Bordeaux 2018 sales have been patchy, suggest new figures

Strong sales for several high scoring Bordeaux 2018 wines have failed to quieten questions about Bordeaux en primeur’s future.

Sales of Bordeaux 2018 en primeur wines hit a collective £80m for the 20 biggest UK merchants within the Liv-ex membership base, said the trading platform.

That’s up 60% on average versus 2017 but down 12% versus the 2016 vintage, which became a benchmark for many during the ’18 campaign. Sales by volume in this group dropped by 40% on average versus 2016, Liv-ex said.

While those figures don’t represent the whole market, they add to the sense of a mixed experience with sales of Bordeaux 2018; somewhat echoing a vintage described by Decanter’s Jane Anson as brilliant in places but lacking the homogeneity of truly great years.

‘Some [UK] merchants saw record sales but others were more like 30% up [on 2017],’ Liv-ex co-founder Justin Gibbs told Decanter.com.

A good number of the very top wines sold well, but others struggled.

Giles Cooper, of BI Wines & Spirits, said ‘The biggest names still tended to do well and certainly the Firsts enjoyed demand, with Mouton and Margaux both selling out quickly.’ He added that Pomerol was also a big hit, while Angélus did well after ‘surprising’ the market with an early release and a price cut.

However, he said, ‘There were many releases that didn’t make obvious sense, so we just ignored these and moved on.’

A major frustration was pricing, according to both Liv-ex and analysis group Wine Lister

‘2018s came onto the market on average 1% above the current market price of 2016, despite the latter – one of the vintages of the century – being physically available [in many instances],’ said Lister. Some wines still sold, but many ‘stalled’ as a result, it reported.

Some 2016 wines have barely moved in price between primeur release and bottling, providing impetus for collectors to wait until a wine is re-tasted in the bottle.

US interest

It had been mooted that Bordeaux 2018’s bold style could appeal to US buyers. ‘It’s been a mixed bag,’ said both Clyde Beffa Jr, co-owner of the K&L merchant, and Shaun Bishop, CEO of JJ Buckley, in California, speaking to Decanter in the middle of the campaign – for the magazine’s Market Watch report.

‘We’re finding that our clients are focusing their buying on a smaller set of top end wines,’ said Bishop, adding that Buckley had sold out of Léoville Las Cases, Montrose, Pichon Comtesse and Domaine de Chevalier at the time.

Beffa Jr said K&L saw good sales on Angélus and sold out quickly on Calon Ségur, Rauzan-Ségla, Canon and Carmes Haut-Brion. Lafite also sold ‘pretty well’ on release, but Cheval Blanc less so, he said.

Stocks

Reports of some châteaux holding back a greater proportion of stock from the en primeur campaign also resurfaced.

Some estates reported lower-than-normal yields in 2018 following unprecedented summer mildew and prolonged hot weather through harvest.

But, there has also been a conscious policy of reducing release stocks, according to the trade. ‘There’s been a general cut-back,’ said Gibbs.

‘Demand outstripped supply four times over for some wines,’ said BI’s Cooper, although he noted that some estates with lower yields offered a ‘goodwill gesture’ by releasing more stocks than usual.

There will continue to be questions about the en primeur system, he believes. ‘The future for en primeur is by no means set. It’s not as bad as the doom-sayers suggest but neither is everything rosy.’


How Decanter.com covered Bordeaux 2018 releases

Read Jane Anson’s verdict on the Bordeaux 2018 wines in-barrel