Bordeaux 2017: Lambs and Lions

A first growth at last as Mouton Rothschild releases its grand vin and immediate stable alongside Léoville Las Cases, Pontet Canet and Haut-Bailly.

After a quiet-ish Monday which nonetheless saw the release of three big second growths, Mouton (alongside second label Petit Mouton and white wine Aile d’Argent) is the first of the premier crus to be released. It is one of the most highly rated first growths of the vintage.

Its storming second label has also bounded onto the scene and behind the Rothschild wines came a currently expanding pile of other estates including the last of the Léovilles, Haut-Bailly and Pontet-Canet.

The headline figures for each release can be seen here:

Mouton Rothschild – €348 per bottle ex-négociant (-17.1% on the 2016) £4,320 per case ex-London in bond

Petit Mouton – €144 p/b (+9.1%) £1,788/cs

Aile d’Argent – €54 p/b (+5%) £672/cs

Léoville Las Cases – €144 p/b (-20%) £1,776/cs

Haut-Bailly – €72 p/b (-14%) £888/cs

Pontet-Canet – €80 p/b (-26%) £1,013/cs

Liv-ex reports that the tranche of Mouton released is 15% smaller than last year, this reduction being part of the estate’s stated intention of reducing the amount it releases en primeur as the property was untouched by the frosts in 2017.

Neal Martin rated it 94-96 and said it is “unashamedly classic” though lacking some of the “panache” of its 2016.

Liv-ex’s members voted it their sixth favourite wine of the vintage on average and when looking at the scores from the various critics it’s arguably Mouton and Lafite duking it out as to which is the ‘best’ first growth of 2017.

Is it a good price? On Liv-ex’s ‘fair value’ chart it lies above the line, which would suggest it’s a touch too expensive given there are some higher-rated back vintages such as the 2012 and 2014 available at lower prices and higher rated vintages that aren’t too terribly much more expensive; such as the 2016.

Nonetheless, it’s a successful and popular first growth, it’s considered one of the best in this vintage and it’s the first one out, all of which should combine to encourage sales.

Petit Mouton meanwhile is also likely to appeal – despite a small increase in price (and 40% decrease in volumes released). It’s not the first second label from a first growth to make the news this campaign as Carruades de Lafite is currently sitting in négociants’ stock folders awaiting the release of the grand vin.

Nonetheless, like Carruades, Petit Mouton’s performance in the secondary market looks almost unstoppable. Its Liv-ex index is up 24.5% over the past year and even though the release of the 2017 at €144 p/b is the highest ever release price for the wine (notes Wine Lister) it is still the cheapest Petit Mouton on the market with the next cheapest vintage (the 2016) being 10% more expensive.

It doesn’t have the best spread of scores but the second labels tend to defy such conventions and have proved themselves remarkably bulletproof to points.

In many ways, on paper, this release shouldn’t work but given the current track record probably will.

Away from the Rothschild stable, the releases get somewhat…punchier. UK merchants have broadly expressed satisfaction with yesterday’s (11 June) releases and while LLC, Pontet-Canet and Haut-Bailly are all very fine estates their 2017 releases don’t strike one as being quite as compelling by comparison.

Pauillac second growth LLC actually costs the same as Petit Mouton and while one might reasonably argue that the grand vin from a second growth – especially one with the pedigree of LLC – is better ‘value’ than a second label (even of a first growth), the problem with LLC is that rising release prices en primeur have not been backed up by a corresponding increase in noticeable successes on the secondary market.

Only the 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2016 have really held their value post-release and the 2017 is placed a long way above the trend line by Liv-ex when considering ‘fair value’; with the higher-rated 2006, 2008, 2014 and 2015 all being available at a discount and in fact the 2010 and 2016 not being much more expensive.

It was a welcome and rather generous cut in price but due to the patchy, up-and-down nature of its back vintages doesn’t look as strong as it could and should.

Meanwhile, Antonio Galloni considered the 2017 Haut-Bailly to be an “understated beauty” (93-96) and Julia Harding MW called it “very lovely” (17.5) and clearly the Pessac estate has done well to rebound after 30% losses in April last year.

This is another estate building a good qualitative and critical reputation but does the availability of equally ‘lovely’, ‘drinking’ vintages at fairly significant discounts count against this release? It’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

Returning to Pauillac meanwhile, Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW thought the 2017 Pontet-Canet was possessed with “spectacular energy” (96-98) while Galloni (93-95) thought it “exudes class”.

The 26% reduction is fairly sizeable and “a significant gesture in the spirit of the 2017 campaign,” thought Wine Lister.

It rather caught Liv-ex’s global members by surprise, they had expected a price of €94.4 a bottle.

As such some may be pleasantly surprised by this release, which is well below the price of the 2016 and while the 2015 might look attractive by compassion at under £1,000 a dozen, Martin for one reckoned that when it came to remarking the wine it’d end up with a score at the upper end of his initial assessment.

Buyer, you be the judge…

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