They say it ain’t over until the fat lady sings. Well, when it comes to Bordeaux 2011, I think the fat lady sang last week. Or rather, an ex-lawyer from Baltimore sang. And although it didn’t exactly bring the house down, it certainly brought the tragic opera of Bordeaux 2011 to a close…..before the campaign ever really began.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that 2011 is not a great vintage. Nevertheless, I think many thought that of 2008, and then Parker came out with some very positive scores, with 167 wines out of 416 wines rated (40.1%) achieving a score range starting at 90 points. And there were some high scoring wines; Lafite, Petrus, Ausone and Trotanoy all had scores indicating a potential 100 points.
Those that released early got burnt; prices rose, and the châteaux missed out on potential profit. They saw the vintage differently to Parker, and they paid the price. In a time where en primeur prices are being pushed upwards to keep the profit with the châteaux and not the traders and speculators, that really hurt.
Back on March 30th, when all the talk was of an early and quick campaign, I tweeted: “RP has made positive comments. They [the Bordelais] will wait for his scores. Remember ’08?“. To me it seemed inevitable that would be the case; although Parker had made some very negative comments about 2011 before tasting, on his return he backtracked, commenting on his site that the vintage was “better than expected“. There was hope for the Bordelais after all. A few came out early of course; Lafite, despite being extraordinarily expensive, judged the market right (all they had to do was make it the cheapest Lafite on the market for the speculators to bite, of course). Others failed. Cos d’Estournel was too expensive, even with a large percentage reduction. But most waited. After all, once Parker published his scores, the market would rally – just as it did in 2008, right?
Parker’s scores were pretty dismal. OK, so he opened his report with a conciliatory comment on the vintage, that it “could turn out to be close in overall quality to years such as the underrated 2001 and 2008“, but the scores were way down. In 2011, of 365 wines rated, 115 were given 90+ point ranges (31.5%). That’s only three-quarters of the 90+ scores dished out for 2008, not really comparable (unless that is an admission the 2008 vintage was initially over-rated, of course). Ausone received a surprise nod with 96-100, but otherwise few scores touched a potential 95 or 96. And there are more scores in the mid-80s than I have seen for a long time. Lafite was a surprise low, at 90-93 (is there another story hidden in this score?). You can spin it whatever way you want (and the merchants have – remarkable how positive the emails dropping into my in-box are!) but Parker has destroyed any hope of selling this vintage the Bordelais might have had.
Looking back to another of my pre-campaign tweets, on March 29th I wrote “There is a potential for a massive stall if the prices are too high“. In the face of such low scores this seems inevitable. So, with Parker’s scores in their mitts, what will the Bordelais do now? We are due a rush of releases today (Wednesday May 2nd), after two days of holiday in France (a Tuesday public holiday, and what the French call a pont, a bridge, where everybody takes Monday off as well).
It seems to me there are two options:
(a) release now at a reduced price. I think it would be applauded by potential buyers, and it might generate some interest, but from the Bordelais point of view, how will your neighbours view it? Does this admit ‘defeat’ in some way? What effect will it have on the prices of other vintages? How will it look when the fabulous 2012s (you never know…) are released at an increased price again? And, with low levels of enthusiasm and low Parker scores, will the wines sell at any price?
(b) release now at a comparable or even increased price. We can call this hubris (“my wine is superb every year“) but maybe it makes commercial sense for the Bordelais. Write the vintage off. Buyers will look at the comparable prices of 2009 and 2010 and back-fill with the better vintages for the same money. When the superb 2012s (see above….) are released, the comparable price for the better vintage will seem generous (amazing how short our memories can be). And in time, as the prices continue to rise, the 2011s will eventually look good value. There’s a lot to be gained. Why hurt long-term growth, and the brand image, with a price reduction just to sell a few bottles now?
I know which I think is more likely. Stand ready for some releases, at comparable prices or – at best – some token price reductions. What do you think? If you were one of the Bordelais, what would you do?
Postscript, Wednesday afternoon: I just got off the phone with a UK merchant who confirmed that he is seeing increased sales of Bordeaux 2010 during the 2011 campaign. The Bordelais can take that as a positive effect of the campaign, and fits with plan (b) above.