Backwards, forwards…

2009 was a stable year for the Fine Wine market after a relatively rocky end to 2008.  Cautious optimism grew into cautious confidence throughout the year, and perhaps the key time of 2009 was the summer: the wine trade normally quietens down for August (the French are all on holiday for a start), slowly waking up in September.  In 2007 & 2008, the summer break was extended – the queues outside branches of Northern Rock responsible in 2007, the wider financial meltdown in 2008.  The summer of 2009 actually saw a pickup in prices and trading, led by the wines of one property – Ch. Lafite-Rothschild.

The Lafite phenomenon has been much discussed: the brand strength of this wine in the Far East is incredible and wine’s strongest value as an investment – its finite production – has kicked in with a vengeance.  In March 2009, 2004 Lafite could be picked up for as little as £2,150 per case; the price now: more than £5,000 per case.  And this is for a young wine from a good but not great vintage.  1982 Lafite – mature and iconic, is now priced at more than £30,000 per case (if it can be found) against circa £20,000 per case in the summer of 2009.

So, one key question is whether or not other chateaux benefit from this or otherwise: will Chx Mouton-Rothschild & Latour, for instance, “catch on”? Or are we seeing a Lafite “bubble”? I personally think the former.

The second key question, particularly relevant now, is the pricing and quality of the 2009s.  The quality already seems clear to most (it looks to be an exceptional vintage) though we still have to wait for the judgement of Robert Parker, due at the end of the month.  That one man’s palate decides prices for all of us seems insane, but it’s not his fault and, sadly, it’s the reality of the matter.   Big Bob aside, and assuming that we have a cracker of a vintage on our hands, it’s all about how much they cost.  The figure being bandied around at the moment for first growths is five grand a case, which seems about right to me.  Until you look at the current prices for 1990 clarets…

I had a glass or two of 1990 Haut-Brion yesterday, which was my wine of the year so far (overtaking 2000 Vosne, Beaumonts, Grivot).  At twenty years old it was showing its class but still had time to go, was still a little tight.  About an hour or so later I was made aware of three cases of said wine offered on Liv-ex.  At £5450 per case, which is about the same price as the 2005 and the 2000, both of which need another ten years AT LEAST, both of which have an identical Bobtastic score of 98 points.

Haut-Brion isn’t quite as much the darling of the investors as the Pauillac Three, nor is it yet the darling of the Far East (it’s actually the connoisseurs’ first growth – the first growth for those that know), but something seems backward here.  The investors are buying the young wines on the basis that they’ll be worth more in the future, but the old wines are the same price…. It’s the same thing with 1990 Lafite: 96 Parker points, last trade on Liv-ex: £6,750. 2005 Lafite: 96+ Parker, last trade on Liv-ex: £8,600.

This sort of thing happens quite a lot in the Fine Wine market, and for the shrewd and the brave it can be an opportunity.  And if you’re interested in actually drinking the stuff, mature wines can look a bargain.