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Bordeaux 09: ‘phoney war’ begins

As the Bordeaux 2009 campaign moves into its most intense phase, warnings of slow sales seem to be premature - though merchants are frustrated by their allocations of the first growths.

Merchants with orders for the top wines are embroiled in what they call a ‘phoney war’ as they wait nervously to discover what allocations they can secure – and at what price.

Although a number of top châteaux, including Lafite, Mouton and Margaux, have now announced their initial prices, the quantities of wines released so far have been tiny.

‘Nobody can get their hands on the wines,’ Bordeaux Index managing director Gary Boom told decanter.com. ‘There’s no proper volume and we’re all waiting for the second tranches.

‘Pricing at the moment is irrelevant because there won’t be a single case offered in the market until Thursday or Friday maybe, when the second tranche comes out.’

Boom echoed the view that first tranche pricing was initially a publicity gimmick by the châteaux – and provided little guide to final pricing.

‘I’d be amazed if we see Lafite under £11,000 [per case] or Latour below £9,500,’ he added.

Since May, on the trading platform Liv-ex, 16 cases of Lafite 2009 have been sold at prices varying from £10,000 to yesterday’s sale of a case at £13,232. One case of Latour 2009 was sold yesterday for £10,213.

But jittery merchants will not announce offer prices for First Growths until they see the prices, and allocations, of the second and third tranches of wines. This allows them to assess their average cost and total stock.

Asked if he was confident that he could secure his usual allocation of Firsts, Stephen Browett of Farr Vintners replied: ‘We hope so, but we don’t know yet. We don’t expect to have a problem selling them.’

Simon Davies, head of marketing at Fine & Rare, said allocations of First Growths were being reduced ‘every year’, adding: ‘Initial releases are insufficient to cover even half-case allocations to our private customers.’

At most levels below the blue-chip wines, Bordeaux 2009 seems to be healthy. There are slow-burners, but most wine merchants in the UK report good sales.

Noting that some wines – Grand Puy Lacoste in particular – were sluggish, although for Berry Bros it was a quick seller, Davies said, ‘Almost everything is selling well’.

‘Leoville Barton and Langoa Barton sold out quickly. I wish we’d bought more Lynch Bages. Our biggest seller is Pontet Canet, and at £1200 a case it’s expensive.’

At Berry Bros, wine director Simon Staples noted that even the most surprisingly pricey wines were flying off the shelves.

‘With the very “aggressive” price of Palmer (£224 a bottle at BBR), we sold over 600 cases of that in 30 minutes. I don’t doubt [the first growths] will sell.’

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Written by Richard Woodard

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