Château Lafite Rothschild answered the call from négociants and retailers asking for an early and quick en primeur campaign this year, and now other top Bordeaux wineries are following its example. The Pauillac first-growth got things rolling when it released its 2011 at 350 euros ex-cellar April 16, the first major release of the 2011 futures season. The price is a 30 percent decrease from the 2010.
St.-Estèphe's Château Cos-d'Estournel and Pomerol's Château Gazin 2011 followed suit April 18, dropping prices from 2010 by 50 percent and 12 percent, respectively. It's now clear that prices will come down this year, but how much may vary greatly depending on the winery.
The opening price for Lafite's grand vin represents a marked decrease from the 2010. While some in the industry called it a welcome break from the highs of the previous two years, others, who had been hoping for a cut of 50 percent or more, said it was still too expensive.
"The wines were overpriced in '10, so a 30 percent drop in '11 doesn't do it for me," said Chris Adams, CEO of Sherry-Lehmann, a prominent New York retailer that specializes in Bordeaux. "Granted the '10 was a great wine, but '11 is just very good. So 30 percent down on something that was maybe 10 percent overpriced doesn't really translate well."
"A 30 percent drop for Lafite is one thing, because they still have a presence in the Asian market. But 30 percent for the other châteaus is not going to work. So right now, the situation is not crystal clear," Adams said.
Typically the region's producers wait for one of the first-growths to release their price, which then guides the market for the remaining châteaus. After the ex-cellar release, brokers usually take a single-digit percentage commission, followed by négociants, who are now listing the 2011 Lafite at 420 euros per bottle.
“It is a good price because by a long shot, it is the cheapest vintage you can find for Lafite right now,” said Mathieu Chadronnier, general director of Vins et Vignobles Dourthe, a major négociant house which also owns and operates over 1,500 acres of vineyards in Bordeaux. “The next closest price is 650 euros for the '06. The way to compare the price is not to the first tranche of last year, but to the average of the three tranches from last year, in which case the price is down almost 50 percent.”
Wine Spectator gave the Château Lafite Rothschild Pauillac 2011 a score of 93 to 96 points, making it potentially one of the top wines of the vintage. But with the 2011 vintage coming into the pipeline after two high-quality and highly priced vintages in 2009 and 2010, a fatigued market is hoping for drastic price cuts and a quick-paced en primeur campaign. The vintage features potentially outstanding quality but is inconsistent for the reds and nowhere near the qualitative level of 2009 and 2010 (however, dry whites and sweet wines of Barsac and Sauternes excelled in 2011).
Though the market had hoped for an early and quick campaign, Lafite's early release represents a curveball for some and may actually slow down the en primeur pace.
“It's not high for Lafite, because of the Asian market. They played a good game and left a lot of money on the table for distributors,” said one major négociant. “But the other first-growths can't come out at that price, because it's too high for them. They don't have the same market. So now it could be a game of wait and see.”
Choosing not to wait, Château Cos-d'Estournel released its 2011 price April 18; the wine was offered at 108 euros per bottle, ex-négoce, a nearly 50 percent drop from the 2010. St.-Estèphe was hit by hail just prior to the 2011 harvest, though director Jean-Guillaume Prats managed to make a successful wine (90-93 points). Nevertheless, it's not nearly up to the quality level of the 2009 and '10.
“I hope that the release of Lafite and Cos will speed up the campaign, which would be a pragmatic move from last year's long-lasting offering,” said Prats.
Pomerol's Château Gazin (89-92 points for the 2011) also released its price April 18, 42 euros, down a more modest 12 percent from 2010.
For more on 2011 Bordeaux, see Wine Spectator's comprehensive coverage.