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Bordeaux 2015 en primeur: Little room for error, say merchants

Bordeaux 2015 prices are expected to rise for a warmly received vintage but merchants warn there is only a narrow margin for error if consumers are to be coaxed out of their en primeur lethargy.

Many UK merchants have accepted that châteaux are likely to raise prices for the Bordeaux 2015 en primeur campaign versus last year, amid anticipation that critics will give good scores to a lot of the wines.

  • Coming soon: Full Decanter scores for Bordeaux 2015 en primeur wines

‘We are expecting prices to go up, although we wouldn’t advise that,’ said Giles Cooper, of UK- based BI, formerly named Bordeaux Index.

Both Cooper and Max Lalondrelle, fine wine buying director at Berry Bros & Rudd, believe there are good wines but feel that things could get tricky if price rises top 10%, excluding currency. In the UK, sterling’s weakness versus the euro means that there is a 10 to 12% additional cost to the 2015 vintage versus 2014, even if prices stay the same.

En primeur fatigue

The small margin for error is exacerbated by en primeur fatigue beyond Bordeaux. Buyers have generally lost money in five of the last eight campaigns, according to Liv-ex data.

As one merchant told Decanter.com in last week, en primeur has failed even the most basic investment test in recent years. There is also the lure of instant gratification offered by an enlarged secondary market, not just for Bordeaux wines but also fine wines from other regions.

Making a good impression

It is true that every estate must, to some extent, be analysed individually, depending on its pricing history and stock available.

Some in Bordeaux, such as right bank consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, also point out that the furore over pricing really only concerns the top 30 or 40 classified estates.

However, others argue that it is those estates, and also the reaction of the UK market, which can quickly set the tone for a campaign globally.

Sterling and a sting in the tail

Berrys’ Lalondrelle believes sterling could come back to haunt some UK buyers if the pound strengthens following the country’s ‘Brexit’ EU referendum on 23 June.

‘If sterling bounces back [which some believe is likely] then wines will then become cheaper for UK consumers. Therefore, customers buying at £240 per case during the campaign may see the same wine in October at £220 per case.’

US: Good value for the ‘craft beer’ generation?

If Bordeaux 2015 is as widely praised as expected then there might be good deals futher down the price ladder.

This aspect of Bordeaux has piqued the interest of some American merchants, who are tipped to enter the en primeur fray in greater numbers this year.

Daniel Greathouse, of Heidelberg Distributing in Ohio, told Decanter’s Jane Anson, ‘America can get behind this vintage. There are more and more reasons not to participate in en primeur, but it is impossible not to be part of the first tranche price of an historic and notable vintage.’

‘And there is value here for the craft beer generation in America who are wholly open to new discoveries.’

Shaun Bishop, of JJ Buckley in California, said he would mostly be buying Right Bank. ‘The Left Bank is a European vintage, the Right Bank is an American vintage,’ he said.

Rationale for buying Bordeaux en primeur

But, there is still the question of whether consumers interested in Bordeaux 2015 will see the rationale for buying en primeur rather than waiting for the vintage to turn physical.

Back in the UK, BI’s Cooper said the team have identified many wines that they would happily recommend to consumers. ‘We want there to be a good campaign,’ he said.

He divided buyers into different camps:

  • Collectors who want the best Bordeaux vintages in their cellars and will be looking to buy 2015 wines from top estates and do not care about the cost.
  • People who want 15 but who are uncertain about price. He expects Right Bank wines to sell more quickly, and particularly Pomerol, where estates are smaller on average and so have fewer barrels to sell.

Either way, there is a feeling that Bordeaux 2015 en primeur could be a drawn-out campaign, perhaps lasting beyond Vinexpo Asia Pacific trade fair in late May.

In the trade, that won’t please merchants employing extra staff to handle sales. But there is generally a more relaxed approach to primeur these days. Other fine wine regions, such as Burgundy, California, Piedmont, Tuscany, Champagne and Rioja, are demanding greater attention.

‘Bordeaux en primeur used to be the most important part of what we do, and now it’s the cherry on the cake,’ said Lalondrelle.

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