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Bordeaux 2018: A ‘rare collector’s item’?

The release of Château Palmer’s 2018 vintage today might normally have many shaking their heads at its price but does its miniscule production mean this is a wine collectors would be rash to overlook?

The Margaux third growth is renowned for the excellence of its wines but also some of the more ‘ambitious’ en primeur prices in the last decade.

Its 2018 vintage has been released at €240 per bottle ex-négociant, a 25% bump on last year and back to the price level the 2016 was released at. It is being offered for £2,892 per dozen.

It is by now well-known that Palmer was one estate that, due to its biodynamic farming, was laid waste to by mildew during the 2018 growing season.

Yields were absolutely miniscule (11hl/ha) and just 6,000 cases have been produced and no second wine ‘Alter Ego’ but the final result has drawn high praise from all quarters.

Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW scored it 97-99 and Antonio Galloni was also very positive with his 95-98 points. Although he said its ripeness “wouldn’t be for everyone”, he thought it a, ”stunning, head-spinning wine” that was one of the “truly epic Palmers”.

The normally endlessly enthusiastic James Suckling was actually the more reserved of the three with his score of 94-95 despite saying he had “never tasted anything like this in my 38 years as a wine critic in Bordeaux” – but may be that wasn’t meant to be taken as a ringing endorsement?

Over at the Wine Spectator meanwhile, James Molesworth who gave it a potential 100-points thought it would be “one of the most talked about wines of the vintage” and Matthew Jukes, with a 19.5+ score said it was “one of the most fascinating and mesmerising wines of the year”.

By and large, therefore, the reaction has been very positive.

In terms of price, the 2018 is the most expensive Palmer currently available to buy if you look back to 2005 and indeed you have to go back to 1989 to find a vintage that is more expensive.

The scores are good but they’re not necessarily better than any of those previous vintages so, if you can find them, theoretically those would make more sensible purchases, as indeed would several other back vintages such as ’11 or ’12 or even ’17 which has 94 points from Neal Martin and is (just) under £2,000 a case.

On the Liv-ex charts this would not normally rank as a good buy but this is not a normal wine or release. It is, in many ways, a ‘freak’.

It may not make sense to buy the 2018 in any normal circumstances but given the low production buyers with the money to do so may be well advised to try and get hold of some as this is highly likely to be a wine viewed as something of a ‘unicorn’ a little further down the road.

Other releases

Palmer may be the big release but there were some other big names released this morning as well.

  • Lafon Rochet – out at €31.20 p/b and with an ex-London price of £384 p/cs it’s just a hair up (0.3%) on what the 2017 was offered for. Pretty good scores, Galloni was a fan (92-95). But it’s a little costly when looking at back vintages the 2014-16 wines all offer about the same for less.
  • Clerc Milon – offered at £732 p/cs, its link to Mouton Rothschild is always a bonus. It has low scores of 92 and highs of 96 and its pricing makes it “keenly poised between the 2015 and 2016” noted Liv-ex.
  • Gloria – a “fabulous” wine thought Galloni and the score-spread is fairly well grouped between 91-94 across his, Suckling and Perrotti-Brown. At £346 a case its quite expensive when compared to some back vintages, especially the 2016. Buyers as ever will have to be the judge.
  • Duhart-Milon – the Lafite ‘Milon’ and reportedly the “best ever” if you heed CEO Jean-Guillaume Prats. A release price of £655 per dozen and pretty solid scores all round mostly in the 93-96 ballpark, although Galloni was much more reserved with a 88-90 score. Based on Suckling or Perrotti-Brown’s scores the release may make sense but not at all if you’re going off Galloni’s.

Also out today were Larcis-Ducasse, Croix de Beaucaillou, Lalande-Borie and Picque Caillou.

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