Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bordeaux 2007 - wines for the châteaux to guard?

As the prices have begun to trickle out over the last two weeks for Bordeaux's 2007 wine primeurs, things feel basically, a bit flat, with some little flurries of interest.

The first flurry was over the Sauternes and Barsac prices, which all came out higher than 2006, on average by about 5%. Everyone was focussing so much on the need for red prices to come down, the fact that whites and sweets went up - on the basis of the good press they got during the tastings - was almost a shock.

The next flurry was over the châteaux that got 70-73 points from Parker – but they are going to resend a sample of their wine over to him as they are convinced there was a problem of some kind – so they shall remain nameless for the moment.

Then, the next flurry was about Château Beychevelle selling out in less than two hours. It got an average Parker score of 87-90, but it came out early and priced itself 5% down on 2006, at 21 euro per bottle ex-château, with a suggested resale price of 25.50 euro per bottle to wine merchants – one of which one is now selling bottles at 28.50 euro (ex-VAT). The combination worked wonders.

Négociants however will tell you there is no magic to the thing, it is just that Beychevelle has got the formula right.

The formula? Basically a good wine, that does not do bizarre price leaps or twists, which knows how to price itself so that everyone in the chain makes money – from château, via courtier (aka Mister 2%), to négociant, importer and finally retailer.

Plus, and it is an important plus, since Beychevelle sells 95% en primeur there are no worries, for négociants anyway, about further stocks unexpectedly coming onto the market (either from the château or from some merchant connected in some way to the château) later on, at a different price.

Well. When it's explained that way, it makes you wonder why so many others get it wrong and end up with, what a Swiss journalist is said to have called 'vin de garde' – meaning it's one the châteaux will be keeping.

Of course the answer might be that since it's the négociants that bear the brunt of the pricing 'mistakes', what do the châteaux care if they have a bit of vin to guard? And this year in particular, what do they care, when they have, in general, both empty cellars and full pockets after sales of the amazing 2005's which carried over into the 2006's.

The négociants are the ones who have to buy and keep the stock, after all, on the basis that they can't tell customers they don't have X wine. Which means, at best, they must buy a decent range of wines, cleverly, or at least be on good enough terms to put in a phone call the moment they get an order.

From that point of view, not just pricing, but payment terms are also said to be making a crucial difference between sales or not this year.

Négociants are said to be offering clients the 2007's for a 15% to 25% deposit, and no further payment until June/November 2009. And they are expecting the châteaux to do the same for them. Kind of defeats the point of primeurs, but there you go. The rules are different this year.

So, for mid range châteaux, it will be their pricing terms, as well as their prices, that make the difference.

As ever, none of this applies to any of the most in demand wines, whose orders exceed supply, like the top five or the super seconds or right bank stars. But it is interesting to think that the range of decent Bordeaux 2007's you will find on the shelves in two or more years time may possibly have as much, or more, to do with pricing terms, as actual taste.

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