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‘Greed factor’ turns US buyers off top Bordeaux

American merchants and consumers are deserting blue-chip Bordeaux 2005 in favour of lesser growths.

It seems that much of the market is turned off by high prices and the perceived ‘greed factor’ at the top end of Bordeaux, a national spotcheck shows.

Todd Hess, wine director at Sam’s in Chicago, one of America’s biggest retailers, said many regular customers of First Growths were shocked at the opening prices, refused to buy them and expected to sit out the vintage.

Sam’s acquired First Growths at “first-tranche-plus” prices but will not buy at second-tranche prices, Hess said. With customers moving to lesser growths, the emporium sold out its allocations of Pontet-Canet at $869 a case and Malescot St. Exupéry at $716, he said.

Len Rothenberg, owner of Federal Wine & Spirits, in Boston’s financial district, said ‘the older generation of Bordeaux buyers seemed shaken’ at the debut prices and were not buying the top growths. ‘I am seeing a lot of buying, possibly by younger stockbrokers, in the $400 to $600 range,’ he said.

‘The First Growths and wannabe First Growths from the Right Bank – those in the $7,500 to $8,500 bracket – are crashing,’ Rothenberg said. Only a few have been sold, and so far he is not buying at second-tranche costs.

Dan McCarthy, an owner of McCarthy and Schiering, with two stores in Seattle, Washington, says First Growth sales ‘are way off.’ Consumers, he said, resent what they see as a Bordelaise ‘greed factor.’ He too finds interest shifted downward, with purchases like Pavie ($389 a case) and Cambon Le Pelouse, a Haut-Médoc cru bourgeois ($228).

Michael Goldstein, proprietor of the Park Avenue Liquor Shop, a major New York dealer, is ‘taken aback by the pricing.’ He said, ‘Interest by my customers is extremely small’ and that he ‘is not going into this full steam ahead.’

Bordeaux’s 2005’s are ‘a must have vintage,’ said Christian Navarro, a partner at Wally’s, Los Angeles’s premier store. But the futures are ‘separating the rich from the very rich.’ He find 2005 ‘a difficult vintage to deal with because I want to put good wine in everyone’s hands, and I can’t do that.’ Complicating the picture are orders from ‘new money’ in Russia, Japan and China, Navarro said.

Lynch-Bages, at $960 a case, is selling well, Navarro said, but ironically in the 2005 vintage this price ‘might be lower end.’

While Michael Bittel, an owner of Sunset Corners, in Miami, Florida, has not yet made futures offerings ‘we are not going to be on the bandwagon,’ he said. One reason Bittel is being cautious, he indicated, is that it is not clear whether people who buy early to avoid presumably higher prices in coming years will end up saving money.

Quality House, a 69-year-old Manhattan merchant, e-mailed customers: ‘If you have not ordered your Château Margaux 2005 at $8,000 per case as a “future,” do not despair. You have alternatives.’

One such alternative was 1986 Cos d’Estournel at $1,800 a case.

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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