Yesterday brought the news that Robert Parker will be stepping down from reviewing Bordeaux altogether, focusing his efforts on California and passing his full duties in the Gironde on to Neal Martin.
With this, Liv-ex looks back at just five times – of very many – that the critic moved the Bordeaux market.
1. Haut Bailly 2009
Parker first published his 100-point review of Haut Bailly 2009 in the Hedonist’s Gazette (Nov 2014) following a private dinner at the Chateau. The market responded rapidly: three days after the score was announced, its trade price had increased from £775 per 12×75 to £1,125 – a 45.2% gain.
Six months later, the wine saw a further uptick after the review was officially added to the Wine Advocate archives. It last traded for £1,582.
2. Bordeaux 2005
Parker’s influence on Bordeaux 2005 began months before his ten-year respective review of the vintage was even due to be published (June 2015).
In the six months leading up to the report’s publication, Liv-ex observed a period of increased trading activity for the vintage – and rising prices. Upgrades for several 2005s in late 2014 and early 2015 led to speculation that further upgrades would follow, resulting in a “ripple effect” of price gains across the vintage.
When the report was eventually released, it emerged that several wines tipped for an upgrade didn’t achieve three digits. Mouton Rothschild 2005, for example, received 97 and saw its price drift over the months that followed.
3. Mission Haut Brion 2005
Mission Haut Brion 2005 was a beneficiary of Parker’s recent 2005 report. It was upgraded from 98+ to 100 points. “Pure perfection” and a “modern-day legend”, Parker comments: “This is a fabulous wine and a great effort from this hallowed terroir”.
Parker had hinted at an upgrade back in August 2012 (“If everything comes together in 10-15 years, this brilliant 2005 should merit a triple digit score”). With buyers anticipating a bigger score, its price began to creep up at the beginning of 2015. Between January and June 2015, when the score was revealed, its trade price moved from £3,200 to £4,506 – a staggering 47.7% increase.
4. Montrose 2010
The upgrade for Montrose 2010 came at the end of a period of declining prices for the wine: between March 2013 and May 2014 its trade price dropped 32.3% from £1,600 to £1,100 per 12×75.
Parker increased its score by just one point – from 99 to 100 – in August 2014, calling it “among the greatest vintages ever made in Montrose”. What the wine lost in over a year, it regained in a single day following Parker’s announcement: on the day of the upgrade, it traded at £1,650.
Still, in spite of this, the vintage continues to trade at a 14% discount to the Chateau’s fellow 100-point 2009.
5. Haut Brion 1989
Parker has been effusive in his praise of Haut Brion 1989, publishing 100 point scores for the wine on six separate occasions – as well as 98-100 in barrel. He calls it “one of the immortal wines and one of the greatest young Bordeaux wines of the last half-century … a seamless, majestic classic”.
As the chart below shows, this Parker favourite commands a significant premium on other Haut Brion vintages: its market price is 139% above the 2005, the next highest of the last 20 vintages.
Parker concludes: “Life is too short not to drink this wine as many times as possible!”
The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 has maintained its upward momentum this week, reaching 284.05 on Thursday. This is its highest level since late March 2014. Trade by value and volume on the Exchange was also higher. There has been keen interest in Bordeaux 2013 now the vintage has started to become physically available.
It was a good week for Bordeaux with the region achieving 82.2% of total trade by value, up from 72.4% last week. This is above the March share of 78.1%. The First Growths were well represented with 40.9% of total trade by value. Haut Brion was the top performing amongst the classification. It represented 31% of First Growth market share.
Champagne saw good trade this week with 5.2% market share by value, up from 1.6% last week. The region was boosted by Cristal 2007. This was the third highest wine traded by value and the highest wine traded by volume. The ‘Others’ saw a sharp fall this week with only 2.4% market share compared to 8.7% last week.
Lafite Rothschild 2013 (WA 87-89) was the top wine traded by value this week. It was the third highest wine traded by volume. Highly scored, Haut Brion 2005 (WA 100) was the second highest wine traded by value and has performed well on the Exchange since it received an upgrade by Robert Parker from 98 points in June last year.
Overall, the 2013s have performed well this week and have appealed to buyers seeking value amongst the strong Bordeaux brands, regardless of quality. Four of of the top ten wines traded by volume this week were from the Bordeaux 2013 vintage. These consisted of Lafite Rothschild 2013, Armailhac 2013 (WA 85-87), Calon Segur 2013 (WA 92-94) and Lynch Bages 2013 (WA 86-88). Calon Segur 2013 was described by Robert Parker as, “unquestionably one of the stars of the vintage.”
According to Robert Parker, there are three recent Haut Brion vintages worthy of a ‘perfect’ 100-point score: the “exquisite” 2005, the “extraordinarily complex” 2009 and the “ethereal” 2010.
Both the 2009 and 2010 were awarded 100 points in Parker’s first in-bottle reviews, while 2005 was initially scored 98 points in bottle before receiving an upgrade in June last year.
As the chart below shows, Haut Brion 2005 made gains following its upgrade to 100 points: its market price moved up 13.9% in the month after Parker’s review was released. Since then, despite some fluctuations, it has broadly run flat.
As a result of these gains, it is no longer the cheapest ‘perfect’ Haut Brion: the 2009, which has been drifting, is available at a £300 discount to the 2005. This does not make it ‘cheap’: it still costs 82% more than the 2008, which is the next most expensive of the last ten releases.
Still, for buyers looking to add 100-point wines to their cellar, the 2009 might be next in line.
The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 index has been on an upward trend for four consecutive months. This is the first time the index has seen a sustained rise since late 2012 and early 2013. In both instances, the index was boosted by Sterling weakness against the Euro.
The recent uptrend has followed a period when the index ran largely flat. This broke the downward cycle of previous years. It has also led to speculation that the First Growth market is now seeing a more genuine recovery.
In 2012-2013, the rise of the Fine Wine 50 index only served as momentary respite to the five-year correction that followed the 2011 market peak. This rally soon tapered off as the Euro drifted – suggesting that the First Growths were still perceived to be over-priced. The decline of the index then continued until it bottomed out in August 2014.
Current Sterling weakness has largely been driven by political uncertainty surrounding “Brexit” ahead of the UK June 23rd referendum. Year-to-date, First Growth market share on Liv-ex stands at 32%, compared to 30% for the same period last year, and 29% overall in 2015. The Liv-ex bid:offer ratio also currently stands at 131% compared to 54% this time last year. It first climbed above 100% in January. This was the first time the ratio had risen above this level since July 2010.
It remains to be seen, however, whether this momentum will be sustained over the longer-term beyond the current bout of Sterling weakness.
Interest in En Primeur has been low in recent years. As the chart above shows, share of En Primeur trade on Liv-ex reached 15% for the 2009 vintage, dipped to 10.9% for the 2010s and then plummeted to 2.6% for the 2011s. Other than a slight uptick for the more accessibly priced 2012 vintage, the news has not been positive since.
Views on the quality of 2015 have been mixed: James Suckling has called it “extremely exciting” and awarded a string of perfect 100-point scores, while others have been less effusive, expressing concerns about the vintage’s consistency. Many scores and opinions are yet to be published.
Today, the first handful of wines were released. Among these was La Couspaude (St. Emilion) at €34 per bottle ex-negociant. This is a 13.3% increase on last year’s release price of €30. However, with a weakened Sterling, the price increase for collectors in the UK is 25%. For US buyers it represents an 18% rise.
The UK has historically been the largest single market for Bordeaux En Primeur. It remains to be seen whether, if other Chateaux follow La Couspaude’s lead, the market can absorb such rises.
The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 has continued to push higher this week, reaching 282.41 on Thursday – its highest level since mid-April 2014. However, trade by value and volume on the Exchange was lower with most of the trade at Bordeaux for the UGC En Primeur tastings.
It was a good week for Burgundy with the region achieving 9.6% of total trade by value, up from 6.4% last week. This was boosted by DRC, Assortment 2011. Likewise, Italy saw its trade increase this week to 7.2% from 3.3% last week.
It was another good week for the ‘Others’ at 8.7% – with the USA representing 7.5% of market share by value. Screaming Eagle 2013 (WA 97+) and Screaming Eagle 2005 (WA 98) were in the top ten wines traded by value this week. Bordeaux’s share of trade edged lower with the region taking 72.4% of market share.
The First Growths saw good activity with Mouton Rothschild taking 29% of the First Growth share. Mouton Rothschild 2000 (WA 96+) was the second highest wine traded by value across the Exchange. Lafite Rothschild 2008 (WA 98) was also in the top five wines traded by value.
Bordeaux was well-represented in volume by Cos d’Estournel 2010 (WA 97+), Cheval Blanc 2007 (WA 91) and Rauzan Gassies 2013 (WA 81-83).
*DRC Assortment 2011 included Romanée-Conti x1, La Tâche x2, Montrachet x1, Grands Echézeaux x2, Richbourg x2, Echézeaux x2, Romanée St Vivant x2.
The Cellar Watch April Market Report has been released. Containing all the latest Liv-ex research and analysis, the full issue includes:
First Growth risers
Bordeaux vintages: avg. price vs score
Suckling and Molesworth on Bordeaux 2015
Final thought: Bordeaux 2015 – Truffle hunting
To access the full report, please log in or subscribe to Cellar Watch.
You can download page one – with charts and data – here, or read the text below:
March proved to be a very positive month for the market. All of the major indices made gains, while trade on the Exchange was the most active since October 2015. By the end of the month, the bid:offer ratio had risen to 1.2. Whether this is all related to the collapsing Sterling—or has been spurred on by excitement surrounding the approaching En Primeur campaign remains to be seen.
Bordeaux’s trade share remained shy of 80%, with the region accounting for 78.1% of activity in March. Burgundy and Italy saw little fluctuation on the previous months: 6.4% and 5.9% respectively, while both Champagne (2.3%) and the Rhone (1.6%) dipped. The share for the “others” category (5.7%) was boosted by USA activity, with Opus One, Screaming Eagle and Scarecrow finding the bid.
First Growth action
The top five wines traded by value on the Exchange in March were the five Bordeaux First Growths, with Lafite Rothschild (10% ) once again taking the top spot. Outside of the First Growths, Cheval Blanc and Pontet Canet saw the most activity. 2009 took 15.9% of Bordeaux trade by value, while 2008 (9.5%) also proved popular.
Onward and upward
Almost all of the indices climbed in March. The benchmark Liv-ex 100 Index gained 2.7%, its largest month-on-month rise since February 2013, when it rose 3.1%. The Bordeaux 500 Index gained 2.4%, its biggest rise since February 2011. Within this index, the Bordeaux First Growths and their second wines showed the strongest performance. Only the Champagne 50 failed to rally.
James Molesworth is a Senior Editor at Wine Spectator with a tasting beat spanning Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, the Rhône Valley and South Africa. Before he headed to Bordeaux to taste the 2015s, Liv-ex caught up with him to find out about his approach to tasting, thoughts on the Bordeaux market and his personal experience of working in the wine industry.
Wine Spectator has a strict tasting policy that involves all wines being tasted blind. How important are blind tastings?
I truly believe single blind tasting is the only credible way for independent journalists to review wines. It’s critical to remove any possibility of label bias from the equation. Our readers seem to agree too: a recent web poll we conducted resulted in nearly 80 percent of respondents saying they felt reviews based on a blind tasting were the only way to guarantee fairness. There’s a lot more to the process than just sitting in an isolated room and tasting wines blind – the context that comes from visiting with producers in their vineyards and cellars is a crucial part of knowing and understanding the wines. But when it comes to the review, you have to remove as much subjectivity as possible from the process.
How should readers understand your scores for wines tasted from barrel?
Barrel reviews are just that – a snapshot of the unfinished wine, and that’s why we rate them with a score range. Generally, I think it’s pretty unusual for the vigneron to screw it up from that point, and I would generally expect the wine to perform as well, if not better, after the élevage. Consequently my score ranges on barrel tastings tend to be conservative.
At what point, and how, do you give definitive scores?
Definitive scores are always based on a blind tasting of the wine from bottle. For Bordeaux, the majority of the wines are tasted October through December following the summer they are bottled. This gives them time to recuperate from the mis – though I should emphasize wines are always rated based on ultimate potential when the wine reaches its peak, not on how the wine is showing just at that moment.
Is it harder for you to score impartially as you get to know the growers more?
Not at all – because I taste blind. I never know the producer or price when reviewing the wines from bottle. It’s true there are producers I respect and like quite a bit – and sometimes the hardest part of the job is when I take the bag off a blind sample and find I wasn’t as enthused about a wine as I thought I would be, based on the producer. On the flip side, there are producers whom I may not know as well, but I still need to respect and appreciate the wine they produce, if they’re good quality. This is how and why blind tasting protects the fairness of the process and promises as much objectivity as possible for the consumer.
In July last year, Suzanne Mustacich wrote in Wine Spectator that retailers reported “little interest” in Bordeaux futures, leading many to abandon the futures market altogether. Do you feel that US interest in En Primeur has been fading?
On the consumer level, it’s absolutely fading. En Primeur is becoming more and more trade oriented – for the negociants of course, and also the bigger retailers, both chain and individual to take positions on the vintage. I don’t think nearly as many end consumers in the U.S. buy En Primeur as there were during the hey day of say 2000.
Does 2015 have the potential to reignite interest in Bordeaux in the US?
Absolutely, But the re-ignition relies on more than just the quality of the vintage. To reignite interest in the U.S., the vintage would have to be superb, but also, and equally important, prices would have to be below perceived value.
Around what levels do you believe that the 2015 vintage should be priced?
I’m pro-consumer, not pro-trade. Prices should be as low as possible to move as much inventory as possible into consumer’s cellars as quickly as possible. Comparisons to previous vintage’s quality aren’t fair. Currency exchange rates, adjustments for inflation, other economic factors – all make straight up comparisons from vintage to vintage silly. There’s also a ton of great wine out there – not just Bordeaux.
Latour have already left the EP system and Mouton recently announced that it would be releasing fewer bottles EP. How do you see the future of the system?
Little will change. Only a few elite chateaus can afford to hold back greater portions of their inventory, or leave the En Primeur market altogether, as with Latour. But most other chateaus need to power of the place de Bordeaux to pay them for their crop before the wine is bottled. It’s still a fairly efficient market, and the negociants that are well capitalized and smartly run are a critical cog in the machine. If there were to be any significant change, I might see some non-Bordeaux proliferating on the place. There’s already a few super Tuscans, Homage a Jacques Perrin from Beaucastel etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if elite Burgundy producers and a few others decided to go that way, and circumvent the margins that are enjoyed by the secondary and grey markets on their wines.
Within Bordeaux, which chateaux are you most excited about?
It’s not my job to force my personal favorites on folks. Instead, I look at the big picture for my readers. It’s fun to compare the first growths each year. To watch the cluster of elite Pomerols push each other. To see how the different areas of St.-Emilion perform each year. And it’s also just as fun to turn folks on to the dry whites, or a great value from Castillon, or remind them of the pleasures of Sauternes and Barsac. It goes back to the rubric of blind tasting, and rewarding consistent quality. Telling that story to my readers is more interesting to me. I want them to make an informed decision about all the wines out there, and then they can home in on their favorites.
Which if any of the recent “great” Bordeaux vintages – 2005, 2009, 2010 – has been your favorite and why?
There’s 2010 and then there’s everything else. Fruit and structure for days. Terrific spine, definition, precision. It’s all there. I’d be ecstatic if I got to review another vintage as good as 2010 before I retire.
Do you feel that any recent Bordeaux vintages have been underrated?
Right now both 2001 and 2004 are delights to drink, with no rush either. 2011 will win fans down the road too. On the flip side, there are overrated vintages. 2008 is a prime example. And 2003 is showing some really weird tendencies too.
There has been discussion about the appeal of Bordeaux wine to millennials. How do you think it competes with the new world/other regions?
Young people don’t have the discretionary income to spend on elite Bordeaux, don’t cellar wine long term (which Bordeaux requires), and are more interested in far flung regions and what’s ‘new’ rather than established benchmarks. Added up, these factors become quite the Gordian knot for Bordeaux to untangle. But any tasting I’m at, if there’s an older bottle of elite Bordeaux being opened, that bottle draws a crowd, millennials included. I think the pendulum will swing back and the millennial generation will eventually investigate Bordeaux, if it hasn’t started to already. Nonetheless, Bordeaux can’t just sit around and wait for that to happen by itself – Bordeaux needs to engage with these consumers on a personal level.
You say that the Rhone is your favourite region. Why is this? Which Rhone producers or appellations are exciting you the most?
The Rhone is where my heart is. I grew up with it. My first visit as a young boy to France was capped with a stay in Provence. My first job in the wine business was with a retailer who specialized in Burgundy and the Rhone. I love the terrain, I love the light, I love the feel of the place. I enjoy the people. I enjoy the shift from Lyonnais cooking to Provencal cooking as you move south. There isn’t a corner of the region I don’t dig. As much as I respect Bordeaux, I do love the Rhone, and it makes up more than half my cellar. But I still need to be objective when I review the wines from all my tasting beats.
Are there any regions in the New World that are exciting you at the moment?
I cover South Africa as well, and I do think the Cape is teeming with new, interesting stuff. I wish I got to taste California a little bit more than I do, but I dig the exploration into more coastal and mountainous areas that’s going on, when it’s driven by terroir and not because of a pre-ordained style. New York’s Finger Lakes has some growing charm and interest. But to be honest, the vast majority of what I taste and work on is French, and primarily Bordeaux and Rhone. So I’m not ultimately qualified to comment on much else.
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
Hmmm, well, I’ll put it this way. I’m not interested in being first to make a grand pronouncement on a vintage or claim to discover a producer or hang my hat on some catchy phrase. Winemaking isn’t a race, so covering it shouldn’t be either. I prefer to put my head down and do the work, and take a long term view. I want to focus on quality first, style second. I think it’s important to describe things to the consumer and educate them, and then let them decide. I’m here to be a conduit of objective information from the field to the consumer. And so when I retire, we’ll let the consumer answer this question.
Before joining Wine Spectator, you worked as a Sommelier. Has this experience informed the way that you communicate about wine in your writing? What information about wine is most compelling to consumers?
My somm stint was brief – just a year, and it was a long time ago. I’ve been at Wine Spectator 19 years now. I worked at a rather old school restaurant with a type of clientele that pretty much knew what they wanted – I wasn’t doing a lot of educating there and the clientele wasn’t too interested in branching out. I think I learned how to describe wines in a way that would turn people on to them, or to differentiate between wines in a way that would help the diner have fun with their decision. Pulling non-wine jargon into the wine lexicon is important for getting people turned onto wine. If anything, my brief sommelier stint gave me an opportunity to do that.
In your Twitter bio you state: “I work hard, I play hard. Tag along if you think you can keep up”. What does playtime look like for you?
Outside of the office I tend to dive into music – I’m a vinyl enthusiast with a passion for jazz and blues. I love cooking. I love the movies, art, photography and a good haiku. I love sport and exercise, from golf to running and more. No surprises really, for someone in the wine business, because we enjoy intellectual hedonism. And when it does come time to enjoy special things – be it wine, food, music – I’m not afraid to put the boat out. But as much I as enjoy hedonism, there needs to be a balance. Simple gluttony or excess is not particularly attractive to me. Consequently I think keeping fit and healthy is a critical component to this job and I work as hard on my 10K time or spinning class as I do on anything else. That’s why you’re just as likely to see a race bib posted on my instagram feed as you are a bottle of wine. You have to pay to play. You can set a pretty busy pace for work and play without burning the candle at both ends.
How do you see the role of critics/writers changing with the internet and peer-to-peer sites and apps such as Cellar Tracker and Vivino?
I don’t see it changing much really. People love to talk about the democratization of wine and how these sites allow for a greater range of discussion and opinion, and that’s all well and good. Wine is a big tent and I encourage that kind of exploration among consumers. But while we all love to talk about a movie or restaurant with our friends over the dinner table, we still reference the movie or restaurant critic’s review. Independent third-party reviews from experienced professionals will always play a huge role in this business.
The Liv-ex 1000 Index gained 1.7% in March to close on 253.59. The Bordeaux 500 gained 2.4% to close on 249.01. This is its biggest month on month gain since February 2011, when it climbed 3.0%.
While the Bordeaux 500 Index was the strongest component of the Liv-ex 1000, other sub-indices also made considerable gains including the Bordeaux Legends 50 (+1.8%) and the Burgundy 150 (+1.5%). Only the Champagne 50 failed to rally.
All sub-indices of the Bordeaux 500 increased in March. The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 and the Second Wines 50, which track the Bordeaux First Growths and their Second Wines respectively, both climbed 3.3%.
The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 has continued its rally higher this week, reaching 280.45 on Thursday – its highest level since the beginning of May 2014. The index has now risen for four consecutive months and is up 8.96 points (3.3%) from February’s close. This represents its largest month-on-month rise since January 2013, when it rose 3.45%. Trade by value and volume on the Exchange was also higher this week.
It was a good week for Champagne with the region achieving 5% of market share by value. This was boosted by Louis Roederer, Cristal 2007 that was the fourth highest wine traded by volume this week. Burgundy achieved 6.4% of trade, down slightly from the previous week, but in line with March’s average of 6.4%.
It was another good week for the ‘Others’ at 8.3% – with the USA representing 5.3% of market share by value. Scarecrow 2013 (WA 100) was the second highest wine traded by value this week. Bordeaux’s share of trade edged lower with the region taking 74.1% of market share.
The First Growths saw good activity with Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild both taking 28% of the First Growth share. Mouton 2010 (WA 97+) was the highest wine traded by value across the Exchange. High scoring Margaux 2000 (WA 100) and Latour 2009 (WA 100) were also in the top five wines traded by value.
Bordeaux was well-represented in volume, by Pontet Canet 2009 (WA 100), Montrose 2008 (WA 95) and Lynch Bages 2012 (WA 87).