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American belief in great en primeur ‘shaken and probably destroyed’

There is considerable doubt amongst American merchants as to how they are going to sell the new and apparently stellar 2009 vintage.

Wine merchants will buy 2009 Bordeaux futures, but they say that previous vintages are unsold, the economy is uncertain, the exchange rate unfavourable – and they doubt Robert Parker can score it higher than 2008 anyway.

Michael Glasby of the American retailer Premier Cru in California predicts that 2009 Bordeaux wines will have to ‘fight for their place more fiercely than all the previous ”vintages of the century”.’

He told decanter.com, ‘The conviction that en primeur in a great vintage is always worth buying has been shaken and probably destroyed.

‘There are many [2008s] still available at their initial level and plenty of highly-rated 2006s and even 2005s available at no more than their initial release price.’

In the midwest, merchants predict a difficult sell, despite or even because of the claims for 2009.

Thomas Keim of The Vino Source Corporation in Minnesota said, ‘I see an incredibly soft market for both 2008 and 2009 – especially in the Midwest.’

With the market for wines over US$40 ‘almost non existent because of the economy’, Keim said consumers are ‘sick and tired of hearing “vintage of the decade” for what is now the fourth and fifth great vintages of the decade in 2008 and 2009.’

Others, such as Gil Lempert-Schwarz, chairman of The Wine Institute of Las Vegas and consultant to New York-based wine auctioneer Acker Merrall & Condit, say that Robert Parker ‘has run out of points’.

‘When you score a wine 98-100 [Château Lafite Rothschild] and a greater wine comes right after, what to do? You’re out of luck unless you “downgrade” the 08s and then “make room” for the 09s.’

The recent decision by Diageo – self-described as the ‘world’s leading premium drinks business’ – not to buy Bordeaux futures will also make sales more difficult, according to Chris Adams of the retailer Sherry-Lehmann in New York.

‘Diageo was a significant factor [for futures buying], and its departure from Bordeaux will have a huge impact on the market,’ Adams said.

Importers who buy directly from Bordeaux negociants see Diageo’s exit as ‘an opportunity to obtain more allocations’ in 2009, but worry over excessive price increases.

‘I hope producers show some restraint in their price increases and that they will release good quantities at first tranche, given the weak economy and exchange rate,’ said Mark Wessels of importer MacArthur Liquors in Washington DC.

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Written by Panos Kakaviatos

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