Top Bordeaux 2011 wines including Chateau Lafite-Rothschild and Chateau Cos d’Estournel are selling for between 30 percent and 45 percent below recent vintages after investment demand for the exceptional 2009s and 2010s sapped buyers’ appetite for less-powerful new clarets.
First-growth Lafite is being quoted at $8,410 a case on London-based wine exchange Liv-ex, 41 percent below 2010 and 45 percent down from the 2009s. Second-growth Cos d’Estournel, its close neighbor, is at $1,680 a case for the latest vintage, 45 percent down from the 2010s and 62 percent below 2009.
Asian demand for Bordeaux is becoming more selective while European and American buyers, still struggling with prices for the 2009s and 2010s, are eyeing cheaper back vintages and are less willing to pay premiums for wines still needing a decade or more in bottle, which critics including Robert Parker say fall short of the overall quality reached in the previous two years. Recession in Europe and weak global growth, combined with tumbling bank bonuses, are also driving the market lower.
“Coming into the 2011s, there is more uncertainty,” Michael Saunders, managing director of Bibendum Wine Ltd. in London, said during a tasting at Lord’s cricket ground. “The vintage isn’t being as widely lauded as the 2010s. There needs to be a real reason for people to buy 2011s at this stage.”
Pierre Lurton, director of top Sauternes producer Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Cheval Blanc in Saint Emilion, said he saw more English and American buyers and fewer Asians among the 2,000 visitors to Cheval Blanc during the en primeur campaign to sample wines that won’t be bottled for another year or more.
“It’s a vintage for Europe and for America,” Lurton said. “The price decrease of between 30 percent and 45 percent is normal. It’s not a speculative vintage, 2011, like 2010 and 2009. It’s a vintage for the traditional consumer.”
A warm, unusually dry spring followed by a cool summer made it a tough year to ripen grapes consistently, making the timing of the harvest particularly critical. Christian Seely, director of Pauillac second-growth Chateau Pichon-Longueville, said that “for now maybe the 2011 is slightly in the shadow of its very illustrious predecessors, but put it in the context of the last 10 years and this is a very serious vintage.”
London merchants said demand exists for the new vintage at lower prices, and price cuts have generated sales.
Parker, writing in the Wine Advocate following tastings in March, said “this is the type of vintage where the producers should price low and sell as quickly as possible, giving consumers something to get excited about.”
Chateau Pontet-Canet, a Pauillac fifth-growth that is a close neighbor to both Lafite and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, went on sale in London at 720 pounds ($1,160) a case, 37 percent below the level at which its 2010 wines are quoted on Liv-ex and 56 percent down from its 2009s.
“We sold out within two hours, and had demand for a third more,” Alfred Tesseron, owner of Pontet-Canet, said in London. “I could have priced it higher, but I am working for the long term.” London merchants agreed.
“It came out at a good price and it’s the first wine that’s really kicked,” said Saunders. “We’ve sold a lot of Pontet-Canet.”
First-growth Chateau Margaux released its wines at 3,800 pounds a case for the U.K. market, down 45 percent from current Liv-ex prices for its 2010 and 48 percent lower than 2009, while Chateau Lynch-Bages, a Pauillac fifth-growth, went on sale at 750 pounds, down 27 percent from last year.
Chateau Giscours, a third-growth from Margaux, pitched its 2011 at 320 pounds a case for London buyers, down 25 percent from its 2010, while Chateau Batailley, also a Pauillac fifth-growth, went on sale at 250 pounds, down 15 percent from 2010.
A significant driver of lower prices has been producers’ desire to hold on to traditional buyers in Europe and the U.S. after four years in which much of the focus has been on demand coming from China and other parts of Asia, dealers said.
The abolition of wine duties in Hong Kong in 2008 coincided with the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. that year, resulting in a boost to Asian demand just as the U.S. and European markets suffered a setback.
Auction sales indicate Asian collectors are shifting their attention away from Bordeaux first-growths toward less well-known clarets and rarer Burgundies, as well as wines from other regions. Bordeaux producers are watching the trend closely.
“Pichon-Baron is probably 20 percent to 25 percent in Asia and no more, and I’m quite happy with that sort of figure,” Seely said. “We’re not dependent on the Asian market in any way. If we were to go to 50 percent or 60 percent of our sales in Asia, which could easily happen, you would be starving your traditional market, and that would be dangerous.”
Bibendum’s Saunders agreed that Bordeaux needs to maintain the global balance of its market as it prices the 2011 vintage.
“To put all your chips on China is probably a big call,” he said. “It might be a lucrative call short-term, but they’ve got to look after their traditional markets.”
(Guy Collins writes about the wine market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include: Farah Nayeri on film at Cannes, Richard Vines on food and James Russell on architecture.