, we spoke to a handful of leading fine wine merchants to see what this year was really like at the luxury end of the trade.

From the best performing regions and brands, to the success of this year’s Bordeaux en primeur campaign, we bring you a rundown of what the merchants are moving at the moment, and what’s motivating fine wine collectors today.

And if there are two overwhelming themes shaping the fine wine market at present, they are Brexit and Bordeaux…

Scroll through the following pages to see what’s been trending at BI Wines & Spirits, Berry Bros & Rudd, Corney & Barrow, Goedhuis and Farr Vintners.

Meanwhile, for a full update on the fine wine market in 2016, see the December edition of the drinks business.

Gary Boom, founder, BI Wines & Spirits

gary-boomWhat has been selling well for you in the past year, and why?
The big story for us this year is Bordeaux. First, we have the continued demand for the best pre-2000 vintages of the top wines – first growths and their right-bank equivalents from 1982, 1986, 1989, 1990 and 1996 are still among the biggest draws for wine lovers in the UK, Asia and in the US. Second, we have the resurgence of demand for drinking vintages from Asia. Wines at all cru classé levels from 1999, 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2011 have been hoovered out of the UK market for shipping to Asia, where they will be consumed by the growing middle classes. To prove these points, sales of wines through our LiveTrade screen are up more than 13% year on year. Third, we have the success of the 2015 en primeur campaign, which was our best since 2010.

Much of the non-UK business has been given a welcome boost through the effect of this year’s sterling weakness – but en primeur remains very much a British phenomenon, and our biggest volume sellers included some of the most expensive wines released, proof that when Bordeaux is really good, wine lovers will return to it.

A Great Bordeaux Cellar
Bordeaux is back, says Boom

What has fallen out of favour in the past 12 months and why?
I wouldn’t say ‘fallen out of favour’ – if anything, the trend for our clients is to be more exploratory in their buying habits. The only region with slightly disappointing numbers is the Rhône, but this is more to do with a pair of slightly more challenging vintages (2013 and 2014) than we have become used to. 2015 will turn that around.

How important is en primeur Bordeaux to your business, and how important will a great 2016 vintage be for you?
En primeur is important but not just because of the immediate sales value – as we have seen over the ups and downs of the past decade, en primeur is too hard to predict to allow it to form a major financial part of sales strategy. If our clients buy deep and wide and store with us, we will get first access to that stock should they wish to trade it further down the line. This is important in lower-production wines that become hard to find in the open market five to 10 years after physical release.

2016 is reportedly another fine vintage, and given the success of 2015, even with its relatively high pricing, you cannot rule out another successful campaign. Clients have proven they are willing to pay up for the best wines. However, the currency impact on the 2016 campaign will be significant, and with Article 50 and its associated uncertainties still looming over the horizon, it seems unlikely that there will be a significant improvement in the euro:pound exchange rate.

Are your sales for the past year up on 2015, and if so, why?
Yes – mainly as a result of the successful 2015 en primeur campaign and the considerable increase in Bordeaux sales – both in terms of stock going to Asia becasue of the weak currency, and in terms of UK buyers taking strong positions before the prices go up further.

Finally, what do you think will do well in 2017?
Spain will continue its resurgence and South Africa will gain more footholds with established merchants. Australia and Chile’s continued search for cool-climate sites will yield more excellent, balanced, fresh wines with real appeal for the European palate. 2015 Burgundies will be in huge demand but we expect the prices to put many wines out of reach of all but the most determined – and the real winner from this will be Bordeaux. This most ancient of wines will come full circle and once again look like good value compared with much of Burgundy. With top wines like Lynch Bages or La Mission Haut Brion from ready-to-drink vintages available now for the same price as a Villages Gevrey from a top grower, it’s not hard to see how even the most experienced of heads will turn back towards the Gironde.

Oliver Hartley, sales director, Corney & Barrow

urlWhat has been selling well for you in the past year?
2016 has two very distinct halves: pre- and post-Brexit vote. Pre-Brexit vote we were finding that anything that was ready to drink now, and in good condition was flying out of the door – we couldn’t get enough of it, as long as it was at the right price. But post-Brexit vote, with the weakening pound, I have never seen the blue chips on the secondary market fly as fast as they have in the last few months. The likes of Petrus and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, as well as the first growths, are suddenly being snapped up for a 20% saving.
However, I am cautious of saying Bordeaux has bounced back in a big way, but I think people are buying maturing vintages – 2005 and older – and for the big-name wines there is a certain amount of opportunistic buying – people are thinking, ‘let’s buy now while it’s cheap, and hold it’, with an eye for a nice margin if and when currencies stabilise again.

How important is en primeur Bordeaux?
2015 Bordeaux was a lot better for us than the previous three campaigns, but was it back to the levels of 2005, 2009 or 2010? Absolutely not… I get a sense that there is a generational change, a sea-change in the way people are buying. Fewer people understand en primeur; we live in a world where people want instant gratification, and I see fewer younger customers buying en primeur; they don’t mind spending £1,000 on a case of wine, but they want something they can drink tomorrow.”

brexit
Post the Brexit vote, blue chip Bordeaux is being snapped up in Britain by dollar buyers in Asia and the US

Has anything fallen out of favour in the past 12 months?
No, I don’t think so. Things that have done really well for us in first half of this year, in terms of new releases have been, for example, the Super Tuscans, as well as releases from Germany and the Rhône. The 2015s have been extremely good in some of these areas, but it’s also I think because of something else. Maybe linked to Burgundy pricing – people are listening to the merchants, who are saying there is life outside France so the buyers are looking elsewhere. Our sales would back that up.

What do you think will do well next year?
Inevitably, the 2015 Burgundies will do well when released now and into January. Customers are expecting prices to go up. Some will be restrained, some will not. I think the wines will sell well, and it’s a good vintage. And people are aware that ’16, particularly for whites, will be scarce.
Bordeaux ’16 could be a very interesting vintage. And I think we’ll see Italy do well on fine-wine side next year. And, again, we’ll see a creeping influence of interesting fine wines that people won’t have considered to be fine before, such as emerging European countries. I was recently staggered by the quality in some of the wines from Greece, although they won’t be on the Liv-ex 100 any time soon…

Tom Stopford Sackville, chief executive, Goedhuis & Co Fine Wine Merchants

tom4What has been selling well for you in the past year, and why?
The year started with a pretty successful Burgundy 2014 en primeur campaign, with lots of the demand for the whites. We then had a good Bordeaux 2015 campaign and since the Brexit vote, overseas buyers have been plundering the fine wine list on a regular basis. It feels like more of a currency play rather than an emotional ‘back in love with Bordeaux’ one.

What has fallen out of favour in the past 12 months and why?
We struggle with the Rhône, but that may just be us. We have very little interest these days, which is, of course, a huge surprise as we love the wines. I don’t understand it.

How important is en primeur Bordeaux to your business today, and how important will a great 2016 vintage be for you?
It’s nice to have a good en primeur campaign but we have learnt to live without them. They’re always a a nice bonus. A strong 2016 campaign would be a lovely addition to our sales, but not vital.

Are your sales for the past year up on 2015, and if so, why?
Sales are up because of the reasons stated above.

Finally, what do you think will do well in 2017?
That depends on the currency but I see continued interest in the resurgent Bordeaux market, which may become more emotional and less currency-driven in 2017.

Tom Hudson, director, Farr Vintners

tom-hudsonWhat has been selling well for you in the past year, and why?
Bordeaux wines and prices have come back strongly. The weakness in the pound following the referendum has given much momentum to this section of the market.

What has fallen out of favour in the past 12 months, and why?
En-primeur Bordeaux sales were disappointing for a very good vintage like 2015. Clearly, many private customers think prices are too high and are not prepared to take the risk.

How important is en primeur Bordeaux to your business today, and how important will a great 2016 vintage be for you?
It’s less important than it used to be because we find it impossible to promote many of the wines because of high prices. 2016 en primeur will only be important if the pricing makes sense for the consumer.

Are your sales for the past year up on 2015, and if so, why?
They’re almost exactly the same as last year.

Finally, what do you think will do well in 2017?
Burgundy 2015, we hope. Bordeaux 2016, we hope.

Simon Staples, Asia sales director, Berry Bros & Rudd

simon-staplesWhat has been selling well for you in the past year, and why?
Generally, we have continued with our impressive growth in Northern Italy and Spain but where that had replaced Bordeaux over the past three years or so, Bordeaux has come back with a vengeance and has gone a tad bonkers since the Brexit vote. It shows no signs of abating and with the glorious 2015 Burgundy vintage in January, I think demand and prices will continue in the right direction until at least spring 2017.

All levels of Bordeaux have done well but demand has continued in favorites such as Lynch-Bages, Figeac, Gruaud, Grand Puy Lacoste, Giscours, Haut-Bailly. Of the first growths Lafite has remarkably bounced back far more than I thought possible. Latour and Mouton follow. Champagne Grandes Marques have done very well too.

Champagne
Champagne Grandes Marques have sold well in 2016, according to Simon Staples

What has fallen out of favour in the past 12 months, and why?
Not a lot, really. 1er Cru Red Burgs that are looking a tad expensive as there is nothing available from 2010 or older and ’11, ’12 and ’13 aren’t really drinking that well at the moment. They will look cheap on the release of 2015s of course. The fad for natural wines seems to have gone… wahoo!

How important is en primeur Bordeaux to your business, and how important will a great 2016 vintage be for you?
It’s one of our cornerstones, and something we pride ourselves on. It is way too early to say how significant 2016 will be for us. Obviously, the macro environment is going to have a huge say on currencies over the next six months, and until things have stabilized, a low margin product such as en primeur is impossible to call.

Are your sales for the past year up on 2015, and if so, why?
Our en primeur sales are indeed up. From vintage 2014 to vintage 2015 we went from a £12 million to a £20m turnover.

Finally, what do you think will do well in 2017?
2008 Grandes Marques Champagnes, 15 red and white Burgundies, 2015 northern Rhônes. I think we shall see a significant uptake in South Africa, Central Otago and Pinots from Oregon.

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No