Bordeaux fine wine market could use a stiffener

by Admin
Bordeaux fine wine market could use a stiffener

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In Bordeaux, La Place is nowhere to be found. It exists as a virtual network of producers, agents and merchants to sell the region’s wines, both fine and less sophisticated, to collectors and enthusiasts. In the coming week the en primeur sales campaign will begin, setting prices for the best of the 2023 vintage. But falling prices for Bordeaux’s top wines have left a sour taste for collectors.

This year could prove a turning point. The en primeur campaign attracts some 5,000 people, ranging from merchants to critics, to taste and review the latest vintage’s wines in Bordeaux. Critics then score the top tier. From late April into early June the various top châteaux release prices.

Wines are actually delivered one to two years later, making this a futures market with sometimes limited supply. An antiquated — some would say opaque — sale process moves from châteaux through middlemen (courtiers and négociants) to final buyers. The best wines can fetch £500 per bottle or more. Since 2017, the pricing of each vintage at en primeur (apart from 2019) has gone up, irritating merchants and their customers.

No wonder. Returns from Bordeaux’s best châteaux have declined. Over the past two years an index of these from different vintages, the Liv-ex Bordeaux Fine Wine 500, is down 11 per cent (before any storage costs). Both the S&P 500 and FTSE 100 indices have beaten that.

En primeur investment returns have been poor. Only four of the top estates — Carruades de Lafite, Beychevelle, Calon-Ségur and Lafite — have delivered positive en primeur returns post release in 2017-2021, says Anthony Maxwell at Liv-ex. Merchants would dearly like to see the en primeur release prices fall to spark interest. Adjusted for inflation, UK merchants sold 38 per cent less of these wines last year than in 2016.

They could well get their wish. Philippe Castéja, CEO of local négociant (merchant) and wine producer Borie-Manoux, thinks the 2023 wines are good quality but still believes prices could fall 15 per cent from last year. UK merchants Bordeaux Index expect at least double that drop, which might stimulate some demand, as occurred for the 2019 vintage released in the midst of the pandemic lockdown.

Even so, there’s plenty of older wines on sale on Liv-ex’s fine wine exchange. The value of offered wines among the Bordeaux 500 constituents exceeds bids by three to one. How wine critics rate the 2023 vintage can make a difference. But nothing can disguise the increasingly creaky structure of Bordeaux’s en primeur system.

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