Bordeaux 2016: Palmer enters the ring

Just as buyers thought they’d settle into a quiet Friday of en primeur action before the weekend, Château Palmer has come out swinging, but was it a knockout or a swing and a miss? Is it even throwing the fight?

It has been a week in which the pace of the campaign has picked up substantially, with the release of Pape Clément on Monday, Montrose and Duhart Milon on Tuesday, Carruades de Lafite and Talbot on Wednesday and now Margaux third growth Château Palmer.

With second wine Alter Ego having been released earlier this month, the grand vin made an appearance today at €240 a bottle ex-négociant, 14.3% up on the 2015. Offered by London merchants at £2,880 a case it is 31% more expensive in sterling terms than the 2015 was on release and in fact it is the highest-ever opening price for any vintage of Palmer as was noted by Liv-ex.

The wine has received high praise from critics and merchants alike for its quality and in a vintage where Margaux as a rule did not surpass its truly excellent 2015s, the 2016 Palmer might just be the exception.

The Wine Advocate’s Neal martin rated it 95-97 points while James Suckling tipped it for a potential 100-points, while both called it “intellectual”.

As the Liv-ex graph shows, the 2016 is on a par, score-wise, with the 2015, 2012, 2011 and 2010, yet only the 2010 matches it for price and in fact the slightly better-rated 2005 and 2009 are cheaper.

Palmer has been producing some absolutely outstanding wines for vintage after vintage now but it’s asking pieces are becoming harder and harder to swallow for many. Many feel Palmer is increasingly not interested in selling en primeur and it’s pricing verges on a joke or even downright insulting.

It’s not that merchants won’t offer it, there will be buyers and keen collectors of the estate and those wanting the best of 2016 will no doubt bite.

Speaking to the drinks business, Giles Cooper at BI said: “It’s an astonishing wine – as a team we rated it higher than the 2015. Certainly it’s an expensive wine but it’s virtually incomparable with what’s come before, in terms of style and expression. The 2016 is the pinnacle to date of the ‘biodynamic’ Palmer (recognising that they were only actually certified this year).”

“If you had the means,” he continued, and wanted the best of the 2016s, “you would have to put Palmer in there.”

Over at Corney & Barrow, fine wine director Will Hargrove made it clear that the merchant’s offer later today would not suggest buying now at that price.

He said: “Palmer openly only see en primeur as one of the ways they sell not THE way they sell and that is, of course, their choice.

“As usual the wine was very good and we’d love to be selling enthusiastically but when you can buy similarly good vintages for much less the incentive to buy now is not obvious and we have to put our customers’ interests first. In our next email to customers we will mention that Palmer has been released but, other than to keep a collection going, we will not suggest buying it now.”

Also out today was Pomerol heavyweight Lafleur, released at £5,160 a case. This is 14.6% up on the 2015 opening price and most certainly is expensive in purely monetary terms. On the other hand, with several potential 100-point scores from Suckling and Antonio Galloni among others and a sold 96-98 from Martin, the wine sits at a significant discount to the 2015, 2010, 2009 and 2005 vintages – as much as 45% below the 2010 in fact.

Now somewhat overshadowed by Palmer entering the ring, also out this morning were:

Gloria – €30 ex-négoce (+11.1% vs. 2015)

Saint Pierre – €45.60 ex-négoce (+13.4% vs 2015)

Grand-Puy-Ducasse – €28.80 ex-négoce (+11.6% vs 2015)

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