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Market Analysis

Following reports of "the best vintage since 2010" and descriptions including "radiant", "super-charming" and "exceptional", will 2015 prove Bordeaux's turning point? Ella Lister, Founder and CEO of Wine Lister, explores

After four years of decline for Bordeaux first growths, the year to April saw prices stabilise and then rise by nine percent. The wider wine market, as represented by the Wine Owners 150 index also rose, by eight percent. This performance is in line with gold, but much less volatile. Both indices far outperformed stocks over the period (figure 1).

FIGURE 1: Wine vs stocks and gold in the year to April 2016

Wine vs stocks and gold in the year to April 2016

January is often a positive month, but this year February and March have consolidated that upward movement, and first growths have carried this into April, possibly suggesting a return to the days where anticipation of an en primeur campaign boosts the market.

However, the wine trade is not celebrating quite yet. "We remain cautious," notes Adam Brett-Smith, Managing Director of Corney & Barrow, while Giles Cooper of Bordeaux Index believes "it’s still too early to call it a turning point", referencing similar first quarter trends in 2012 and 2013. "That said this year does feel a little different,” observes Cooper. The market’s fate for the rest of the year rests heavily in the hands of the Bordelais and the success - or otherwise - of the en primeur campaign. "2015 pricing is critical," concludes Brett-Smith.

Early April flights from Gatwick to Bordeaux were jam-packed with wine trade, whose attendance at the annual en primeur tastings had been dwindling over the last three years. This was thanks to reports of the best vintage since 2010. Tasting the wines confirmed this, and though many thought it less superlative than 2010, 2015 is certainly a vintage to get excited about. It is one where each terroir's character shines through; a perfect vintage to let the different appellations and châteaux imprint their style on your taste memory.

The wines were described as "radiant" by US critic Antonio Galloni, "super-charming" by the UK's Jancis Robinson, and "exceptional" by French critics Bettane + Desseauve. Wine Lister - the new fine wine rating and information system - analysed these respected critics' scores, along with predicted longevity, for 2015 and other recent vintages. Based on the scores given by these three across 100 top Bordeaux wines, 2015 has a higher average quality score than 2009 and 2010.

Early April flights from Gatwick to Bordeaux were jam-packed with wine trade, whose attendance at the annual en primeur tastings had been dwindling over the last three years.

The top wine of the vintage in terms of quality is the world-famous Sauternes, Château d'Yquem (fig.2). Next comes a truly excellent Pomerol, Vieux Château Certan (a standout for me this vintage). Three of the five first growths appear towards the top of the list: Haut-Brion, Margaux, and Mouton. The two original Saint-Emilion Grands Crus Classés A, Ausone and Cheval Blanc are in third and eleventh place.

Top Wine Lister quality scores for Bordeaux 2015None of these wines will come cheap, but Sauternes Suduiraut and Climens are likely to be decent value, and Figeac and Pichon Lalande are more reasonably priced than some of the others on the list. Prices overall will depend on the producers, but wines will almost certainly be more expensive than in the last four years. A trade survey undertaken by Wine Lister asked what average price adjustment on 2014 would be appropriate "for crus classés and equivalent", by canvassing the opinion of more than 40 key players, between them representing more than one third of the global fine wine revenues. The answer was an increase of three percent.

Auction houses have also reported a renewed focus on Bordeaux. Stephen Mould, Head of Sotheby's Wine for Europe commented in February, "we kicked off the New Year with top prices for Bordeaux,"

This is an unrealistic hope, but of those who accepted a price increase would be appropriate "in the
context of what is being hailed as the best vintage since 2010", the average increase suggested was 12 percent, which is more likely, and I'm sure some producers will increase prices by significantly more. While the big UK merchants have been cautioning Bordeaux not to raise prices, there is no doubt they are getting behind this campaign more enthusiastically than any of the last four, so be prepared for a stream of offers in your inbox.

Auction houses have also reported a renewed focus on Bordeaux. Stephen Mould, Head of Sotheby's Wine for Europe commented in February, "we kicked off the New Year with top prices for Bordeaux," and then again in April, "throughout the sale, there was strong demand for both blue-chip Bordeaux and more mature vintages perfect for drinking now." Head of Bonhams Wine Department, Richard Harvey MW, concurred: "It's very encouraging to see demand strengthening again for Bordeaux".

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