The new, vintage 2012, St. Emilion classification was handed down from Paris last week. About the most unusual thing about it is that INAO actually put the materials on their website (Hooray! Even thought they show an unhealthy taste for pdfs and the media contacts still don’t have email addresses listed.)
There hasn’t been any controversy (though some did wonder what happened to Chateau Magdelaine, which Moueix merged into Bélair-Monange). The last update, in 2006, resulted in legal challenges and a court rendering the whole reordering invalid. Lat week, Chateaus Pavie and Angelus were promoted to the top, top tier, while some other modern-style wines also ascended. (Full list after the jump.) The new classification largely follows the market prices and Parker scores for the wines.
If the authorities wanted to do something bold, they could have promoted the excellent Chateau Figeac. It would have been a posthumous honor for Thierry Manoncourt who apparently always wanted to see the estate as a Premier Grand Cru Classé (A). Also, Parker has had a burr under his saddle about Figeac, giving only two of their wines scores over 90 points and going years without reviewing the wines, which are almost always under 13.5% alcohol. And forget quality, the last time around, Figeac was not promoted to the top, top tier because their prices were not high enough!)
Or the INAO could have classified vineyards instead of simply the chateaus themselves but that would be crazy talk! (On related note, Valandraud, which was promoted to the second tier, has expanded its modest vineyard holdings by a factor of 20 over the years.)
By rewarding many wineries that already receive high Parker scores and/or high prices, the classification is of little, stand-alone use to consumers and gives some producers the opportunity to raise prices further.
The other day, when Jeeves brought me the New York Times’ “Great Homes and Destinations” section on a silver platter in my wood-paneled drawing room, I poured a spot of claret and settled into my leather wingback chair to catch up on what’s been going on.
Lo and behold the Chinese have been buying properties in Bordeaux! Fully 20 of them in the last four years! That only leaves about 8,500 for them to buy. The story–quite detailed–reveals that Chinese buyers are attracted by property valuations that have fallen over the past decade, usually shop in the €5 million to €8 million range, and like a chateau on the land with a bit of history. One chap just picked up a 10-bedroom castle on 420 acres for €5.95 million! He’ll sell almost all the wine back in China. Also, with their domestic economy slowing, the Chinese have been looking to diversify their holdings and have even been buying wineries in the Hunter Valley and Napa. I wonder what kind of values they have found there.
If Jeeves hasn’t brought you the “Great Homes and Destinations” section, you can also read it with one of those computer things that I’ve heard about.
After the 2011 vintage Chateau Latour, owned by billionaire Francois Pinault, will not pre-sell their wine as futures. What do you think?
“That’s great. It’s good to see a billionaire doing the right thing for a change by not ripping off millionaires. Also, Salma Hayek is hot.”
-Mandy Street, Occupier
“I’m disappointed. Now when I boast on eBob that I bought all the (98-100)-point wines before the scores come out, it won’t include Latour.”
-Mark S. Quire, Systems Analyst
“Is Chateau Latour the one with the kangaroo on it?”
-Bruce Babcock, undergrad
Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate has started arriving in mailboxes and issue #199 aas published on their site late yesterday. The top scores are mind-numbing. If you thought his love of Chateauneuf du Pape’s 2007 vintage was the high-water mark for his scores, think again: Parker hands out 100-point scores to 18 red wines, with several others (including first growths, Mouton, Lafite and Margaux) getting a mere 99 points.
Underwhelmed by the list, commenters on wineberserkers reacted, saying “Smith Haut Laffite. Wow.” and “It’s only March 1st – not April 1st. Is this serious?!?” and “When will Mouton Cadet [$8] join the list?” and “Who cares about any of the 99-point crap?” Tim Atkin tweeted, “Where does RP go from there? Explode in a puff of ludicrous hyperbole? 2010 is a better vintage.”
It will be interesting to see if these push prices any higher (as will likely be the case for Fourtet and Smith Haut Lafitte, which were originally forecast to have scores of 98 maximum) or lower in the case of Lafite-Rothschild, which had been coveted by Asian auction bidders before slowing but is not on the list of those receiving perfect scores. Or if it will elicit as much of a yawn from buyers has it does from the online commentariat–after all, 20 wines had received scores as possible 100 pointers based on barrel tastings. In January, I suggested that rampant score inflation posed the biggest threat to the use of scores and eighteen 100s do not reverse my view. What’s your take?
Parker confronted the issue of “hype” and inflation head on, saying: Read more…
The business school students sniffed, swirled and spit the three glasses of Sauternes in front of them. They had come from places like Columbia, Northwestern, Stanford, and Harvard to sit under the tableaux and tapestries at the French Consulate on Fifth Avenue, try wines and answer questions, competing to win the big prize: making it to the finals in Bordeaux.
The challenge in this flight of sweet wines (that also included one from Barsac), was to identify first, which two wines came from the same vintage. Most teams got this one right. But then came the harder question: which vintage did those two wines come from?
Only one team guessed 2002, the correct answer, the group from Read more…
A parody from the BBC show “Mitchell and Webb.” Merger!
What has hints of red fruits, leather, tobacco, and tulips? Why, the wine investment market!
Elin McCoy reports from Hong Kong that a fund there will lend up to $641,000 (USD) for investing in wine–providing the investments are in the bank’s select list of 50 top names. She also reports that a new fund at Pacific Asset Management seeks to invest over $150 million in wine (it’s raising $30 million initially). There’s talk there of other funds diversifying into wine; some European wine investment funds have opened offices.
More money, chasing wines and returns while dodging counterfeits, smacks of tulip mania and the greater fool theory. When will some financial wizard develop a way to short wine?
One aspect of the wine market that defies tulip mania is the fact that even as more money appears to be rolling in, top Bordeaux prices are falling: the Liv-Ex Fine Wine 50 Index that tracks the last ten vintages of physical (not en primeur) Bordeaux first growths is down 18% in the past quarter. Interest in red Burgundy is up, as is interest in non-first growth Bordeaux. Breadth of wines is probably healthier than all the money funneling into a small group of wines and a broader index of wines is up 13% over the past year, but with declines in the past quarter. And a recent Hong Kong sale saw only 84% of lots sold. So maybe there is some sanity.
Hopefully, if it crashes, whoever is left holding the proverbial bag will have a corkscrew. And real, not counterfeit, wines.
A convenience store in the Bordeaux region was found to have sold 170 tons of sugar in a two-year period. Why?
The store manager says that the locals told her they were making jam. However, a court found otherwise, levying a $6,700 “suspended” fine for selling sugar to wine producers without recording their names as law requires.
Wine producers in certain zones of Northern Europe are allowed to add sugar to the grape juice (aka must) before or during fermentation, a process called chaptalization. The goal is not to have residual sugar in the wine, which would make it sweet. Rather, it is to boost the level of alcohol. Producers must declare the amount used and pay a tax of $17.50 per 220 lb of sugar added. The general impression has been that global warming has diminished the need for chaptalization as rising temperatures boost the natural sugar in grapes. During fermentation, yeasts chomp sugars to ferment into alcohol (and CO2). But one of the years in question was 2007, a cooler and rainer year than usual for the region.
Even though the authorities collect the taxes for chaptalization and other forms of enrichment, they are reluctant to divulge the figues to offer a window onto how widespread the practice is. Dismayed by the lack of official statistics, Benjamin Lewin estimates that 17 to 33% of French wine is chaptalized, depending on the heat of each vintage.