Early this week on the Place de Bordeaux, the exchange where Bordeaux’s négociants buy and sell wines, Châteaus Palmer and Valandraud surprised many by getting an early start on the 2017 futures campaign. The two estates released their 2017 futures at $232 and $121 per bottle, ex-négociant, respectively. That’s about a 20 percent drop on their 2016 release prices.
American retailers who traveled to the region to taste barrel samples were happy. “Good trend here. We need to send the message of adaptability to the market in vintages like 2017," Chris Adams, CEO of Sherry-Lehmann in New York, told Wine Spectator.
But there was a catch. "There hasn’t been much interest for the vintage," admitted Adams.
Barbara Hermann, wine director for Binny's Beverage Depot in Illinois, agreed. “I think there will be zero interest in the 2017 vintage,” she said.
And the sentiment was echoed on the West Coast. "The public's buying interest in EP [en primeurs] 2017 is almost non-existent. The lowest in my 30 years of selling EP," said Ralph Sands, Bordeaux buyer and senior wine specialist at K&L Wine Merchants in California. “The [price] decreases make good common sense, but I don't feel that it will change any demand for the vintage pre-arrival.”
If Palmer and Valandraud are any indication, the 2017 pricing simply won't be low enough to entice consumers for a vintage that doesn’t match the quality of the previous two, when other vintages available on the market cost less. "Palmer came down in price, which is always a good thing, but Palmer would still be more than $300 on our shelf," said Hermann. "That is a lot of money!"
Especially when compared to other recent vintages. Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth gave Palmer’s 2017 barrel sample a preliminary score of 92 to 95 points. The 2015, which received 96 points, is on sale for an average retail price of $350 at leading retailers. Palmer 2014 received 94 points and currently sells for about $230 retail.
"I’m glad I was there to taste. The wines were easy to taste—elegant and stylish with good character," said Adams. "When the wines come in, they will be good to offer as something to enjoy [in the short term]—while waiting for 2015s or 2016s [to mature]."
Adams points out an added complication for the futures campaign: The U.S. dollar is weak compared to the euro, making the wines more expensive. And there is plenty of wine already in the pipeline. Some of the 2015s and most of the 2016s have not yet arrived in America, and retailers question why a consumer would buy the 2017 on pre-arrival when several good vintages are on the market.
Americans are continuing to look more to lower-priced Bordeaux, where they are increasingly seeing quality and value. Demand for Bordeaux under $50 retail is healthy and strong. "Our selections in the $15-to-$50 [range] are always moving and create a lot of action and sales," said Sands. “Over $50, different story.”
Adams reports that it’s not hard to sell Bordeaux in Manhattan if the wine is in the store. “For March, say, our cru classé business was up 10 percent from March 2017; our petit châteaus were up 10 percent and our white Bordeauxs were up 14 percent."
In the Midwest, Binny's reported the same trend. "Our normal off-the-shelf business is mainly for wines selling from $10 to $50, and that is very strong," said Hermann. "I spent close to half my time last week [during barrel tastings in Bordeaux] tasting stuff in the bottle from 2012, 2014 and 2015 and will be placing a lot of orders."
The Bordeaux futures campaign may be returning to its roots as a business-to-business transaction, with négociants left financing the stock until the wine is ready to drink.
"2017 will definitely have its day and time in the marketplace, as did 1997, which we bought and sold very well about 10 years later, and 2007, which we still continue to find today," said Sands. “Both of these small-off vintages have provided nice drinking wines for our customers—2017 is in the same vein. We did the work, we know the wines and we will be ready when they have their time in the marketplace."
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