"Let them drink wine" goes the cry in Bordeaux as the gap between the Marie Antoinette haves and the sans-culottes have-nots widens. After months of dragging their heels, the Bordelais have pronounced, or their cash registers at least have rung to a familiar tune. All the tricks of the Bordeaux trade were deployed to stoke demand for the 2009 vintage. According to the wine exchange, Livex, average price rises over the great 2005 vintage were up 13 per cent until mid-June.
Between the 14 and 18 June, they went up to 29 per cent. In the final reckoning between 21 and 25 June, when Bordeaux's big hitters fired their salvoes, prices soared by 57 per cent above 2005, and 200 per cent above 2008. The pace-setters were the tiny handful of first growth châteaux like Lafite and Latour, at the retail price of £7,000-£10,000 a case, and other top estates anxious to peg their prices to the new gold standard.
Encouraged by lavish praise from the wine trade and press, but above all from the American super-critic Robert Parker's potential ratings of 100, some of the highest flyers have come out with jaw-dropping prices. Haut-Brion and La Mission are up 165 per cent and 272 per cent respectively on 2005. Yapping at their heels, other so-called "super-seconds", such as Cos d'Estournel, Palmer, Ducru Beaucaillou and Léoville Las Cases, have also priced their wines extravagantly in the expectation that the Asian market and wine-investment funds will bite. They may do, but at starting prices of £2,000-£2,500 a case, it puts an entire swathe of super-seconds out of the reach of wine lovers and into the grasp of investors. It's bitterly disappointing for consumers (I bought a case of the great 1982 Cos d'Estournel for £120) and a decision Bordeaux may come to regret if the bubble should burst.
However, the feeding frenzy that accompanied the late June releases obscures a more complex picture. For all the hype, the majority of wines in this vintage, some of which are excellent, are reasonably priced because they are not collectors' baubles or investment fodder. Among many cru bourgeois, d'Angludet, Poujeaux, Potensac, Monbrison, Phélan Ségur and Les Ormes de Pez will give immensely pleasurable drinking when the time comes.
As for classified châteaux: Cantemerle, Lafon-Rochet, Giscours, Gruaud-Larose, Branaire-Ducru and Talbot have not overcooked their release prices, but have all made superb wines worthy of cellaring for a few years. Even Calon-Ségur, excellent in 2009, only raised its price over 2005 by 11 per cent, while Grand Puy Lacoste, 5.5 per cent up, is another value choice.
Traditionally, the en primeur system has allowed wine lovers to get a good enough deal to make it worth taking the gamble of paying for wine while waiting two years before bottling and delivery. For the ego- and greed-driven wines, that's no longer the case because overpricing has raised the stakes too high. Ironically, the ambitious prices make earlier vintages look cheaper and in some cases, almost cheap. Inconceivable as it seems today, could we one day look back on 2009 and marvel at what great value it was? Or will we see heads on pikes as the tumbrils are wheeled from the Médoc to Mme Guillotine standing in the Cours du 30 Juillet, the square in Bordeaux named in 1791 for the abolition of the aristocracy? For a detailed chart of wine merchants selling the Bordeaux 2009 vintage en primeur and their prices, check out anthonyrosewine.com.