Category: News

Château Margaux 2016 en primeur release

Château Margaux was the final first growth to release its 2016 wines en primeur yesterday (although we still await a second tranche from Château Lafite – see our blog post on the first tranche). The price of €420 per bottle ex-négociant matched that of Mouton and Haut-Brion, and represents an increase of 9% on 2015.

The reception was very positive all round, with pricing and volumes were both considered to be expertly judged, with one member of the Place de Bordeaux referring to the release as “very professional”, and another saying it was difficult to imagine any problems selling the stock, and “we’d be more than happy to hold a bit more back if necessary!”

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A particularly astute move by the commercial team at Margaux was the decision to set a UK RRP this year, which effectively served to negate the weak pound, by curbing any possibility for UK merchants to allow themselves a larger margin, as they had done last year (when they quite rightly judged the immense demand for the very well rated 2015 – Wine Lister Quality score of 988). This means the 2016 represents a relatively modest year-on-year increase of 9% in pounds as well as in euros, rendering the RRP of £432 per bottle more palatable to UK customers.

Margaux also kept the trade happy releasing at least the same amount of the grand vin as last year, if not a little more in some cases, with UK merchants still clamouring for more. The second wine, Pavillon Rouge, was up 20% in volume terms. Bien joué.

The view from Bordeaux – Lafite’s first tranche

Yesterday saw the release of the first tranche of Château Lafite-Rothschild en primeur. It was a surprising move, hinted at late last week, but early for a first growth to release in what is set to be a long campaign. People were momentarily excited – the campaign seemed to be taking off, with a seemingly reasonable price for a first growth that has historically gained in price after release. However, it very quickly became clear that with just half last year’s volume released, and the promise of a second tranche at a higher price, Bordeaux négociants preferred to hold fire and wait it out.

One courtier said, “to my mind it is not a real release of Château Lafite 2016 because [the price of] a part of the volume en primeur is not known.”

The tranche system for Bordeaux en primeur releases was born of two rationales. First, a way of testing the market with an initial, reasonable price on a portion of the volume produced. Second, tranches are a politically adept method for the five Bordeaux first growths to maintain the appearance of releasing at the same price – as has historically been the form – with the possibility thereafter to diverge significantly in price on subsequent tranches.

There are several négociants whose policy is to adhere to the châteaux’s multi-tranche approach, selling on the first at a corresponding price, and the second at a higher price, and so on. However, those négociants had second thoughts yesterday. If they sell the first tranche at the lower price while other négociants await the second tranche and sell at an average price across the two tranches, they will be stuck with a second batch of wine to sell at a higher price than the rest of the market.

That is why the vast majority of négociants yesterday decided not to sell on their Lafite 2016. One négociant explained that the “volume makes it difficult to offer out,” adding “we’re just waiting for the second tranche to offer in one bunch, at an average price.”

So as the entire Place de Bordeaux waits for the second tranche, after which it will sell on the stock at a pro rata price taking into account the price of both tranches, this begs the question: what was the point of separate tranches at all? Had today’s release been on a larger volume, it could have been the touch paper for a sizzling 2016 en primeur campaign. At 50%, unfortunately, it has proved the opposite.

Reports from the Place are that after the Lafite release early yesterday afternoon, not only were there no further releases, but sales on all other wines slowed right down as the local market let Lafite’s move sink in. Not surprising when you consider the importance for a négociant of a first growth’s release in the scheme of an en primeur campaign: it represents a huge sum compared to selling the lesser crus. If yesterday’s events put other châteaux off releasing today, then with the Thursday bank holiday in France, and many bridging to a long weekend, “a whole week of the campaign could be lost,” lamented another négociant (although this is unlikely with another major wine set to release this morning).

Meanwhile, many importers are frustrated by their inability to actually acquire any of the wine and offer it to their customers. One UK merchant concurred, “it’s not a real release,” clarifying, “until the Bordeaux négociants know what their total volumes are – and what their average cost will be – they can’t really offer the wine to the trade so customers are unable to buy it.”

And so we all await the second tranche. One courtier has been led to believe this will be next week, while Château Lafite itself declines to advise on timing.

Bettane+Desseauve’s top Bordeaux 2016 scores

Wine Lister’s French partner critics, Bettane+Desseauve, released their Bordeaux 2016 en primeur scores today. Here is a first look at thier top-scoring wines:

B+D top Bordeaux 2016 scores

Bettane+Desseauve awarded no potentially-perfect scores, but seven wines score 19-19.5 points. One is Château Ausone, which receives this rave review:

“Refinement of texture and fullness of body. An Ausone of immense depth, broader shouldered than usual but with the same majestic, finessed tannins. A giant.”

As for fellow Saint-Emilion premier grand cru classé A Cheval Blanc, Michel Bettane calls it “the greatest wine from the property, at least as a baby, for at least 20 years!”

All the left bank first growths score 19 or above, as do Petrus and Yquem. Otherwise the top scorers shown above are all first growth equivalents or second growths, apart from Calon-Ségur, a third growth which made a standout wine in 2016.

These scores complete Wine Lister’s partner critic triptych, allowing us to compute Quality scores for the Bordeaux 2016 wines. More detailed analysis will be published next week in this year’s Bordeaux study, which will be available to subscribers here.

Antonio Galloni’s top Bordeaux 2016 scores

Wine Lister’s US partner critic Antonio Galloni, of Vinous, released his scores for Bordeaux 2016 en primeur in a comprehensive article at the end of last week, and these now contribute to Wine Lister’s Quality scores for Bordeaux 2016 wines.

Galloni describes the vintage as one of balance and harmony, yielding “absolutely remarkable wines.” He awarded seven potential 100-pointers, including two first growths – Châteaux Margaux and Latour, as well as three top Pomerol wines – Lafleur, Le Pin, and Vieux Château Certan.

He was particularly impressed by Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, which he found “a deeply emotional, moving wine.” He also had his head turned by Saint-Emilion premier grand cru classé A, Château Pavie, which has shifted towards a more elegant style since 2014, and particularly this year, when Galloni calls it “seamless, sumptuous and super-expressive.”

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After waxing lyrical about many of the wines from the 2016 vintage, Galloni turns his attention to the campaign, and to pricing, echoing the positive signs discussed in our recent blog post on this topic. Galloni concludes that given the quality of the vintage, “if the 2016s do not sell well, it will be a damning indictment that one or more things is seriously wrong with how the wines are sold.”

Galloni also appeared on Bloomberg TV to discuss whether 2016 is the Bordeaux vintage of the century. Watch his interview here.

Jancis Robinson’s top Bordeaux 2016 scores

Wine Lister’s UK partner critic Jancis Robinson has released her scores for Bordeaux 2016 over a series of tasting articles, and these can now be found on Wine Lister’s individual wine pages.

While 2016 has been hailed by some as a left bank vintage, Robinson found much to enjoy across both sides of the Gironde. In Pomerol, she praised “those who waited and managed the difficult business of judging picking times correctly”, and more 19-point wines came from this appellation than any other. She singled out Vieux Château Certan 2016 for setting “the standard for the appellation” and noted its “lovely ripeness and nobility.” In Saint-Emilion, 19-point Figeac 2016 was “Zesty and confident and of the place”, while Canon 2016 had “real lift and drive.”

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On the left bank, three of the first growths were among Robinson’s top scorers. As Wine Lister has already noted, 2016 was a tricky growing season, and Robinson reports that at Haut-Brion, Jean-Philippe Delmas “pointed out that the vintage was saved by the cool nights that retained the grapes’ and therefore wines’ freshness.”

From Pauillac, Latour 2016 significantly had “much more finesse than traditional Latour”, while Robinson described Mouton Rothschild 2016 as “bone dry and utterly embryonic compared with most of the 2016s (with the notable exception of Las Cases).” Léoville Las Cases 2016 also received 19 points from Robinson.

Notably, amongst Robinson’s top scorers there are no dry whites – a category she described as “the least exciting section of the Bordeaux 2016 vintage” – and only one sweet white (Yquem 2016), a group for which Bordeaux 2016 “won’t go down in history.”

Will earlybird Cos d’Estournel catch the worm?

Château Cos d’Estournel took everyone by surprise this morning when it released its 2016 vintage en primeur sooner than expected, at €120 per bottle ex-négociant, the same price as its 2015. Intelligence gathered by Wine Lister suggested that châteaux considered to have made “mistakes” with the release of their 2015 vintage en primeur might release early and at the same price as last year.

However, even the Place de Bordeaux was not expecting a second growth to release its wine the day after the first round of the French presidential elections, and just four days after the terrorist attack in Paris.

Cos d’Estournel is considered to have had a mediocre 2015 en primeur campaign compared to some of its peers, not necessarily pricing too high, but releasing too early. However, reports are that stocks did sell through later in year. Today’s move is bold, but could pay off, if Cos d’Estournel 2016 can harness the excitement that is growing around the Bordeaux 2016 vintage before it has too much competition.

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© Château Cos d’Estournel

By sticking to last year’s price, Cos is keeping the Bordeaux trade happy, and early reports are that négociants are wholeheartedly getting behind the release. The weak pound means that Cos d’Estournel 2016 is being offered to consumers in the UK at £117 per bottle, a 10% premium on the 2015 price of £106 per bottle. This might well be palatable given the quality of the wine this year and the goodwill shown by the château in not increasing its euro release price. UK merchants certainly seem to be enthusiastic in terms of their messages to consumers so far.

Wine Lister’s UK partner critic Jancis Robinson awarded the Cos d’Estournel 2016 18 points (compared to 18.5 for the 2015). Our French partner critics Bettane+Desseauve, and our US partner critic, Vinous, will release their Bordeaux 2016 scores later this week.

 

Bordeaux 2016 en primeur part II: pricing, volumes, and timing

Our recent blog post reported the excellent quality of the Bordeaux 2016 vintage in the face of a tricky growing season, and discussed the generous yields that many producers enjoyed. In theory, the latter should keep en primeur release prices down. We took the temperature during our week in Bordeaux.

Olivier Bernard, President of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, declared that quantity is “good for the producers and for the people selling our wine, because it will help the château owners find the right price.” He went on to refer to the ease with which “mistakes” are made when quantity is low, a nod to over-zealous en primeur pricing in the past.

In a recent survey of Wine Lister’s 49 Founding Members (key global wine trade players), the average price adjustment for Bordeaux 2016 considered reasonable on 2015 was a decrease of 4%. Even the Bordeaux trade only suggest a 2% increase. It should be noted that this questionnaire was carried out prior to any tastings, and also that the trade’s interest naturally lies in curbing price rises by the producers.

price expectations v3

“What’s for sure is that prices to the consumer need to be significantly lower than current prices of physically available vintages such as 2005, 2009 and 2010,” asserted Stephen Browett, Chairman of Farr Vintners. “Why not allow all our distributors and consumers to make good buys and profitable sales of this vintage, with prices that are relatively stable compared to 2015?,” appealed Nicolas Ballarin, courtier at Blanchy et de Lestapis.

Wine Lister’s Founder, Ella Lister, is more sceptical, saying:

“I would be very surprised if Bordeaux 2016 prices do not increase on 2015, in some cases significantly. Every producer we spoke to said they would be upping prices on last year.”

“Price-wise I don’t think there is anyone who’s thinking about selling 2016 at a lower price than 2015,” confirmed Philippe Blanc, Managing Director of Château Beychevelle, hitting the nail on the head when he added, “the big question is how much more.”

This remains to be seen: the mood is broadly bullish but with a dose of caution. François-Xavier Borie, owner of Grand-Puy-Lacoste, summarised, “demand is good, and perception of the vintage is great,” concluding, “we will without doubt raise the price, but it shouldn’t explode.” His only fear is that things might be confused if certain châteaux adopt a different policy, going for “a high price on low volume.” Nicolas Glumineau, Managing Director of Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, agrees that partial releases at inflated prices are counterproductive, calling the approach artificial”, and saying it “doesn’t work to sell only 50% at a higher price.” Pichon Comtesse usually sells 80% of production en primeur.

“It’s a great vintage so it will be expensive,” confirmed Glumineau, disclosing, “my ambition is to raise the price this year, yes.” He is acutely aware, as are his fellow Bordelais, of mitigating factors such as the impending French elections. A Marine Le Pen victory “would affect the stock markets”, he says, and “could devalue the euro relative to the pound.”

Referring to the weak pound post-Brexit, Didier Cuvelier, owner of Léoville Poyferré, admitted, “it’s true England worries us as it’s always what sets the tone of the campaign.” Emmanuel Cruse, Co-owner of Château d’Issan and Grand Maître of the Commanderie du Bontemps, Médoc, Graves, Sauternes and Barsac, cited political uncertainty in the UK, the US, and France, when he announced to a room full of producers and négociants, “we all know the situation isn’t stable, but we need to be positive as the vintage is great and we have made a lot of it.” Mathieu Chadronnier, Managing Director of négociant CVBG, observed, “I really feel a desire here in Bordeaux for this to be a successful campaign.”

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Philippe Blanc, Managing Director of Château Beychevelle, who will almost certainly raise the price on 2015, but won’t be first out of the block. Photo © Ella Lister.

How will this positive approach affect timing for Bordeaux 2016? A couple of sources hinted at the possibility of a handful of early releases at the same price as last year, either by châteaux who priced highly last year or perhaps first growths wanting to set a trend. However, by far the dominant view was that the campaign would be a long one, lasting until after Vinexpo (18th-21st June in Bordeaux).

“A good campaign is one where timing follows a pattern – crus bourgeois first, then the fifth growths, the fourths etc.,” expounds Glumineau. Blanc believes, “the general opinion is not to be quicker than need be,” saying “it’s good to have context,” and confirming that Beychevelle “definitely won’t be the leader timing-wise.” Lister concludes:

“We await the first releases with interest, because of course nobody can predict the campaign’s level of success until the party actually gets started.”

Check www.wine-lister.com in early May for our new Bordeaux study, and follow us on Twitter for real-time analysis of the releases.