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More Anger Management from Bordeaux

Posted: Jun 21, 2007 12:43pm ET

I went to an amazing dinner on Tuesday night at Château Latour. It will be one I remember for the rest of my life. I tasted three 100-point bottles of Latour – one 1929 and two 1959. Plus, there was a bottle of 1899 that was pretty close to 100 points as well!

I felt very lucky and full of emotion drinking those wonderful nectar-like bottles. They were served to a couple dozen wine merchants and collectors during a multi-course dinner at the chateau. I will go into later the details of the blind tasting dinner where these bottles surfaced ...

But I keep thinking, even deciphering, what Latour’s president Frederic Engerer said just before the red wines began to be served. And his words were thought provoking. Here is the most important part of his short discourse:

“In these days where the prices of our wines are moving to levels never seen before and where the economic dimension of our activity too often prevails upon the cultural and social dimension, we at Latour, remain strongly, if not only, driven by passion and pleasure. And I know that those of you who have followed the estate’s activity since Francois Pinault took over, understand very clearly what I mean.”

I keep scratching my head a little over this paragraph. In fact, I still am as I write this! Perhaps it would be a little clearer in French? But I think what he means is that we all have a tendency to focus too much on the outrageous prices of wines like Latour these days instead of the superb quality of the wines. They are great wines regardless of the price.

 Many people seem too pissed off that the prices for Latour and other great wines are now out of their reach. And I empathize with them. They certainly are expensive. It seems crazy to pay $3,000 a bottle of 1982 Latour, but people are doing on a daily basis. And they are popping the corks. And paying close to $1,000 a bottle for the 2005, even though it’s not even in bottle?

But there are lots of things that I would like to have, even consume, and I can’t afford them. That’s life. Everyone has the same problem.

I had a similar conversation at the dinner table with Corinne Mentzelopolous, the owner of Château Margaux, and wine writer Stephen Spurrier, who is old friend of mine. It was during an international press dinner at Mouton-Rothschild on last Monday that Stephen said, ‘Why are people so hostile about the prices for first growths these days? It’s the same with lots of products. I would love to own a Rolls Royce, but I can’t afford the price. But I am not hostile about it.”

I would love to have the financial means to buy a bottle of the 1929 or 1959 and drink it with my best friends – even a romantic dinner with my girlfriend or a meaningful lunch with my dad. But it’s not possible and never will be at the current prices for these wines and most other vintages of Latour. But it doesn’t make me angry, not even sad. There are so many other great bottles out there anyway. And we will find them together ...

And I am not sure that the 2006 futures or en primeur from Latour will be in my financial grasp, nor in the grasp of most other wine lovers.  But this doesn’t mean that Latour, Margaux, Le Pin, Lafleur, DRC, Comte Georges de Vogüé, Screaming Eagle, Harlan and all the other trophy wines of the world aren’t some of the best wines ever produced on the face of the earth. And we shouldn’t forget that, even when we are angry.

Jack Bulkin
June 21, 2007 2:24pm ET
James, I have posted several times on your recent blogs and have been recently accused by one of the co-guests at the Latour dinner with you last evening of being angry about Bordeaux pricing. I for one am not angry. I don't own a Rolls Royce, never have and never will. There are many things in life that I easily pass on because of exhorbitant prices. Until the last three years, great wine was not one of them. I don't come from landed aristocracy and don't fancy myself as a rich man. I did purchase great Bordeaux since 1982's vintage and have enjoyed every moment of my wine escapades through Southern France, Napa and Italy. I am one of the guys who has now been priced out by the new Bordeaux pricing model. Hey, they have the right to charge whatever the market bears. That is their right as businessmen. I am not angry that Cos is $130 a bottle or that Latour is now four figures, I am realistic to the market forces that have made me abandon my passion for these wines in the future. Luckily, I have a good cellar with many memories yet to enjoy. You and Mr. Parker also help us to find more reasonably priced bottles to enjoy instead of those to which we saddly had become accustumed. Angry at the prices, no.... saddened; you bet. Such is life. Thanks for your notes and help.
Guus Hateboer
Netherlands —  June 21, 2007 2:28pm ET
James, what nonsense. If the trophy wines would always score a perfect 100 points, I might agree. But they do not, Mouton 2005 scored a pathetic 92-94 points last year in your tastings. What great wine?? Nevertheless, Mouton 2005 still costs me 541 euro a bottle!!!! And it's not even in a bottle. That's like a Fiat Brava costing me 295,000 euro!! A Rolls? No way. What a joke.
William Delaney
Arlington VA —  June 21, 2007 3:24pm ET
James I agree with what you are saying, but I think you may be missing something that a lot of us Bordeaux lovers are saying in different ways here and amongst ourselves. The stratospheric First Growth prices are not only making them inaccessible to many of us (either by economic necessity or by choice) but they are having the secondary effect of driving up the prices of other Bordeaux wines as people displaced at the first growth level seek comparable drinking experiences. The super seconds are now nearly at what the first growths were a few years ago, and now we are seeing wines like Pontet Canet, Branaire, and Lynch Bages rocket upwards. I bet I am not alone in believing that about $50 should buy me an outstanding bottle of wine, and if I cannot find that among the Bordeaux that I love, I will drink wines from other countries or find new ones outside the classified growths.
David A Zajac
June 21, 2007 3:36pm ET
I guess when you put it that way, it really makes you think. I am not a big car enthusiast, I drive 40,000 miles per year and view my car as something that has to be nice, but ultimately get me from point A to point B. If I was a passionate car enthusiast, I suppose I might get a little more worked up over the price of collectible cars, but I worry much more about the cost of gasoline, especially since I drive so much. However, I am passionate about wine (as are all the other bloggers here, its why we spend time each day on the website checking out others thoughts!), and all I know is that a few years ago I could buy the wines, now I can't and, well, it pisses me off. I could never afford DRC-RC as it was always too expensive, so I could care less if the release price is $5,000/bottle, but I purchased Latour on futures in 2003 for $269/bottle.
Jason Fernandez
Boston, MA —  June 21, 2007 4:03pm ET
Guus: while I agree with you regarding price justification when the "great wines" under-perform, the opposite also creates some dilema... If 2005 Mouton should somehow come out at a 98 point wine, the cost may be justified. But if they set a low cost based on the product before it is complete and sell low, the secondary market will reap the benefits of the wine improving after release. So I tend to rather see more of my money go directly to the winery as opposed to a liquor store (in MA no less!). While I have also been priced out of the first growth market, it makes me appreciate the 2000 Lafite I was able to purchase that much more.
Glenn S Lucash
June 21, 2007 4:21pm ET
Jack...I agree with every word you wrote. No need to add any of my own thoughts.
Hoyt Hill Jr
Nashville, TN —  June 21, 2007 5:00pm ET
The obvious differece between Chateau Latour and a Rolls Royce is the fact that Rolls Royce does not produce 25,000 dozen automobiles in an average vintage.
David A Zajac
June 21, 2007 5:01pm ET
One other point, when I started my wine cellar, Cali Cabs were the vast majority of the wines that went into it, now I purchase none to speak of and the wines went from about half my cellar 15 years ago to about 10% of my cellar today, and its shrinking as I drink them up. They are no longer going in because I no longer believed quality kept up with price....ditto to Bordeaux. I can absolutely assure you my cellar is a full now as it ever will be with Bordeuax wines, and thats because of what I will call the California affect on pricing. Here I come Rhone, Italy & Spain!
Jim Nuffield
Toronto —  June 21, 2007 5:40pm ET
It's useless to be angry with the Bordelais. They have every right to charge whatever they want for whatever the market will bear. It's their wine! But let's not give them a free pass by suggesting that their passion for their wine is first and foremost and in the same breath acknowledge the reasonableness of jacking their prices so high. Let's just admit that they are business people first and foremost, that profit is king, and that they make great wine so they can profit all the more. Simple as that. Not bad, not evil, just business.
Bob Golbahar
Los Angeles —  June 21, 2007 8:23pm ET
James,What a great EVENT! How was the 1949? All the best,Bob
Peter Chang
Hong Kong —  June 21, 2007 8:29pm ET
I think Jim is absolutely right. If you had a quality product with a great brand name (please don't tell me that "92-95 pts" is not a quality product just because it's not a 100-pointer, but that's another debate), would any of you sell it for X when you knew people would pay 2X or 3X for it? I would think not. Similar analogy: if you were being paid $50,000 a year by your boss and you knew there were 5 other firms out there willing to double or triple your salary, would you stay in your old job because you had the passion for the work? =) So let's applaud the Bordelais for what they have done - produced great wines and achieved great recognition - and be happy that they can reap the fruits of their labor.
Brian Greenglass
Toronto, Canada —  June 21, 2007 8:58pm ET
James:I am a believer that if not for the "market", wines like 1982 or 2005 Latour would not exist - and because they do, there will be people who pay the price - whether $300 or $900 per bottle. When I open a Latour (which may be once or twice a year), I do so with the greatest respect for the people who made it and the product itself - it is one of man's great creations and deserves to be revered. If it were available at $50 per bottle, each bottle would have much less meaning - the fact that the wines are out of reach to most humans on the planet makes them that much more special when they are opened - on anniversaries, birthdays etc.... That's part of the deal - they are not ordinary and create an event out of an evening. I recently bought a 1996 Latour to open on my daughter's 20th birthday (she was born in 1996). I know that I will cherish the occasion - the Latour will certainly contribute to that celebration. That's my take on the whole first growth pricing issue.
Alejandro Duclaud
Mexico City —  June 21, 2007 9:07pm ET
The Bordeaux people, as bussiness men, should of course maximize profits, which make the incentive for producing even better wines. We do not want to be naive about this. However the sad part is that the bulk of the demand driving the prices up comes from neophite millionaires who generally do not appreciate the quality, but who are eager to show off. So prices stand were they are for the wrong reasons. Do you agree James?
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  June 21, 2007 9:09pm ET
I congratulate the French...on being so very American! Profit, profit, profit, talk, talk, talk... Perhaps Chateau Latour should buy Chrysler??
John L Deoskey
Graham —  June 21, 2007 9:51pm ET
James, your blog came at an interesting moment for me. I was just wondering why there seems to be more anger in the world today. Even in myself...I seem to have more anger, about everything, even though I am so blessed. Your blog made me reflect. Thank you for your excellent "human" writing. I look forward daily to your comments.
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  June 21, 2007 9:52pm ET
bye the way, i say the same than spurrier but no rolls for me, but a rolex..........ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh c est durrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!1
Tom Breneman
eau claire, WI —  June 21, 2007 11:20pm ET
Time and time again I find this so amusing... the beating of the chest and the complaining on pricing,,, It's like bad TV,, just turn Mr. Suckling and the rest off if you don't like what you're hearing.... better yet,,, turn on Wine Library TV and enjoy the hunt!!!
Ken Reif
Colorado —  June 22, 2007 1:48am ET
I think the biggest problem with the analogy between a Rolls Royce and Bordeaux wine is the difference in price inflation. A Rolls has almost always been out of the reach of most consumers, but that wasn't always the case with Bordeaux. James has written about drinking 1990 Latour from his cellar, but I doubt he'll be doing the same with the '05 Latour. The wine has always been quality, but at some point a lot more people could actually afford to buy great first or second growth wines. Now the wines have become luxury items, and quantities are only available to those with very deep pockets or without other expenses. I think this contributes to frustration among consumers. Other great wines are out there, but a lot of people who have experienced how great these wines are can no longer buy them. That's different than never having been able to afford them at all. However, as the old saying goes, 'tis better to have loved and lost...
David A Zajac
June 22, 2007 6:27am ET
I think too many people are missing the fact that these prices are simply no good for the industry in general. Capitalism is great, sure, everybody deserves to get the most they can, no problem TODAY, but what about the wines that aren't first or second growths once the perception of Bordeaux is that their wines are overpriced? When everybody stops buying them, when people ignore all of their wines because of the perception caused by a few. I honestly believe this will have substantial repurcussions way beyond the top 10 wines of Bordeaux, when younger wine drinkers who will be taking our place in 10 or 20 years ignore their product because its too expensive, will there still be a market left for them? Not just the first growths, but all of Bordeaux? Haven't we all read about the financial problems many lesser chateau's are already having, how much longer until that starts going a little further up the chain - and remember, Bordeaux is not Burgundy, where the average producer makes a few hundred cases of a particular wine, were talking thousands of cases.
Peter Van Diepen
Vancouver, Canada —  June 22, 2007 10:15am ET
Let's stop pretending: the reason for escalating wine (and other luxury goods) pricing is the multitude of barbarians at the gates. First Growths are being quaffed by drunken Russians and mixed with Coke by the Chinese. The largest collection of Bordeaux I have ever seen was in Duty Free at HK airport. Rolls Royce was ALWAYS beyond our reach, but Mouton was within it only ten years ago. Then those two markets opened.
Jack Bulkin
June 22, 2007 1:21pm ET
Here's the perfect slogan for the Baroness Philippine de Rothschild at the next 2009 Vinexpo. "To drink Mouton Rothschild and First growth Bordeaux is a Privilege not a Right". Maybe one future day the First and many Second Growth Bordelais Chateaux will discover that their pricing model strategy that specifically encompasses continuing loyalty from the Far East and Russia and ever increasing Worldwide monetary liquidity inflation was a failure and a terrible mistake. Then, former Bordeaux buyers like many of those who have commented in these threads can entertain the privilege of a fire sale.
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  June 22, 2007 4:19pm ET
Dear Pieter, china and russia is today what were the US 50 years ago. Give them a chance and dont treat them as "drunken russian" and "coke and wine mixer". I found those comments arrogant and disrespectful.I don't know in witch market you are onto but what happens with wine happens for everything. So being a russian didn't allow you to enjoy a Mouton, and being chinese to enjoy a DRC? i believe that the people who organize tastings in HK , you know the ones were James Suckling goes, dont know S..t about wine and they blend it with dr pepper with James Suckling, coke would be an offense of course with such an ambassador.Again , putting the fault on somebody back its easy. Regards from a french arrogant (everybody know that!)who has found his master with you. Barbarian at the gates....... brillant!
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  June 22, 2007 9:49pm ET
Seriously, customer loyalty is something that you earn, not something you can demand when you need it or want it. That said the market will correct itself, if needed, when we the consumer start spending our money on other luxury goods and less money on bottled trophy juice.
Niall Cosgrove
Ireland —  June 26, 2007 5:10pm ET
I bought a case of 2004 Latour for around ¿1300, It will probably have the same rating as the 2006, BUT I bet the 2006 will be close to twice the price of the 2004, will everyone still buy it anyway ??

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