The Ministry of Silly Pricing
La Place September Releases
Hello fine wine lovers,
As you well know, la Place de Bordeaux is not merely a marketplace but a linchpin.
Here, the négociants reign. They don't just distribute wines; they dictate their economic destiny. The châteaux may produce the nectar, but it is the négociants who convert it into gold, deciding which bottles are worthy of high-stakes auction houses and private cellars.
You see, La Place operates not just as a conduit for Bordeaux wines, but increasingly for eminent labels from other regions, setting a global standard. By doing so, they crystallise value, turning fine wines into assets worth investing in. So, it is crucial for anyone investing in fine wine to understand the unspoken yet omnipresent influence of La Place de Bordeaux.
The September Releases, when the reach of La Place extends beyond Bordeaux, are becoming interesting. Notable newcomers from Paris to the vineyards of Burgundy, Beaujolais, and the Rhône. The iconic Hermitage La Chapelle, a jewel in Caroline Frey's crown, is but the tip of the spear. The entry of Burgundy names into this Bordeaux-based market system is nothing short of seismic.
I was taken aback when I received offers from London wine merchants. They priced the 2021 (now Domaine de) la Chapelle at a staggering £717.00 for a case of 3, equating to £239.00 per bottle. In contrast, the 2020 vintage is trading on the secondary market at £700.00 for a case of 6, which is £116.66 per bottle. Just a few hours later, I learned that the updated RRP stood at £567.00 for a case of 3, or £189.00 per bottle. The reason? Négociants decided to slash the prices, adjusting the initial hike from a 100% increase to a still substantial 60% jump.
While we anticipated aggressive pricing, especially in light of the 2022 Bordeaux EP season this spring, this level of markup appears to have deterred even the most dedicated and loyal wine collectors.
Below is a country-based list detailing the most anticipated wine releases, sorted by my random interest.
Catena Zapata, and an increasing number of Argentinian wine-makers, take the concept of high-altitude wine-making to 1,390m elevation.
Laura Catena, the daughter of Nicolás Catena Zapata, is a Harvard and Stanford-educated physician and the managing director of Argentina's Bodega Catena Zapata. Her family's pioneering work in high-altitude vineyards, especially the Adrianna Vineyard, has redefined the potential of Malbec. Their focus on unique terroir and microbial activity has led to wines of global acclaim, such as the highly collectable Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terrae label. Despite facing challenges like frost and inflation, the winery continues to innovate.
Laura's dual roles as a scientist and a winemaker contribute to the high quality and unique character of Catena Zapata's wines, making them coveted by connoisseurs worldwide.
The Mundus Bacillus Terrae label is set to become, if it isn’t already, an iconic wine. However, wine critics that tasted the 2020 vintage alongside the 2019 mentioned how the newer vintage showed a different aromatic profile, denoting ripeness and sun. 2020 was an extremely dry year, with 70% lower rainfall than the average and the grapes were picked two to three weeks earlier.
Given that the RRP for the 2020 (£158/75cl bottle) is in line with the 2019 vintage, I’d make sure to stock up on 2019 first (100-point wine), as the vintage to have from this iconic wine.
Worth checking out the 2018 and 2016 vintages, which not only perform equally to the newer vintages but also trade at lower prices!
There is one name that has received rave reviews — that’s the 2021 Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay, with 100-point scores from The Wine Advocate, Lisa Perrotti-Brown and Jane Anson. Jane Anson also listed it as the wine to buy if you buy just one wine.
Starting this October, Bordeaux merchant Ets J.P. Moueix will distribute Australia's Giaconda Chardonnay to previously underserved markets. After a difficult 2020 marked by wildfires that halted production, the 2021 vintage emerges as a fine and pristine offering. The wine is complex and is aged in 30% new French oak. Giaconda, founded by Rick Kinzbrunner, a former mechanical engineer turned winemaker, is situated in a historic gold-mining town at about 440m altitude, and it benefits from unique granite soils, and employs traditional Burgundian methods.
These wines are hard to find. A tough 2020 vintage with wildfires meant no Giaconda was produced. 2019 isn’t widely available. Perrotti-Brown MW recently tasted the two “classic vintages“ 2018 and 2021 side by side and said of the 2021:
This is as good as Chardonnay gets and then some.
Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW
The price of the 2018 vintage is £141/bottle via BBX. It seems quite a steal — let’s see if the 2021 will reprice.
Renegade winemaker Bibi Graetz’s 2021 Colore is one the winners of this Bordeaux September Release, in the eyes of most wine critics.
Based in Fiesole, just outside of Florence, he crafts his wines from grapes sourced primarily from old vines. Bibi Graetz values the character and intensity that old vines bring to wines. Some of the vines he sources from are over 50 years old, and others, especially those used for his top-tier wines, are over 100 years old. These old vines, combined with his minimal interventionist approach to winemaking, lead to wines that are both powerful and elegant, capturing the essence of the terroir. Both Colore and Testamatta reflect his artistic approach and commitment to quality, but they offer different expressions of Tuscan terroir and winemaking skill. Colore is generally considered the more luxurious and rare of the two, whereas Testamatta provides a more accessible option.
The release price of the 2021 was the same to the release price of the 2020 vintage — making the variations between vintages negligible. However, I suspect that if the brand awareness efforts and quality continues on this path, we might see the prices of this wine skyrocket in the next decade or so.
Another Toscana IGT that has shown a very sensible pricing strategy is Ornellaia’s Masseto 2020. Once 100% Merlot, the Cabernet Franc amount has increased to 15% since its introduction to the 2019 vintage, and with it we are seeing a sculpting of the Masseto character.
An interesting vintage (2019) in terms of the wider conversation around grapes and climate also, as a touch of Cabernet Franc is included for the first time for added grip, from a plot within the vineyard that was planted back in 2002. They expect this percentage to rise over the coming years, begging the question of whether bottles of the old style Masseto will become a time capsule of when Merlot was possible in Bolgerhi? All the more reason to savour it now.
Released at £550 / 750ml bottle, the 2020 vintage is Axel Heinz’s final full vintage before heading to Bordeaux in 2023, charting an increase of 9.4% on the release of the 2019 vintage. The Liv-ex chart below shows the release price against previous vintages’ market prices and their respective Wine Advocate score. While Monica Larner (WA) penalised this vintage for its fullness, other wine critics awarded it higher scores and praised the usage of the Cabernet Franc (99 points by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, and 98 points by Jane Anson and Antonio Galloni).
In light of it — the vintage seems to be more than fairly priced, but 2019 seems even more a steal, especially compared to 2010.
Masseto has historically offered decent returns to its buyers, as can be seen in the chart below.
Staying in Tuscany, a great vintage of the iconic Solaia, the 2020 was however released at a large premium from previous vintages.
The chart below paints the picture. Pass.
Jane Anson says to take a look at the incredible Spanish wines that joined La Place galvanised perhaps by the success of Yjar (Rioja Alavesa DO) by Telmo Rodriguez last autumn. The focus is on vigneron-led, terroir-driven wines, small production that express the potential of Spain’s regions, Galicia (Dolio), Ribero del Duero (Matallana) and Andalusia (Bodegas De La Riva).
I tend to agree and may I suggest that it’s probably here where some investors may be able to find better value for their buck.
The 2019 Yjar received a perfect 100-point rating from Jane Anson, following a commendable 98-point score for their 2018 vintage. My investment case for this wine mirrors that for Bibi Graetz. A wine that fetches £150 per bottle today, gaining international accolades from esteemed wine critics, combined with a very limited production run, is poised for significant appreciation. Within a decade, such a wine could very well become an iconic label, potentially commanding prices that are double its current value.
We need to talk about Napa 2020. Smoke taint severely impacted the 2020 vintage. Many Napa red wines were not produced because of it, and some existing bottles, even from respected wineries, are tainted. Producers were wary about the 2020 production and were secretive until bottling. Some wines had evident smoke taint, others had subtle or questionable taint levels.
The first major fire of the season, the Hennessey Fire, began on 17th August 2020. It merged with other fires, known as the LNU Lightning Complex Fires. The early timing of these fires, before the start of the harvest, jeopardized the entire Napa Valley crop. While the Hennessey Fire's smoke damage was limited, its early occurrence dampened hopes for harvest from surrounding areas.
The Glass Fire that began on 27th September took a massive toll on Napa Valley, affecting numerous iconic establishments. Every part of Napa experienced smoke impact, but some regions were less affected, and a few producers managed to harvest grapes before or during the early stages of the fire.
Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW said the 2020 growing season showed similarities to 2017, especially the Labor Day heatwave and the occurrence of fires. However, the wine styles from these two years differ greatly when discounting the effect of smoke taint. The untainted 2020 Napa red wines had more clarity than the 2017 wines. They also possessed more weight, higher alcohol content, and riper tannins. Some producers managed to create exceptional wines, despite the challenging conditions.
Owing to the impact of the 2020 wildfires, Opus has chosen not to release a 2020 vintage and is instead re-releasing 2019 and 2018.
Both vintages of Opus One have been re-released at a price similar to their current market price on the secondary market, as Livex shows in the chart below. From a collector/investor’s point of view, I don’t see much point in investing in this release.
It should have been Burgundy names testing out the system of selling through Bordeaux négociants to make shockwaves but instead it was the release of La Chapelle.
To put into context, the 2021 release is the most expensive wine of the last ten vintages, when you use current market prices. In those terms, even the extraordinary 2015 vintage appears cheap.
I’ve created a summary of the latest vintages in Northern Rhône, which may help you put the release price into context.
2021 ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Extremely challenging due to unpredictable weather. Significant crop losses.
2020 ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Hot, dry, with an early harvest. Yields vary, but wines are lively and balanced. Good aging potential.
2019 ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Hot but with well-timed rains. Bright, lively wines with variable yields across regions.
2018 ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Very hot and dry, leading to ripe and hefty wines. Quality varied; trust established producers.
2017 ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Hot year, dark fruit, high alcohol, low acidity. Best wines have avoided overt heat.
2016 ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Balanced, fresh, suave wines. Enjoyable now but also has ageing potential.
2015 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Structured and deep. Serious ageing potential but it will take time to soften up.
Fingers crossed that the rest of the releases will be fairly priced. I fear that we may drifting towards a world akin to Monty Python’s The Ministry of Silly Walks, where John Cleese's character takes the ridiculousness of his own walk completely seriously, unaware of how absurd it looks to everyone else. Let’s hope not.