Friday, May 4, 2007

Parker to the Rescue!

Influential wine critic Robert Parker has breathed life to a listless Bordeaux 2006 en primeur campaign. In his latest journal released a few days ago, he woke up the Bordeaux market yet again with his pronouncement (and more importantly his scores): "The 2006 vintage has produced many fine wines... 2006 appears to be a modern-day version of 1996 or 1986, two vintages that produced wines with high percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon in their blends, strong tannins, and, in the best cases, impressive concentration."

Over the past month or two prominent wine experts have raced each other to issue their own assessment of the 2006 Bordeaux vintage. Decanter, Jancis Robinson, Wine Spectator, and a host of MWs and top merchants have made their verdicts known to the public, yet the market remained at a standstill, with the Bordeaux producers sitting on their hands seemingly lost at how to price their wines. It is clear as daylight, Bordeaux cannot thrive without Parker. They need him badly. As Michel Rolland was overheard as saying once, "only Parker sells Bordeaux".

But of course Parker also needs Bordeaux badly. Bordeaux is the wine region that established his reputation. And to remain the premier wine critic in the world, Parker needs to cover Bordeaux as it is the only type of wine by far with a truly global market.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the Bordelais and Parker. Over the past two decades, the system they have created is simple and efficient. Parker creates a demand for the wines which the Bordelais converts into pricing. It is, of course, not a formal system, but it exists and works nonetheless.

So the Bordeaux 2006 campagin is now cued up. With the market stimulated by Parker's encouraging assessment one can bet that avid collectors are now phoning their merchants for allocations of the top wines, while other buyers are eager to pounce on offers to lock in the best prices.

Ah, prices. What to expect? The wine trade and wine journalists have exhorted the Bordelais early on to exercise restraint in their 2006 pricing. But when it comes to their money the Bordelais are not easily dissuaded. Yet the clamor has been at such a high pitch, no doubt due to the excessive price increases in both 2003 and 2005 wines, that the Bordelais have at least taken pause. The demand on them is to roll back prices to no more than 2004 levels or even less. Well, I think, fat chance on that happening now that Parker has weighed in. Note his comments: "There has been considerable demand by many who purchase large quantities of Bordeaux futures for prices to be rolled back to those of three or four years ago. Certainly prices will come down because 2006 is not a great vintage, but there are many fine wines, and some 2006s are even more complete than their 2005 counterparts. Furthermore, and another exacerbating factor, 2006 is not a big crop, at least for the top wines. Yields generally ran between a modest 20 and 45 hectoliters per hectare, which is significantly less than 2004, and little different from 2005."

Such a statement is definitely music to the Bordelais. Parker is saying the vintage is conderably better than 2004. That quality of some wines even rival 2005! That quantities are limited, especially the top growths as they had "to eliminate 40-65% of their production". Given such justifications I don't expect prices to be back at 2004 levels, in fact, I expect them to be not only considerably higher than 2004 but not too far off 2005 en primeur prices. Let's watch and see.

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