Updated May 24
Bordeaux’s en primeur campaign is officially under way. Now that the wines have been presented to the trade and media, Bordeaux's château owners are starting to formally release the prices for their still-in-barrel 2016 wines.
There is sure to be interest this year. My report on the vintage, based on blind tastings of over 300 samples, shows 2016 to be a potentially classic vintage, marked by tannic, yet racy, fresh and defined reds.
As for market factors, it depends on which market. American consumers are lucky—the dollar is strong versus the euro, making the wines cheaper in the U.S. Brexit is proving to be a headwind for the English market, weakening the pound. Chinese consumers, after betting big on futures a few years ago, have moved away from buying en primeur, favoring finished, ready-to-ship wines.
And there’s a wild-card factor—the recent frost that heavily damaged the 2017 crop. It remains to be seen how that looming shortfall will influence how château owners price their 2016s.
The early releases that trickled out show only a slight increase in price over the 2015s. The 2016s are generally better in quality, particularly on the Left Bank. But the crop is also the largest since 2006, so there will be plenty of wine to go around, meaning consumers can pick and choose as they wish.
It all adds up to a scenario where the American market could be a major player, with the quality helping to drive significant interest. On the flipside, the Bordelais can’t raise prices indiscriminately. They need to work on rekindling their relationships with American buyers after leaving the market cold during the 2009 and 2010 campaigns by blowing the lid off prices. Who blinks first?
Below you’ll find regular updates and analysis on the campaign, with prices given both ex-négoce, which means before importers and retailers add markup, and average retail price, which is compiled from Wine Spectator’s tracking of leading U.S. retailers. It’s what you can expect to pay.
A flurry of 2016 Bordeaux futures hit the marketplace over the past three days as France prepares for a holiday weekend. Angélus and Pavie, the two estates elevated to Cru Classé A status in St.-Emilion in 2012, released May 23. Both of these upwardly mobile châteaus got aggressive with their 2016 pricing, releasing at 294 euros ex-négoce, 17 percent more than their 2015s. That equates to around $380 per bottle retail in the U.S., or $4,560 per case, a 12 percent increase over the current retail price for the 2015. Pavie earned a preliminary 97 to 100 points for its 2016 barrel sample, even higher than its score for the 2015, so there’s reason to buy if you’re a fan of this estate.
Also of note was Château Lynch Bages, a perennial favorite with Americans. At 96 euros ex-négoce, it's being offered for around $126 per bottle retail, or $1,515 per case, 9 percent more than the 2015. It received a preliminary score of 96 to 99 points. The 2016 vintage is in a different league than 2015 when it comes to the upper Médoc, so serious Bordeaux fans likely shouldn’t balk here. It should be noted that Lynch Bages, much like Lafite Rothschild, offered a somewhat small first tranche, so expect the price to creep up quickly when the rest of the wine is released.
As expected, first-growth Lafite released its second tranche of wine, allowing négociants to finally start selling. The wine ticked up to an average of $606 per bottle, or $7,272 per case, at U.S. retail, 7 percent more than the 2015.
Other releases this week included Pomerol wineries Gazin and Petit-Village, as well as Quintus, the property in St.-Emilion owned by Château Haut-Brion.
So far the trade seems pleased with the 2016 prices, which in general have seen only modest increases on the 2015s. Factoring in the currency shift since the release of the 2015s and many 2016s are hitting U.S. retail at nearly the same price. "A pretty good vibe in general, and especially on Lynch Bages," said one major négociant.
As expected, Château Lafite Rothschild followed up last week's release of its second wine Carruades with the first tranche of their grand vin today. The futures were priced at 455 euros ex-négoce, a bump of just 8 percent over the 2015. Thanks to the strong U.S. dollar, that works out to around $585 per bottle at leading U.S. retailers, or $7,020 a case, just 4 percent more than the 2015s. (The château did not offer the wine for a blind tasting, so it is not yet rated.)
It looks like a smart price, and the market is likely to react accordingly. But only about half the crop was released in the first tranche. A second tranche with a price increase seems inevitable. That forces négociants to wait until the following tranche comes out as they will have to reset their pricing—a move that can cause headaches down the line. So don't expect to see too many Lafite offerings from retailers just yet.
Meanwhile, you can jump all over Château Beycheville. The St.-Julien fourth-growth produced one of its best wines ever in 2016, earning a potential score of 93 to 96 points, thanks to not only the vintage but also the completion of their spanking new cellar. At 56.40 euros ex-négoce, it's a 14 percent bump over 2015. Leading retailers are offering it for about $74, or $888 per case, just 3 percent over the current 2015 retail price. I'll keep saying it: St.-Julien is ground zero for top quality 2016 red Bordeaux. This is a green-light special for blue-chip, ageworthy Bordeaux. The wine is selling well, according to négociants. "We never have enough of that one," one told Wine Spectator.
Other châteaus releasing so far today include Langoa Barton at $48 at retail and Sociando Mallet at $36 at retail. This is shaping up to be a busy week for Bordeaux lovers.
Big names have started to hit the marketplace this week, with Château Palmer releasing its futures and Château Lafite Rothschild releasing its second wine.
The Carruades de Lafite 2016 futures have been released at 135 euros per bottle ex-négociant, a 12.5 percent increase on the 2015 release price. With the strong dollar, it is currently selling for about $180 a bottle, or $2,160 a case, at leading U.S. retailers, a 2 percent increase on 2015. Lafite's grand vin will vie for wine of the vintage. Consequently, its second wine merits consideration for serious Bordeaux buyers. The price increase might herald a more significant bump for the grand vin itself, which the Château typically releases shortly after the Carruades.
Château Palmer also made an aggressive move, releasing their 2016 at 240 euros ex-négoce, a noticeable 14 percent bump over the 2015. Top U.S. retailers are offering it at $305 per bottle, or $3,660 per case, a 7 percent increase on 2015. As I noted on Pape Clément, I'm hesitant about Pessac-Léognan and Margaux wines that increased prices this year, because the 2015 wines were generally superior to the 2016s in these two appellations. But the Palmer grand vin 2016 is a blaze of purity, long and refined, and while it stands in stark stylistic contrast to it's rich and more powerful 2015, it's one of the few 2016s from Margaux of equal quality as its 2015.
Montrose released its first 2016 futures at 102 euros, ex-négoce, resulting in an initial retail offering in the U.S. of around $138 a bottle, or $1,656 a case. Montrose excelled in 2016, easily besting their 2015 (a weaker vintage in the upper Médoc.) Thanks to the strong dollar, the 2016 is actually slightly cheaper than the 2015 was on release, making this a green light special. While the price is right, some négociants were scratching their head at the small amount of wine released in the initial tranche. "Great price, selling fast, but very little wine. It doesn't make sense," said one. Is Montrose playing the waiting game for a potential hike on the second tranche? Or is it betting that prices will appreciate significantly by the time it sells the bottled wine?
Other 2016 releases of note today include Château Potensac, retailing at an attractive $25, du Tertre at $40 and Talbot at $55. The latter is especially intriguing as St.-Julien has the early lead on “appellation of the vintage" in 2016 and savvy buyers should be hitting a full range of châteaus here in 2016. The Talbot price is nearly identical to its 2015.
Additional updates and analysis after the chart.
These estates represent a selection of leading wineries. Our ratings are potential scores based on barrel samples. Retail prices are an average of trusted retailers we follow. To provide a comparison, we're showing prices for 2015 futures and current prices for the 2010 vintage, a classic year that is currently available.
Data compiled by Cassia Schifter.
|Château||2016 Score||2016 initial futures offering at U.S. retail||2015 initial futures offering at U.S. retail||2015-2016 retail change||Current 2010 price at U.S. retail|
|La Mission Haut-Brion||NYR||$NA||$402||-||$967|
|Léoville Las Cases||97-100||$NA||$189||-||$320|
|Vieux Château Certan||NYR||$NA||$238||-||$450|
NYR means a wine has not been submitted for review yet. NA means a wine has not been released or is not sold in sufficient quantities by U.S. retailers yet to determine an average price.
Pape Clément released its first tranche of futures at 66 euros ex-négoce, an increase of 12.2 percent on the 2015 futures. Leading retailers are offering it for about $89 per bottle or $1,068 per case, a 6 percent increase on 2015. Pro: The wine here is among the best Pessac-Léognan reds in 2016, and keeps with owner Bernard Magrez’s typical style of lavish toast, though the amount of new oak has been reduced a bit here in recent years. Cons: The 2015 vintage is absolutely breathtaking in the Pessac and Margaux appellations and the 2016s don't match that level in these areas. So, any 2016 price increases over 2015 might give some folks pause.
Cos-d'Estournel opened up the campaign with an offering at 120 euros per bottle, ex-négoce, the same price as their 2015. With the strong dollar, that means an approximate retail offering of $156, a 5 percent drop from the 2015. The upper Médoc excelled in 2016, with many of the top wines rivaling years such as 2005, 2009 and 2010 (though in a different style.) The 2016 Cos is one of the standouts, rippling with plum sauce and currant reduction notes, backed by a lilting whiff of anise and carried by a remarkably polished structure despite its obvious tannic drive. This is a no-brainer buy for serious collectors.