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Bordeaux 2004: Firsts down a third but market remains slow

Published:  23 July, 2008

The majority of Bordeaux's First Growths have released their en primeur prices for the 2004 vintage one third lower than in 2003 - around €88 per bottle, ex-ngociant. According to the UK trade, however, demand for this large and classic' vintage remains well down on the much hyped 2003.

Mouton-Rothschild, Haut-Brion and Margaux all have released at the same price. Of the two remaining Firsts, which are expected to declare this week, Lafite is tipped to follow the same pricing while Latour, widely thought to be the 'wine of the vintage', may release at a higher price.

Stephen Browett, buying director at Farr Vintners, which is selling the wines at half its usual margin this year, said: 'The Firsts have come out at about 10% more than we would have liked, but we have seen some decent interest. I'd be amazed if Latour doesn't come out at 10% more than the others, which would push it above 1,000 a case to the consumer.'

Simon Staples, sales director at Berry Brothers & Rudd, made similar points: 'We've had some orders for the Firsts, but they really should have come out at 2002 prices, around 700 in bond to the consumer. It looks like we'll be offering them at 900 to 1000 instead.'

Overall, the market has been relatively slow this year, although some wines have sold suprisingly well. As Browett said: 'We've been pretty selective about what we have recommended this year, and the customers have been selective about what they have bought.

'I suppose it has gone better than we expected. A number of wines, which have priced themselves reasonably, have been very popular: Calon-Sgur, Pontet-Canet and Loville- Barton, for example.

'Loville-Poyferr is another one. A Second Growth, a well respected name, which came out at a good price. We recommended it to our customers and have sold 500 cases of it. If someone had told me I would sell 500 cases of any one wine at the beginning of this campaign I've had laughed at them.'

Staples added that he feels Robert Parker is having less effect on sales this year. Browett concurs: 'It is really a claret lovers' vintage, and the type of people that are buying probably haven't even heard of Parker,' he said.

The speed at which the chteaux released their prices, as with last year, has also been criticised. 'I really think we could have had a great campaign if the prices came out quickly. It's taken a ridiculously long time. We all flood over there in early April, get our customers juiced up and then have very little to offer them while there is still a buzz,' said Staples.

Another notable aspect of the 2004 campaign is the apparent willingness of the French ngociants to sell large amounts of stock at very slim margins. According to Staples: 'The ngociants are very scared of holding stock this year. We were offered Cos at €47 a bottle this morning, then within 10 minutes someone else offered it to us at €43, which can't be that much more than what they got it for.'