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Bordeaux 2011: Margaux, Palmer and Lynch Bages release

The Bordeaux campaign has stuttered to life again with price releases from Chateau Margaux, Chateau Palmer, Chateau Lynch Bages and some two dozen smaller properties.

Palmer: ‘plenty of cheaper vintages’

The most important release yesterday was Chateau Margaux, at €360 ex-negociant, down 40%, followed by 3rd growth Chateau Palmer, at €160, down 25.6%.

Palmer, though critically acclaimed – Steven Spurrier for Decanter called the 2011 ‘first growth quality’ – has dismayed merchants by its price.

Farr Vintners’ Stephen Browett repeated his assertion that ‘there are plenty of ready-to-drink vintages of Palmer that consumers can buy cheaper than this. Although its one of the better wines of the vintage there is no demand for it at that price.’

Palmer is with most UK merchants at £1750 a case. The 2001, to which Browett had referred as ‘ready-to-drink’, is £1200.

Other merchants were similarly gloomy. One, Will Gardener, who runs the fine wine department at Midlands merchant Nickolls and Perks, said, ‘there is no point in offering [Palmer].’

While the blue chip wines – Lafite, Margaux, Pontet Canet – are selling well, even for wines with very fine pedigrees – Palmer, Lynch Bages (€69, down from €100 last year, on the market for £750) – interest is sporadic at best.

Lynch is ‘in the doldrums’, Mark Bedini, managing director of Fine & Rare said – oddly enough, because it ‘seems reasonably priced and normally sells really well. Not this time.’

Another merchant suggested they would have expected Lynch to be cheaper than Pontet Canet, for example, which is on the market for £720 a case, and is considered ‘a superstar’.

For some, the situation is exactly as they expected. Gardener said, ‘We’re doing our best, but we’re sending out an offer every couple of days rather several times a day.’

He stressed that the wines that were selling were the well-priced ‘good drinking wines, like Batailley in Pauillac at £250 a case and Labegorce (Margaux) at £175. ‘You have to take the investment side out of it.’

In Bordeaux, negociants are putting a brave face on the situation. ‘We’ve been spoiled by the last two great vintages,’ Laurent Ehrmann at negociants Barrières Frères told Decanter.com. ‘There is frustration because we’re not selling thousands of cases in a few hours. We need to look to the long term.’

An unexpected consequence this year, for one merchant at least, is the lack of traditional buyers for a vintage that has been toted as ‘a classic drinking vintage’.

Bedini said, ‘We’re finding that our traditional buyers are staying out on the whole, which means new entrants are doing most of the buying. They are more focused on the first growths than other wines.’

Even in a previously rock-solid market – the French supermarkets – ennui seems to have set in.

Ludovic Paternotte, wine buyer for Groupe Casino, which owns a clutch of major retailers including Casino, Géant and Monoprix and buys 200m bottles a year, said Bordeaux made up 50% of his purchasing until a few years ago, but he now finds better value in Languedoc and Rhone.

‘Even for the French supermarkets, the price drops have largely not been enough. The Bordelais seem to forget that France remains their largest market.’

Written by Adam Lechmere, and Jane Anson in Bordeaux

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