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Bordeaux 2011: Price is ‘single factor’ of vintage, say merchants

As the UK wine trade makes its way back from Bordeaux they are more preoccupied with price than at any time since the 2008 vintage.

At this stage of the week there are points on which most agree. Few would argue that the vintage is not ‘mixed, to say the least,’ as Neil Sommerfelt MW of Jeroboams said. But, he added, ‘when they are good they are very good.’

Decanter‘s consultant editor Steven Spurrier has his reservations about certain wines and communes but his overall summing up is that the left bank has produced ‘a classic claret. They are straightforward, very good wines, perfectly expressive of their chateau.’

James Lawther MW has not finished his assessment of the right bank but in an interim report he said St Emilion had produced ‘decent but not spectacular wines’ for the most part. He suggested the star wines would come from the water-retaining clay soils of Pomerol.

As to wine merchants, none will make any comment without the coda: ‘if the price is right’.

‘Customers are interested and intrigued,’ Sommerfelt said, ‘But more than ever, price is the single big factor. If the price is right then there is a market for these wines.’

Another London merchant, Stephen Browett of Farr Vintners said: ‘This is not a vintage that anyone needs to buy. They will have to be made interested by the price.’

He took Chateau Palmer – for many one of the finest wines of the vintage – as an example.

‘The 2009 is about £2500 a case, the 2001 about £1200. Even if the 2011 is half the price of last year, it will still be more than the 2001. I can tell my customers it’s one of the best wines of the vintage, but I’ll also have to say you can buy one just as good, drinking well now, for less.’

As Decanter.com reported before en primeur started, several UK merchants feel it is a vintage that will require a good deal of hand-selling.

Domaines Barons de Rothschild managing director Christophe Salin opened up to journalists during en primeur week, making it clear Lafite expected to release very quickly – and at a healthy discount, he inferred.

In Pomerol, Christian Moueix of J-P Moueix was blunt: ‘My top wines will be cut by between 30% and 50%’, he said.

Some journals have suggested the left bank first growths would come out at €200-€250, a decrease of 60% on last year (€600 ex-negoce), while Decanter.com had it on the best authority that one first growth would shave up to 50% off.

Merchants are confident there will be price drops, just as they are confident about the quality this year, but such is the opacity of the properties’ price deliberations, they aren’t celebrating yet.

‘If the price is right there will be some great buys, and I’m pleased about what the chateaux are saying this year,’ Gary Boom of Bordeaux Index said

But, he added, there would always be those that would not see the reality of the market. ‘Some people get it, some don’t.’

Written by Adam Lechmere

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