Wine: Anthony Rose

Médoc in their madness
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Indy Lifestyle Online

At long last, the wait is over. And now that the top châteaux of Bordeaux have finally come out with their opening prices for the 2005 vintage, the pain kicks in. Just when everyone thought that the big name châteaux couldn't get more expensive, many of them have surpassed themselves in an orgy of exorbitant pricing. Carried forward on a wave of enthusiasm bordering on hysteria, and bolstered by critical praise, prices for Bordeaux 2005 en primeur are in some instances so eye-watering that buyers and critics are sounding off like angry volcanoes.

Not least Robert Parker, America's leading wine writer, who rails against the greed of the Bordelais. Berating the "aristocrats of the Médoc" for their "pride, provincial jealousies, and greed", Parker accuses château owners of "devising a multitude of ways to manipulate the marketplace by creating the illusion of shortages" in delaying releasing their prices.

Normally prices come out not much more than a month after the tasting of the new vintage in Bordeaux in April. But this year, after a trickle of opening prices from some of the less-heralded châteaux in May, it was only in the second week of June that Bordeaux took off with a flurry of big names showing their hand.

And what a hand it is. Among the most extravagant examples are Palmer and L'Angélus at £1,500, Cos d'Estournel at £1,300, Vieux Château Certan and Ducru Beaucaillou at over £1,000 a case. In some instances, prices are up 100 per cent on 2004. Even lesser classified châteaux like Pontet Canet and Branaire Ducru, bolstered by high marks and even higher praise from Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator, have almost doubled their prices.

Parker's ratings, and to a lesser extent those of the Wine Spectator, fuel demand, and since supply and demand are all, the American critics can protest all they like but they themselves have a direct impact on Bordeaux's temptation to fill its boots.

Bordeaux itself says it's only responding to demand. And demand for the 2005 is global with the clamour for its top wines coming not just from the US and Europe but the Far East too. 2005 is, after all, one of the best post-war vintages in line with the greats of 1961, 1982 and 2000. Typically then, no Bordeaux château owner wants to open at a price lower than their neighbour's. They don't want to undermine the value of their wine and what's more, if the château's opening price is below market value, the resulting profits will be creamed off by an undeserving army of middlemen, from Bordeaux broker and négociant to wine merchants right round the world.

Bordeaux can also point to the fact that high prices haven't deterred buyers. One specialist UK merchant reports takings of more than £1m a day in the second week of June alone with in-demand châteaux such as Pavie, Palmer and Pontet Canet quickly selling out and the popular Léoville Barton impossible to get hold of. Châteaux like these are sought as much by speculators as wine lovers because a high mark, plus high quality, equates to a blue-chip investment.

What all the hysteria obscures, however, is that outside the charmed three dozen-odd top names, hundreds of other châteaux making excellent wine have resisted the temptation to overprice. Among the specialists, Farr Vintners has one of the best-priced selections ( www.farr-vintners.com), Corney and Barrow a special Fighting Fund of such wines ( www.corneyand barrow.com). There are plenty of good selections and prices too from www.majestic.co.uk, www.laithwaites.co.uk and www.waitrose.com/enprimeur.

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