See both sides of the debate as to whether there is enough transparency with Bordeaux wine imports, as taken from the 'burning question' in Decanter's April 2014 issue....

About €150m of Bordeaux red wine was re-imported back into France over three years, official figures show.

Newly released French customs figures show €48m of red Bordeaux was returned to France from foreign countries in 2012. In 2011, the figure was €62.8m and in 2010 it was €39.7m.

Wine from other French regions is also re-imported, but not to the same extent. Figures show €7m of Burgundy was bought back in to the country in 2012.

While Bordeaux’s wine trade office, the CIVB, describes the practice as ‘routine’, some observers are concerned that merchants could re-import wine and not declare its travel history when selling it on. A wine’s provenance affects its perceived quality, and so also its price.

Precise details of the wines cited by customs and where they came from were not available, but they were all packaged in containers under two litres, indicating bottles or magnums. The CIVB said most stock came from within Europe and represented only a very small part of the Bordeaux trade.

Charles Sichel, export director at négociant Maison Sichel, said he was aware of other merchants bringing stock back from Japan, most likely to benefit from the exchange rate.

Paul Marus, of UK merchant Corney & Barrow, said: ‘This is a situation we and the négociants in Bordeaux are very much aware of, as many négociants now advertise their stock as never having left Bordeaux.’

Louise Domenitz, of eProvenance, which tracks the temperature of wines during transit and storage, said that ‘in general we understand these re-imports come back to négociants to be re-sold in Asia’.

At the Liv-ex fine wine trading platform, Miranda Cichy said Bordeaux négociants were ‘the second largest buying group on the exchange, making up 14% of all purchases over a 10-year period’.

So, is there enough transparency for buyers?

Yes

The CIVB argues that the customs figures need more context. It estimated that about one million bottles of wine were re-imported in 2012, predominantly from the UK, Germany and Belgium.

‘The figures are perhaps 0.3% of the total volume of Bordeaux exported, and very little comes from outside of Europe,’ said spokesperson Valérie Descudet. Rather than top crus classés, some wine might be exported and re-imported by international retail chains. For example, Descudet said that discount retailer Aldi sends bulk wine to Germany for bottling and then distributes it to stores in other countries, including France.

‘It’s an open market and there are brands that are openly traded,’ said Charles Sichel. While he said Maison Sichel only buys direct from Bordeaux châteaux to ‘guarantee pristine provenance’, he doesn’t believe buyers should automatically be concerned about wines that have previously been sold and stored elsewhere.

‘I wouldn’t be concerned about stock coming back from Japan, because it would have been kept in impeccable condition. It should be in perfect nick.’ He added that ‘it’s also down to the buyer to exercise caution’.

No

‘Everyone is bound to be highly discreet about this, but it is clear that many of the big négociants will buy back stock, particularly if the exchange rate makes it favourable to do so,’ said Louise Domenitz, of eProvenance.

In light of the customs figures, some believe that traceability should at least be debated in Bordeaux wine. ‘Bordeaux, as is well known, has long bought back wine,’ James Swann, of UK-based Brocour wine merchantbrokers, told Decanter.

‘A potentially far more significant matter is the possibility of re-importing from far farther afield, like Hong Kong. I have had offers from Bordeaux-based merchants where they indicate ex-Hong Kong stock of high-end wines, but the obvious question is how many such offers or lists may pass through the market that simply do not include this information?’

Swann added: ‘It’s impossible to say either way at this point, but it is a question that should be more widely publicised and discussed.’ Corney & Barrow’s Paul Marus said: ‘There is nothing wrong in trading stock within Europe but négociants must say if the wine is genuine Bordeaux stock that has not previously been shipped.’

Written by Decanter