100ml, Bordeaux

Why Carruades de Lafite is an important indicator for 2010 Bordeaux En Primeur

The ultimate wine brand in in the world is not Lafite. It is Lafite’s second wine: Carruades de Lafite. Once the Bordeaux circus returns, the points are published and the prices are drip-fed out to the buyers by the Chateaux, keep an eye on the prices of Carruades de Lafite. If the “Carruades trend” continues, this could signal the end of the critic-led Bordeaux price.

More than any other wine, quality is irrelevant to its price: over the years, Carraudes de Lafite has become pure brand. It is a signifier (the Lafite name) without the need for any reference to its signified (the actual wine in the bottle). The points and tasting notes are irrelevant.

However, the label, and how the name is attached to the first wine of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, is very important. Whether it has a high or low score.

Unlike Lafite, which is often lauded as the wine of the vintage, it can not be said Carruades de Lafite has the same quality. For example, Carruades averaged a modest 89 Robert Parker points between 2000 and 2006. Yet the insatiable thirst for Lafite means even these back vintages have increased in price, some on par with other first growths such as Mouton Rothschild.

The spectacular rise in the price of Carruades over recent years throws into question the role of Western wine critics and the 100 point system’s effect on price in the Asian market. I wager the “Western” idea of scores will be irrelevant to the eventual price again this year.

Just like the waiting list for a Hermes Kelly bag, it won’t matter about the colour or the price, buyers will just feel lucky to be on the Lafite list. Perhaps they will even be happy with a fake.

Neither alternative – scores or brands – are particularly appealing ways to set prices for wine in themselves. But imagine a time when we will look back and say: at least scores kept the quality of the wine a little more honest; compared to now, when pricing is based purely on brand alone.

Image: High Fashion lollypops

 

8 Comments

  1. Ben says

    Nice post, Juel. There's something in it about Bordeaux itself actually killing wine criticism. It was here that Robert Parker made his name and reputation – but too many others since have sought to take a share of that opinion-feeding, when there's a limit to how many opinions Bordeaux buyers or indeed anyone needs. Bordeaux itself, as you say, now has its eye firmly on other markets where scores have either ceased to mean anything or never did.

    • In one sense the brand obsession we’re seeing at this stage of Chinese wine culture is quite refreshing…at least the ability to ignore scores. I often wish more of my clients could do the same and realise that a Parker 85 score doesn’t mean the wine’s undrinkable, merely that it doesn’t totally stand up to a professional’s analysis . I often drink wine and find it perfect for the context, but know full well that it is too acidic/tannic/flabby etc. to be highly rated. Consumer enjoyment so does not overlap with wine trade pros’ semi-scientific prognoses, ergo, IMHO, scoring wines will always be wrong/misleading/a severe and tragic dumbing down of our subject. Howzzat for a rant?!??

  2. Yes. I think either extreme, points or brands, is not useful for the wine lover – on top of that, a lot of top Bordeaux now are just for purely investment funds, which is a cynical use of wine criticism. How much opinion is needed – on the other hand, I quite like the plurality of voices. Not just one person. JM

  3. "Carruades averaged a modest 89 Robert Parker points between 2000 and 2006"

    There are other, First wines which would kill for that!

  4. Thanks, although I am not sure 89 points would be celebrated by Chateaux… The magic sales point is 90 points and over. That one point makes a huge difference in sales (not sure whether it makes huge difference to the wine)…

  5. Great insightful post!

    On a related point, I have always been amazed that in spite of the sheer volume of words that has been written about the Chinese market, practically none of it has been by an actual Chinese consumer.

    I wonder if it is possible to get a video crew, go to China and film precisely how wine is consumed. That would be really interesting …

  6. Thanks Tai-Ran, agree, it'd be good to see. And I'd love to go to China…. I have met some Chinese Lafite buyers through my previous work, going around the central london wine shops and buying up all the available magnums and bottles of Lafite (and Carruades), not at all concerned about the vintage. It was as if they were stocking up, as you do ;-) Then you hear stories like the one when I sat next to someone at dinner, an Aussie wine importer to central China, who told me all the Lafite and Coca Cola stories – he said the way to drink it was "to have the Lafite very old and the lemon slice very very fresh."

  7. James Swann says

    With regards to Bordeaux 2010, and indeed the whole so denominated fine and rare wines market, a range of recent phenomena, not without risk, is becoming apparent among them, as cited here, brand over ratings.

    Scores (Parker) will continue to account for major price differentials between vintages and chateaux on aggregate. However, we will likely see the continued emergence of exceptions to this rule, evident among those wines where (Chinese) demand is strongest; representing a differentiation within the classed growths market as some chateaux become less sensitive to (Parker) scores and brand-led demand becomes their chief driver of price

    Risk is higher too; price formation would appear to have a higher correlation with emerging market GDP and industrial production indicators than traditional fine wine supply-side economics, raising the risk of a price shock in the event of a sudden drop in demand in these countries. Major merchants, moreover, may depend on China for as much as 50% of their turnover. En primeur too, increasingly presents irregular prices and diminishing returns for considerably higher risk.

    Finally, after a year where almost everything went up, the near future looks set to be more discriminating.

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