The annual release of the Bordeaux first growths is underway – with stratospheric price tags that have left wine merchants ‘unsurprised’.

Bordeaux first growths Chateau Lafite, Chateau Mouton and Chateau Haut Brion have released their 2003 vintage at double the price of last year’s offering. Latour and Margaux are likely to come out within the next 24 hours.

Lafite has set the tone with a first-tranche price of €150 – compared with €70 for the 2002. As well as this the chateau has released only half the quantity of last year.

Haut Brion and Mouton are a similar price, and Latour and Margaux are expected to come out with a slightly higher price.

The behaviour of the first growths is always observed with fascination, and often alarm. One prominent member of the London wine trade said he was ‘livid and disgusted’ that Lafite should be so expensive, in such small quantities, and moreover should be offered to merchants only on the condition they take other, lesser, wines as well.

‘I am disgusted,’ the merchant told decanter.com. ‘We have to take 20 cases of L’Evangile (from Pomerol, which famously suffered in the heatwave) which we will never be able to sell.

‘We’ll be able to sell the Lafite but we’ll make a 10% margin – that’s all.’

Others were unsurprised. Stephen Browett at Farr Vintners said demand for the chateau (which Robert Parker said was comparable to the 1982 and ‘worth mortgaging the house for’) was ten times the amount they were allocated. ‘We’ll be able to sell it with our eyes shut,’ he added.

There is some doubt as to whether Haut Brion will sell as well as its sister properties. The first growths club together as an informal ‘Famous Five’, and all release at more or less the same price.

‘I wonder if Haut Brion would have come out so expensive if the others hadn’t,’ Browett said, but added as he had already sold his allocation there didn’t seem to be any problem with it. Another merchant said Haut Brion would be ‘a struggle to sell.’

Simon Staples at Berry Brothers said the prices of the first growths made some of the the other properties seem wonderful value. He mentioned Pontet Canet and Pichon Baron (‘a steal’), and called Domaine de Chevalier and Phelan Segur, at £192 and £156 per case, ‘fantastic value.’

‘My advice is, buy all the wines that came out before Monday this week. They are wonderful value,’ he said.

Written by Adam Lechmere