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The Successful Collector, by Julian Hitner: Wine education for us all – Bordeaux prices explained

As mentioned in our previous posting entitled: Bordeaux 2010: Yet Another Vintage of the Century?in this subsequent article Julian goes a little further to explore Bordeaux pricing. 

Justifying costs:

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

As the cost of premium claret continues to skyrocket, many collectors are asking why once-affordable estates are nowadays habitually so prohibitive. Is it unprecedented demand? Increasing costs of production? Or is it simply good old-fashioned extortion at work?

Whatever the reason, the need to justify such exorbitant prices has never been greater. On the part of the Classed Growths and even non-classified estates, voracity is but one excuse. For those in the business, few would deny that the cost of crafting a bottle of Fourth Growth Branaire-Ducru would be higher than a bottle of Cru Bourgeois Larose-Trintaudon. From the number of employed workers and the procurement of the finest equipment to harvesting at much lower yields and engaging in far stricter gape/parcel selection, Classed Growths will almost always be more dependent on higher revenues to live up to their reputations than their less eminent counterparts. But how much is enough to cover costs and make a reasonable profit? What is the fine line between Branaire-Ducru owner Patrick Maroteau’s overheads and a respectable return?

Chateau Branaire-DucruOn the other hand, there are those who would argue that Maroteau’s prices are merely a reflection of what the market will bear. Take away the romance and the glamour, and estates like Branaire-Ducru (a favourite of mine) are essentially glorified businesses, operated with the sole aim of exacting as much money from the purchasing public as possible. What fault of it is Maroteau’s if wine lovers are willing to pay over one hundred dollars for his stunning ’10? So long as people are willing to pay, owners might as well set their prices as high as they choose.

And why not? There are nowadays more willing customers than ever. For the past several years, new markets, particularly in Asia, have fomented greater demand for top-end Bordeaux than pundits could have ever predicted. With each passing year, buyers in Hong Kong and elsewhere along the Pacific Rim have been increasingly on the lookout for the best estates/finest vintages wherever possible; and estate owners have responded with unheralded prices.

Rauzan-SéglaBut wine lovers should remember that they have more power than they think—and more astute estate owners should know this. Should prices rise too swiftly, or remain high for particularly mediocre vintages (such as in 2011 and 2012), many claret collectors will simply stop buying. This even includes markets in Asia, where local merchants began experiencing backlash shortly after initial release prices of the 2010s were deemed too excessive. Estates such as Second Growths Châteaux Lascombes and Rauzan-Ségla learned this the hard way, and have since lowered their costs to more palatable levels. At least in principle, serious collectors and casual wine enthusiasts should always have the last word.

Here are a few gems for collectors from the 2010 Bordeaux collection:

Château Figeac 2010Château Figeac 2010, St-Emilion, AOC Premier Grand Cru Classé, $425.00

When the most recent revisions to the St-Emilion Classification (now more controversial than ever) were announced in September 2012, it was something of shock that Angélus and Pavie both got the nod to ‘A’ rank while Eric d’Aramon’s beloved Château Figeac did not. Consider the near-perfect ’10 vintage. Opaque ruby in colour, the wine exhibits exhilarating, masterful aromas of dark mocha, currants, crème de cassis, dark cherries, kirsch liqueur, slightly sinewy black fruits, spring flowers, crushed rocks, vanilla, and spice. Extremely complex, dispensing multilayered, fantastical fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a finesse-filled, wondrous hint of concentrated black fruits, dark mocha, and charcoal on the finish. Astonishing pedigree, balance, harmony, and breed; why this estate wasn’t promoted shall forever confound me. 35% Cabernet Franc, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Merlot. Now-2050++. Score 98 (Julian Hitner, The Successful Collector, November 2012)

Château La Conseillante 2010Château La Conseillante 2010, Pomerol, $379.00

Along with the near-perfect ’09, the 2010 Château La Conseillante is a legend in the making—harmonious, supple, and unbelievably addictive. Extremely dense black-ruby in colour, this magnificent claret delivers dazzling, entirely unencumbered aromas of espresso, crème de cassis, plummy currants, dark mocha, asphalt/charcoal, licorice, cherry and blackberry compote (non-excessive), vanilla, and spice. Incredibly complex, wielding prodigiously elegant, full-bodied chewy fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a fabulous, gorgeously interwoven hint of espresso, blackberry treacle/plummy currants, and minerals traces on the finish. With abundant energy, pedigree, and finesse, this is one bottling every serious collector must somehow obtain in profusion. According to one source: 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Now-2050++. Score 97 (Julian Hitner, The Successful Collector, November 2012)

Château Léoville Barton 2010Château Léoville Barton 2010, St-Julien, $169.00

While I have yet to taste the Ducru-Beaucaillou or Léoville-Las Cases, for the moment at least the 2010 Château Léoville Barton ranks as the greatest St-Julien produced from this fabulous vintage—not to mention one of the finest wines the Barton family has ever created. Opaque ruby in colour, it discloses substantially elegant, enticing aromas of currants, blackberries, dried blueberries, licorice, spring flowers, delicate espresso, forest floor, minerals, vanilla wafers, and spice. Extremely complex, featuring robust, seamlessly attuned fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a magnificent hint of currants, blackberries, and mineral elements on the finish. Luminous, characterful, and totally harmonious; a wine like this one reminds me of why I got into this business in the first place. 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. Now-2046+. Score 96++ (Julian Hitner, The Successful Collector, November 2012)

Château Lynch Bages 2010Château Lynch Bages 2010, Pauillac, $229.00

Though the wines of Lynch Bages have always been stellar (even in average vintages), the 2010 may very well gone down in the estate’s history as the unbeatable outing, surpassing even the colossal ’09, the resplendent ’05, and the already-legendary ’00. Opaque ruby in colour, it demonstrates wondrous aromas of crème de cassis and alternate black fruits; making way for dark cherries, kirsch, Oreo Cookies®, mocha, licorice, spring flowers, graphite, charcoal, vanilla, and spice. Incredibly complex, delivering well-structured, near-perfect fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a classic, impactful hint of black cherried currants, spring flowers, and crushed rocks on the finish. Magnificently textured, conveying incredible finesse, dimension, and harmony; easily a thirty-year proposition. 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. Now-2045++. Score 96 ++ (Julian Hitner, The Successful Collector, November 2012)

Château Rauzan Ségla 2010Château Rauzan-Ségla 2010, Margaux, $215.00

A new plain of excellence for this fast-improving estate, the 2010 Rauzan-Ségla is not just the greatest wine this estate has ever produced; it is also one of the finest wines of the vintage for the Margaux appellation. Opaque ruby in colour, this intoxicating claret displays exemplary aromas of fragrant raspberries, currants, and black fruits; making way for blackberries, violets, licorice, forest floor, wild game elements, minerals, vanilla, and spice. Extremely complex, delivering incredibly refined, gorgeously concentrated fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a poignant, eternally graceful hint of black currants, raspberries, and mineral deposits on the finish. So delicious, generous, and elegant; this will likely keep much longer than any vintage preceding it. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 3.5% Petit Verdot, and 1.5% Cabernet Franc. Now-2045+. Score 96 (Julian Hitner, The Successful Collector, November 2012)

For more reviews: 2010 Bordeaux

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