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First en primeur releases – what value do they offer?

Last week saw a trio of en primeur releases, as Pauillac estates Carruades de Lafite and Duhart Milon and Cantemerle in the Haut Medoc released their wines onto the market. We run down who released what and at what price and what kind of value they offer.

Château Batailley was the first to kick off the campaign last week,  releasing the 2021 vintage at the same opening price as for the 2020 vintage, making it one of the best value wines on the market today, according to Liv-Ex – which may be an early indication of how the estates will play it.

This strategy of following 2020’s opening price has certainly been employed by Duhart Milon 2021, released at €55 per bottle ex-négociant, and Cantemerle 2021, who released at €18 per bottle ex-négociant (offered by the international trade for £216 per 12×75).  However Carruades de Lafite in the Haut Medoc released its 2021 vintage at €160 per bottle ex-négociant, down 5.9% on 2020.

So what does this actually mean – are these wines offering good value?

According to Liv-ex, in some cases not particularly.

It argues, for example that the age is a better indicator of fair value than critics score for both Duhart-Milon and Cantemarle, with the result that older vintages may offer better valued than today’s release. Scores on Château Duhart-Milon 2021’s have varied from 90-92 at the lower end to 93 at the upper end (our own Bordeaux correspondent Colin Hay plumped for 92-94), however with a release of €55 per bottle ex-négociant (it is being offered by the international trade for £672 per 12×75). It points to the 2019 vintage (with a current market price of £600 per case, a 12% discount to the 2021’s release price) and the 2014 vintage – both of which score 93 points (Neal Martin) which is currently available for £580 per dozen. 

Similarly, the Cantemarle 2019 or 2012  vintages tend to offer better value than the 2021, boasting a 92-point score (Neal Martin of Vinous) for the 2019 compared to 88-90 points for the 2021, while being available for 10.2% less than the new vintage’s release. However, what should be born in mind is that scores remain subjective – our own Bordeaux correspondent parked it in the range of 90-92+ points, noting its “pure and beautiful nose”, good balance and “seamlessly integrated” acidity.

But – and it’s a big but – the Carruades de Lafite has released below the 2020 opening price at €160 per bottle ex-négociant, and available by the international trade for £1,980 per 12×75, making it the best value vintage currently available in the market, Liv-ex data shows. Released 5.9% below the 2020 opening price, the 2021 vintage is 16.3% below the current market price of the 2020 (£2,304 12×75), which was the lowest priced vintage offering the best value, even though the scores are roughly comparable, with the 2021 fractionally higher.  In order to put it into its comparative set, the 2019 for example – the lowest priced vintage after the 2020 – is currently on the market for over £3,100, with the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 all hovering around the £3,350 mark.

Tasting notes:

Carruades de Lafite (Pauillac; 55% Cabernet Sauvignon; 36% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; 4% Petit Verdot; tasted at Lafite-Rothschild). Tasted immediately after Duhart-Milon, this is rather more delicate and a little more closed, the fruit a touch lighter – a combination of raspberry and mulberry. The tannins are supremely soft on the attack and, once again, the classical structure is revealed slowly yet precisely as the presence and granularity of the tannins builds in the mouth. Dense and compact for the vintage, I love the grip and pinch of the tannins that helps to build the sapid fantail finish. Great balance and a lovely sense of harmony. A continuation of the fine progression of recent vintages. 91-93.

Duhart-Milon (Pauillac; 81% Cabernet Sauvignon; 19% Merlot; a final yield of 30 hl/ha; tasted at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild). Cool, restrained and glorious, with a gorgeously intense dark berry fruit – brambles, cassis and blackcurrant leaf. There’s a hint of graphite (on the pencil scale this is more of an H or HB than a 4B, perhaps!). A wine that seems to divide opinion in the vintage – but I really like it. It’s sumptuous, soft, svelte and archetypally Duhart – but in a beautifully restrained cool vintage way. The tannins, which are almost imperceptibly soft at first, seem to build in presence and granularity as the wine unfolds over the palate, outlining the bold structure. Chewy, minty, always super-fresh, elegant, composed and sumptuous. With air, that signature Duhart cedar starts to arrive too. Fabulous in the context of the vintage and very expressive of the vintage, which is something I really appreciate. Highly recommended. 92-94+.

Cantemerle (Haut-Médoc; 65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 21% Merlot; 9% Cabernet Franc; 5% Petit Verdot; 13% alcohol; a final yield of a deeply impressive 50 hl/ha; tasted at the property with Laure Canu and then at the UGC with similar notes). Limpid, glossy and impressively viscous in the glass for the vintage. A very pure and beautiful nose – you might guess La Lagune more than Cantemerle – that is exquisitely perfumed, with cassis, bramble and raspberry, cedar and freshly picked wild herbs. Svelte and very measured on the attack, this is long and finely structured with a nice sense of grip from the chewy fine-grained tannins. There’s a good balance and harmony to this and the acidity is seamlessly integrated. One imagines that the selection was quite strict, but this the progress here is palpable. 90-92+.

Read more:

What will the pricing of this year’s en primeur campaign be like?

Bordeaux 2021: cool vintage ‘new classicism’

Why the 2021 Bordeaux is a ‘marmite’ vintage’ 

See here for db’s en primeur vintage report, with appellation-by-appellation reviews on Margaux, St Julien, Pessac-Leognan & Graves, St Estephe & Haut-Medoc, Pauillac, Pomerol, St Emilion and Sauternes.

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