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Steen Öhman: The Burgundy market today

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-05-24




With the 2015 Burgundies arriving in the market these days and with more to come over the next period the market is showing mixed signals - some of continued excessive demand and some spell disaster for lesser producers trying to claim high prices.


The prices of the 2015 vintage

The price development for the 2015s shows a rather mixed picture at the primary level - some producers have showed great restraint and have in some cases kept the prices at 2014 level, whereas moderate increases have been seen even amongst the top producers in very high demand.

A lot of Burgundy producers are aware of the dangers of high prices even on village level, as these wines are now becoming very expensive in restaurants. If they want to maintain a good representation in restaurants the prices for a village level wine are near the limit - aside from the producers in extremely high demand.

Other producers seem not very aware of these dangers and have increased the 2015 prices by more than 20% - and while this may be viable in the very short run - I have talked to several wine bars and restaurants that have cut allocations already, and many will do so after the 2015 vintage. This will perhaps not have a huge effect on the 2016 vintage as the quantities are very small in some cases .. but in the long run some producers have priced themselves out of the market so to speak.


The 2016 vintage - what to expect

I have tasted some 2016s already and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, as quality looks very fine indeed. The wines are cooler than the 2015s, and in that way more classic. It's still too early to be very firm on the quality - but potentially a quite outstanding vintage - very well balanced and enjoyable for both the reds and the whites.

The quantities are very low due to the April frost, but also very uneven across the producers and appellations. My expectation would be that the low quantity will ensure a continued upward pressure on prices for the wines in demand, but the tendency could be trouble ahead for increases in prices for the wines with no real demand in the secondary market.



Francois Millet, Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé - Picture: http://winehog.org/


The long-term effect of prices

In my view, we will see continued increases in prices on the wines in very high demand - i.e. wines getting high prices in the secondary market thus ensuring a margin for those who buy the wines in the primary market.

These wines will still be in demand, as many people will keep allocations as it's a good investment, but larger share will eventually end up in the secondary market. Some of these wines are now priced beyond the limits of the average quite well off consumer, and will be traded accordingly. Restaurants will do the same, and as it becomes more difficult to sell the wines at the tables - they will also cash-in offering wines on the secondary market.

The wines not in demand in the secondary market will eventually have problems, as consumers will cut allocations and move on to other products.

This is where Bordeaux was 15 - 20 years ago, and while the top Bordeaux wines have managed to increase prices the lesser wines from Bordeaux are struggling with low demand and low prices even though quality and the value of these wines often can be tremendous these days.

Take a look at the wine lists of today and note how limited the Bordeaux offerings often are these days - compared to 20 years ago.



Burgundy will prevail but demand will be more volatile

With the small quantities produced in Burgundy the risk of a full meltdown is not imminent even with the latest increases in prices. Some producers will struggle as they will be caught between the need or urge to increase prices and the restrain shown by some of the top estates regarding the prices on the low-level wines.

A good negociant will be facing the fact that their Vosne village will cost the same as the wines from a top end producer in the primary market. That is not sustainable in the long run - and these producers could well see a collapsing demand within a few years.

As prices go up I expect demand to be more volatile, as the focus on the great vintages will increase. This has happened in Bordeaux and with the globalisation and available price information around the clock this will also be the case with Burgundy.

So, I expect increasing and more volatile prices for the wines in demand, and a sluggish market for the producers with high prices without a good demand from the secondary market.


The calculative consumer

As the prices increase the consumers will be more calculative and look at the historic prices and the development in the prices and availability of back vintages. Is it the right time to buy, can the same wine in an equally good back-vintage be found on the market at a lower cost.

The conscious consumer will check these things, and will search for information, to ensure a good price and ensure a good investment, even though the wine is bought for pure pleasure. Importantly consistency in the prices seen in relation to back vintages will be needed at least for wines produced in relatively large quantities.

This will increase the focus on services that offer historic data on prices and the possibility to validate and research the “true” market price.


The rising stars will emerge and shine brightly

Furthermore, we will see new talented producers pop up - and become in fashion within a very short time - and achieve high demand for these wines in the secondary market very rapidly as the producers get the acclaim from the wine press. So, exciting times where buyers and investors must be on their toes to follow the trends in Burgundy.

As a wine writer, it's exciting times in Burgundy as new talents emerge all the time, and old somewhat lacklustre estates are transformed to a new star within a few years with the arrival of a new generation.

So, stay on your toes, stay tuned in and informed on winehog.org - a yearly subscription is only 29€ - sign up here 


Steen Öhman

Chief Tasting Officer

Winehog.org 


NB:

The team at Wine Owners love Steen’s Burgundy reviews. Just like us, he was an impassioned collector, until he decided to pack in his day job and apply his palate to Burgundy for the good of mankind (and perhaps to gain a little personal enlightenment along the way).

An annual subscription with https://Winehog.org is a bit of a bargain; plus the reviews are accessible, and when we taste the wines that Steen’s tasted, we ‘get it’. Furthermore he’s a real discoverer, so if you're the sort of collector who loves the idea of buying into the next young Burgundy buck before the rest of the world catches on and spoils the price, you really should subscribe!


Lafite Rothschild’s 2016 tranches

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-05-23


Early afternoon 22nd May word spread that Lafite was out. A few calls were made. But where was the wine? Allocations were down 50% but with the promise of another allocation in a week’s time at a premium of between 30%-40%. No prices, no offers.

Then, more than one of the smaller négociants decided to pull the trigger on releasing the première tranche, but estimating the cost of the second tranche and pricing at the intersect of the two. Perhaps guessing they were unlikely to get any more and taking attractive profits on the first tranche.

In UK terms the averaged, intersect price is £480 a bottle, which puts the first release at around £384 a bottle whilst the second release could be in the range £540-£575.

That compares to the 2015 release price of £358 per bottle, which in turn leads us to the conclusion that in euro terms the first tranche release price is likely to have been more or less flat year on year. But of course, we can’t be sure.

The rest of the supply chain is sitting tight. The majority of Lafite offers won’t now reach your inbox for another week. The channels of distribution are showing admirable sense and fair play in averaging the two release prices and treating their customers with the egalité most deserve.

So how about the wine? Lafite 2016 is glorious: one of a handful of wines that stand imperiously; pinnacles in this truly great left bank vintage. Is it worth £480 a bottle? A difficult question to answer, but surprisingly, it does look like acceptable value in the context of current market prices of prior excellent or great vintages.

Below is our relative value analysis. Based on our estimations of what’s likely to happen in the next week, 2016 is showing a small advantage over prior vintages. If you consider that 2009 and 2010 are well off their lows, and that the absolute low of Lafite 2010 was £446 a bottle, it indicates that 2016 has very limited downside, and might well run up to around £600 a bottle over the next 3 years.

Once selling commission of 5% inclusive is taken into account and an adjustment for storage fees, your net proceeds would be £567, or a return of £87 a bottle: a return or discount to future market value (depending on your perspective) of 15%. Based on the above illustration an en primeur purchaser will be therefore looking at growth averaging 5% per annum.

It’s tight. There’ll be buyers. Notwithstanding, if the averaged price per bottle shakes out around £450-£460 many more collectors would swing behind it.




Latour, biodynamics and Demeter

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-05-17


Latour’s conversion to organically produced vines began almost 20 years ago when they stopped using chemical herbicides. Since then, they started experimenting with new techniques, and in 2015, 100% of L’Enclos was organic and 50% of it was biodynamic.

Producing according to biodynamic techniques is not new. This method applies ancestral practices of using only ingredients from the farm and maximising their impact. For example, fertilizing is from the manure from the cows and horses living on the estate, mixed in with different flowers of certain specific properties. This main idea is to create a sustainable and circular ecosystem aimed at protecting the earth and make it more fertile by freeing nature to multiply the microbial activity in the soil.

Pontet Canet can be considered as one of the pioneers. They did their first biodynamic trial in 2004 and the results turned out to be very positive: the vines were brighter and tighter. Alfred extended the test parcel and the vineyard became fully converted in 2006; a first for a Médoc Classified Growth. Ten year’s on, and their most recent vintages show an aromatic complexity that is quite clearly much more evident when compared to their wines from the mid 200s.

Now more and more vineyards use biodynamic practises to grow their vines and in the winemaking. After decades of intensive farming many of the top vineyards in Burgundy and Bordeaux, including Domaine Leroy and Domaine Leflaive, began looking for new options since their soils were being exhausted and couldn’t sustain healthy vines with good grapes.

The biodynamic label, Demeter, has recently gained popularity in the Bordeaux region. Chateau Durfort-Vivens has this year been fully certified by Demeter, with the designation proudly added to their bottling in the form of a strip label. In a variable year the Margaux appellation, Durfort-Vivens 2016 showed out of cask as a wine of character, with a lovely aromatic profile,crunch fruit and a chewy, black cherry infused finish.

But it’s far from a one-way argument. As weather patterns become more extreme, protecting the plant and its fruit from the element under a strict biodynamic regime can be risky.

A wave of quality obsessed Burgundy producers increasingly use biodynamic treatments in a mixed approach to vineyard husbandry where the focus is on the soil’s microbial strength. But with repeated hailstorms, and the risk of rot in a warm humid environment, it takes a brave man or woman to forgo other practical fall-back options.

It’s a rich man’s game. Small Burgundy producers cannot afford repeated losses to disease when conditions get really rough and biodynamics might not be sufficient without heavy and repeated doses of copper sulphate,something which producers adopting biodynamic viticulture are reluctant to do with concerns about creating copper residues in the soil.

Château Palmer is a leading proponent of biodynamics and has been undertaking a great deal of research on test barrels of recent vintages, both in the vineyard and in the cellar and reducing use of sulphur as a stabilising agent. In 2016 they misjudged with one too-few copper sulphate treatments resulting in an attack of mildew, reducing their overall production volumes to just 28hl/ha, a miserly figure for Bordeaux in a generous year where most quality producers cropped at 45-50 hl/ha.

Yet biodynamics is ‘back’ here to stay, even if those who apply for Demeter certification are likely to be outnumbered by those who simply practise biodynamic principles and use many of the treatments.

Further north in Saumur, the legendary Loire estate Clos Rougeard has been practising biodynamics for ever. In the 1960s and 1970s when their neighbours embraced synthetic fertilisers and chemicals, they were mocked for holding true to their ancestral principles practised since the time of their great grandfather.

The last word goes to Nadi Fourcault, the remaining brother of Clos Rougeard (only recently bought by the Bouygues family who also own Chateau Montrose). “The only thing that’s revolutionary about us is that we’ve never changed.”



Chateau Pape Clément 2016 – for whom the frosts toll

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-05-15


The release of 2016 of £775 (12x75cl) is a substantial jump up on the simply marvellous 2015. The previous (in our view better) vintage released at £615 (12x75cl).

So we are looking at a 21% increase YoY. Meanwhile the gap between the two vintages has since closed, with the best offer price of Pape Clément 2015 now trading at £720 (12x75cl).

Not only was 2015 a sound buy for those who jumped in this time last year, it remains an attractive hold, since the release price of 2016 and a rumoured reduction in release quantities attributed to the April 2017 frosts, will lend its price support and push it up to £800+ (2x75cl).





For whom do the frosts toll? Us, the consumer, wine lover, collector…those who buy. The reduction in production volumes now likely for 2017 are difficult for producers, especially in those areas most severely affected, parts of Pessac included. By far the worst affected were those in the lesser appellations on the right bank, St Emilion and Pomerol off the plateaux, and inland in the Medoc. For many of those producers the frosts really were a catastrophe.

As we described here the great estates alongside the Gironde were the least touched by the frost due to the warming effects of the river; those parts of their vineyards affected were on the whole those producing grapes destined for their second wines.

We need to bear in mind too that 2016 production volumes are up 10%-20%, in many instances offsetting the potential losses (subject to a faint possibility of second budding) relating to 2017.

So as consumers, we should sympathise and feel bad for estates such as Pape Clément for their loss of production. We should feel even sadder for producers’ losses in places like Fronsac, Lalande de Pomerol and Castillon, where there will be economic casualties. But it doesn’t mean we will consequently want to buy much more expensive wine.


Bordeaux 2016 or 2015?

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-05-11


The tasting event in Westminster for the trade in early May provided an opportunity to re-taste a number of 2016 Bordeaux comparatively with their 2015 and 2014 equivalents. 

The conclusions reinforce to a large extent the general impressions we formed in Bordeaux at the start of April, but the comparison also showed it’s not one size fits all.

Canon

Starting with the one wine tasted from the right bank, Canon 2016 is showing more aromatics than 2015, very silky, integrated tannins and is thicker-styled, with riper fruit. Canon 2015 showed greater intensity, with a stunningly pure mid-palate of ripe, sticky fruit, and a prolonged finish.  Canon 2014 is more classically styled, with a cedar nose and liqueur-like mouth feel, this is lovely now and looks like much earlier drinking.  

No doubt there are glorious wines from the Libournais in 2016, but both St Emillion and Pomerol do not conform to a vintage stereotype in these two vintages, and you will have preferences for individual wines from one or other year.

Smith Haut Lafitte

Jumping down to Pessac-Léognan, Smith Haut Lafitte (SML) 2016 is firm and properly dry, with crystalline fruit. Very intense and just on the right side of focus, with a very grippy, licorice finish. SML 2015 has a very energetic attack, sweet, refined tannins, a warm, fruity mid-palate and an aromatically spiced finish. SML 2014 was delicious but not in the same league as the other two vintages.

2015 was a stellar vintage in Pessac and Graves across the board. The same is not true of 2016 but SML showed (along with Haut Bailly, Chevalier and Carmes Haut Brion) that the best 16s are superlative and brilliantly architected for the long-term.

Rauzan Ségla

Rauzan Ségla 2016 is refined, with a liqueur-like mouth feel, and a hint of prunes. It’s less pure than Rauzan-Ségla 2015, with its fine nose, superbly energetic attack, refined mid palate and liquorice infused, fruit-driven finish. Rauzan-Ségla 2014 is dry, mid-weight, unforced and classic, with appealing grip, and a great, insistent finish. 

Margaux was a star appellation of 2015, and this wine confirms how relatively disappointing the commune'’s wines are in 2016. They remain fine claret from a good vintage, but they miss out on the excitement of the ‘15s.

Pontet Canet

Our Pauillac representative of the comparative tasting stood out for its increasingly aromatic character, a factor that Justine Tesseron attributes to the growing influence that biodynamic farming is having on the fruit. 

Pontet Canet 2015 was one of the most refined and silky examples of the appellation, yet today it just didn't cut it in the company of the glorious 2014 and deeply serious 2016.  Pontet Canet 2016 displayed a fine nose, wonderfully textured fruit, a really firm mid-palate with bitter-edged fruit before sweetening into the long finish.  Serious, long-haul stuff – and I suspect might become a legend 50 years hence. Pontet Canet 2014 is extremely aromatic, sweetly imbued with angelica flavouring, and with proper, grainy tannins on the finish.

Montrose

Montrose 2015 is delicious and aromatic: a fine showing for the vintage, yet seemed to lack a bit of structure. St Estephe in particular produced some of the best wines in a generation in 2016, and Montrose shows up that difference as does almost every wine from the appellation. Montrose 2016 is equally as expressive as 2015, but feels like a wine for the longer term, with more serious structure and vital freshness. What impresses here is the focus and elegance, which make this one of the stars of the vintage.


Picture: Wine Owners Ltd.


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