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Bordeaux 2018: Las Cases threatens to go nuclear

After a quiet end to last week due to French public holidays, St Julien’s leading estate Léoville Las Cases has kicked off the week’s proceedings in dramatic style with its “atomic bomb” of a wine but punchy price leaving buyers with a bit of a Cold War era choice – make the call or not?

‘Yes, sir, I will, ah, take two cases of Las Cases 2018. Not because it is easy but because…’ (‘Right, that’s enough. ed.)

There’s no doubt this morning’s release is pretty punchy at €180 per bottle ex-négoce (up 25% on the 2017 opening price), meaning it’s being offered at £2,172 per case.

There was a little bit of variance on the scores from the key critics. Antonio Galloni for example gave it a 95-98 range though, despite a slightly conservative lower end to his bracket, said it was “one of the unquestioned stars of the vintage”.

Others were more gung-ho in their scores, both James Suckling and The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW giving it a potential 100-points and Purple Pages’ Julia Harding MW a ringing 18.5. US critics Jeff Leve and James Molesworth also had 100-point potential in their brackets.

All spoke of its “energy” and profusion of black fruit and freshness.

“OMG”, wrote Suckling, while Perrotti-Bown warned it was an “atomic bomb waiting to go off in your mouth”.

Price-wise one’s sense of ‘fair value’ will depend on the critical voice one trusts. As Liv-ex pointed out, at this price Suckling and Perrotti-Brown’s scores make it look ‘fair’, Galloni’s not so much – but scores can also change.

Sitting at a discount to the current market price of the 2016 – one of the highest rated Las Cases – it’s more than the 2005, 2009 or 2010 are available for.

Yet volumes are also very limited for what is potentially a world class wine. Make the call? Push the button? What to do?

Farr Vintners’ Stephen Browett offered: “On one hand, [it] looks expensive at above the current market prices of the 2009 and 2010 but, on the other hand, the scores are outstanding and this is certainly a potential 100 pointer.”

Over at BI, Giles Cooper added that Las Cases doesn’t have a “great track record of making massive gains on the secondary market” – most of its back vintages from the last decade are below £1,500 a case – but you can’t argue with the fact that the 2018 is, “a stunning wine from a nigh-on unique vintage and customers are just looking at the price vis-à-vis the other wines they drink and thinking ‘I want that in my cellar’ – and understandably so.”

Ultimately, thought Wine Lister, “with four potential 100-point scores from other critics, it is perhaps one of the few 2018s that can get away with such an ambitious release price.”

Reports from several UK merchants this morning seem to indicate that sales are going well.

It appears to have been a feature of the campaign so far that some wines have gone gangbusters for varying reasons while others have turned up if not much else.

Will Hargrove at Corney & Barrow reported it had been a bit “hit and miss” though overall “better than last year” so far – though that isn’t hard.

Cooper said that despite some “ambitious” pricing things had been ticking along well though Browett said that big sellers had been “the exception rather than the rule” and too many estates were releasing close to current prices for their 2016 and 2015 wines.

Still, thought Hargrove, with many big Right Bank names such as Cheval Blanc and Ausone and Left Bank heavyweights such as Montrose, Pichon Baron and all the first growths still to come, there was “still much to play for”.

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