Bordeaux 2017: Palmer setting the tone?

The surprise release of Château Palmer’s 2017 wine yesterday caught many unawares and while initial sales appear patchy, the sentiment about the message its pricing sends out is broadly positive.

The release of a cru classé of Palmer’s quality and reputation so early in the campaign, with many major critics still to release their scores and even for some merchants to send out their own thoughts to clients, was a major surprise for many.

Speaking to the drinks business, Berry Bros & Rudd’s fine wine buying director, Max Lalondrelle, said the two teams the merchant had sent to Bordeaux hadn’t even yet sat down with each other to discuss their thoughts and collate their scores when Palmer was upon them.

“We weren’t ready,” he admits before adding, “but it got us ready.”

More surprising still was that the Margaux third growth opted to reduce the price of its 2017 wine by 20% compared with the 2016. The estate is well-known to be reducing the amount of stock it releases en primeur and likewise for occasionally ‘pushing the envelope’ with its pricing.

Released at €192 a bottle ex-négociant (versus €240 for the 2016), it is being offered for around £2,350 a dozen here in London, an 18% reduction in sterling terms on the £2,880 the 2016 was offered at.

Second wine, Alter Ego de Palmer, was also released at €48 p/b ex-négoce, down 2% on the 2016 release but at £585 a case it is currently 4% more expensive than the 2016.

The wine has been well-scored so far – with scores in the mid to high 90s from leading critics – though the opinion of other leading individuals and publications such as The Wine Advocate, JancisRobinson.com and Neal Martin are still noticeably absent.

Liv-ex noted that should the TWA score be in the region of 96-97 points then the 2017 will appear ‘good value’ when taken into consideration with other recent vintages.

Below the current price for the ‘great’ vintages of 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2016, the 2017 is still very comfortably above prices for vintages such as 2008, 2012 and 2014.

News from a few leading UK merchants has been mixed; a few saying the wine hardly sold at all, through to Corney & Barrow who sold “a little bit” and on to the biggest en primeur player, BBR, which seemed very content indeed with how its offer had been received.

Corney & Barrow’s fine wine director, Will Hargrove, suggested the early release bore strong similarities to Cos d’Estournel’s early release last year.

Many thought it was an “interesting” move but few showed much interest until more scores emerged whereupon its desirability increased – so too might it prove to be the case here.

Broadly speaking the reduction of 20% has been viewed as a ‘good thing’ and one that hopefully sends a message to other châteaux and might set the tone for the campaign to come.

Laondrelle added that it did not mean every estate needed to reduce their prices by 20%, saying working strictly by percentage points was not the right way of going about it.

Rather, he hoped prices might come down, “more in line with the 2014s and 2015s. That would properly reflect the vintage.”

Also out yesterday were Valandraud from St Emilion, with a price that was 22% down on the 2016. It is being offered for £1,200 a case.

Sauternes estate Coutet also released at €27.6 p/b, a 4.5% increase on last year and making it the equivalent of the 2009 and 2010 in price (£342).

A few other Sauternes have also been released today but it seems likely many merchants will hold their offers for the sweet wines in reserve for one of the up-coming French bank holidays to fill in the gaps between releases.

Although the dry and sweet white wines in 2017 have been receiving much praise, as ever selling them remains a frustrating experience.

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