May 20 (Bloomberg) -- Buying Bordeaux 2012 futures was always going to be a question of prices. Now that the majority of chateau owners have released theirs, it’s apparent they’re tone deaf to today’s market. Most prices are down less than 10 percent, nowhere near low enough.
No one claims 2012 is a great vintage, though it’s better than the lackluster 2011. Negociants and merchants warned that a price drop to the bargain levels of the 2008s was needed to spark consumer interest.
That didn’t happen. However, there are still a handful of wines worth buying.
“For the first growths, the pricing for 2012 is working,” says Chuck Hayward, brand manager at Oakland, California-based J.J. Buckley Fine Wines, who cites Chateau Mouton Rothschild at $374 a bottle (33 percent below the 2011 release) as a sales success. It’s the cheapest recent vintage of Mouton in the market -- the 2009 costs $1,100.
At Sotheby’s Wine retail shop in New York, Mouton is the top-selling 2012, says president and chief executive officer Jamie Ritchie who has sold three times as much Mouton as last year’s futures.
Merchants have also seen strong demand for first growths Chateau Margaux ($374) and Chateau Lafite Rothschild ($500), whose prices are down 33 percent and 28 percent from 2011.
The charming 2012 is by far the lowest priced Lafite on the market, but of the three, the classic, powerful Mouton is my best bet.
London’s Berry Bros & Rudd sold 3,600 bottles of each in a single day, with 30 percent going to Hong Kong, Asia sales director Simon Staples said in an e-mail. For his personal cellar, he’s looking at less expensive wines with “sexy prices.”
The classic cassis-and-chocolate Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste on his list is still a value at $40, but you can get the ready to drink 2008 for the same price.
The incentive for tying up your money in futures is to obtain wines at the lowest cost, then watch your investment increase two years later when the bottled wine arrives on retail shelves at higher prices.
In the past few years, that strategy has gone over a fiscal cliff, as prices for some wines actually decreased by the time they were released.
Among this year’s chateaux that have shot down their own sales are Saint-Emilion’s Angelus and Pavie, both promoted last September to the rank of premier grand cru classe A. Angelus boosted its price 32 percent over 2011, Pavie 59 percent. Both 2012s are very good, but overpriced at $280, which is why buyers are scooping up older, cheaper vintages instead.
“Whether or not to buy futures comes down to two factors: Will the wines be available on the market at a later date, and will they be more expensive at that time?” says Ritchie.
For the top 2012s from Pomerol, which included some of the year’s best wines, the answer to the first question is probably no and the second, probably yes. Many are made in tiny quantities, and London’s Farr Vintners says some have already sold out.
The stunning, always super-expensive Petrus, one of the vintage’s stars, and the very fine Le Pin, Vieux Chateau Certan, and Chateau La Conseillante haven’t yet released their prices. Superb, suave, violet-scented Lafleur costs $6,000 a case.
All of which makes ripe, complex, silky-textured Chateau Lafleur-Petrus, run by the Moueix family, look like a pretty good deal at $140 a bottle. In difficult 2012, the chateau produced 40 percent less wine than it did in 2011. Another Moueix success is the velvety, dark, serious Chateau Trotanoy at $180.
On Bordeaux’s Left Bank, Chateau Rauzan-Segla is bright, fresh, savory, and only $60 a bottle, down 30 percent from 2011. Plush, dense Chateau Pichon Lalande is $80, down 20 percent.
Some chateaux that didn’t reduce prices by much are selling anyway, like the very pure, stylish, fragrant and plummy Pontet-Canet at $88. This chateau has become one of Bordeaux’s hottest names and the wines punch way above their official fifth-growth status.
The polished, voluptuous, brilliant third-growth Chateau Palmer is no obvious bargain at $240 a bottle, but I rated it ahead of its first-growth neighbor Chateau Margaux. Berry Bros & Rudd has sold 600 cases.
2012 may end up as a forgotten futures campaign, with most wines unsold. Stephen Browett, owner of London-based Farr Vintners, one of the biggest sellers of Bordeaux futures, says, “There are virtually no new buyers.”
At K&L Wine Merchants in Redwood City, California, Bordeaux specialist Ralph Sands recalls the days when his customers were excited to buy at least a few bottles of the new vintage.
“The thrill is gone,” he says. “A great vintage brings a few back, but most have moved on to other wines.”
So where does this leave buying Bordeaux futures? Chateau Latour has already turned its back on the idea and starting this year is releasing vintages only when they’re ready to drink. First up, the delicious 1995.
“En primeur buying isn’t dead yet, but it soon will be unless the Bordelais get real on pricing,” says Browett.
(Elin McCoy writes on wine and spirits for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
Muse highlights include Zinta Lunborg’s interview with Anthony Bourdain.
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