Watching Bordeaux Prices

By Robert Whitley

May 17, 2016 6 min read

The following is an excerpt from an email sent from a fellow Bordeaux collector to like-minded friends, many of whom are dismayed by the news that prices for the very good 2015 vintage, those being sold on the en primeur market, have gone up an average of 15 percent (from 2014 prices).

"Earlier this month, in anticipation of our middle child's wedding, I was asked to organize a tasting of quality wines with a retail price per bottle of $25 or less," he wrote. "The wines selected included a Priorat, a Chilean syrah, a Pouilly Fume, an Auslese from the Mosel, a Rhone by Chapoutier, a Champagne, and (believe it or not) a red from Macedonia. With the exception of the Macedonian wine, which was over-oaked, they were all delicious, and all of them will maintain or improve with age. Granted, none of them will develop the secondary characteristics that I so love in Bordeaux. However, by the time the 2015's get those characteristics, I will be in my mid-80's — if I'm lucky.

"So, old guys like me are asking why we should pay $150 per bottle for a characteristic we may not live to enjoy when we could be paying $25 per bottle for what was an almost hedonistic experience. And young guys by and large cannot afford classified Bordeaux, and in many cases are not even familiar with Bordeaux. In 1974, as a truly poverty-stricken law student, I bought a '67 Haut-Brion for $11. Today, the '09 Haut-Brion is $750 per bottle. It is not surprising that it is becoming more and more difficult to find a good selection of Bordeaux on restaurant wine lists."

This lament is likely to become louder and more frequent as word of the price increases spreads.

Chateau Pape Clement, to cite one example, announced a price of $58 for en primeurs, an increase of 18 percent from 2014. During the en primeur tastings for trade and media in Bordeaux a few weeks ago, I found the Pape Clement to be one of the most exciting wines of the new vintage. However, I remain unconvinced that a price increase is justified.

The practical result of this increase means that once various markups for importers, distributors and retailers are factored in, the 2015 Pape Clement will likely retail in the U.S. for about $200 to $250 a bottle upon release in a couple of years. The 2010 Pape Clement, the last vintage of similar quality in Bordeaux, averages $249 per bottle on the Wine-Searcher website.

In recent years, I have been repeatedly quizzed by producers in Bordeaux about why their wines are now flailing in the U.S. wine market. When I bring up the issue of price, I am met with blank stares and expressions of incredulity. It is sad to say, but the Bordelais simply don't get it.

I learned everything I need to know about the psyche of Bordeaux pricing several years ago. when I asked one producer if he was surprised that the Chateau Figeac, historically one of the great wines of Saint-Emilion, had not been elevated during the reclassification of the Saint-Emilion chateaux.

"Non," he said with a snort. "Look at the price!"

Quality be damned, the price of the Figeac was too low to justify a higher ranking. Enough said.

Price Clarification

In a recent column titled "Postcard from France," Saint-Emilion's Chateau Lassegue was lauded an exceptional value at about $25, given its rising quality under the direction of winemaker Pierre Seillan.

Some older vintages of Lassegue can still be found at that price on Wine-Searcher.com, but rising quality has pushed prices up in recent years. The outstanding 2010 vintage retails for between $70 and $80 a bottle. The outstanding 2015 vintage should approach or surpass the 2010 in price. Lesser vintages may still be found in the $40 to $50 range.

That said, considering most of Lassegue's neighbors retail for several hundred dollars minimum, the chateau does represent good Bordeaux value within that context.

Best Value

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Kenwood Vineyards 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County ($13) — For many years now, Kenwood's sauvignon blanc has been a go-to wine for those looking for a crisp, refreshing sauvignon that is easy on the wallet. Nothing's changed in that regard, although the current vintage represents a significant change in flavor profile. Previous vintages were notable for a strong essence of grapefruit aroma. The current vintage has less of that; it moves more in the direction of melon and sweeter citrus and tropical notes, and has a creamier texture. That said, it is a beautiful wine, a go-to choice for summer. Rating: 89.

Tasting Notes

Jackson Estate 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Hawkeye Mountain, Alexander Valley ($55) — One of the finest wines in the Kendall-Jackson portfolio, the Hawkeye Mountain cabernet sauvignon is a complete cabernet, showing layers of red and black fruits, beautifully integrated tannins that lend a dynamic mouthfeel, and notes of woodsmoke and spice in the background, with just a touch of earthy minerality. It is a triumph for K-J winemaker Randy Ullom. Rating: 95.

Jordan 2014 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley ($32) — Best known for its iconic cabernet sauvignon, Jordan presents a different flavor with its very much underrated chardonnay. Winemaker Rob Davis always delivers an elegant, exquisitely balanced chardonnay, and the 2014 is another in that line of success. This vintage exhibits notes of pear and lemon oil. It has a mouth-watering acidity and just a hint of oak spice. Rating: 93.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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