Bordeaux 2016: Fine Wine at Fine Prices

By Nicholas Jackson

S pringtime means Bordeaux in the fine wine world: the annual tastings of the new vintage which roll around every March and April. The crew of Sotheby’s tasters – five of us in total – will set off in a couple of weeks. A week long tour of all the starry names in the Bordeaux firmament ensues, during which we taste all the top wines with a view to making recommendations to our clients on what to buy during the Futures campaign that follows.

A good 2016 vintage would follow the lovely 2015s. We enjoyed our most successful Futures campaign ever last year, selling the juicy, ripe, attractive 2015s. But our expectations are even higher for 2016. Reports from Bordeaux so far indicate that 2016 has the potential to be a very good vintage indeed – perhaps even a great one. As has often been noted, it’s not the hot years that make the best wines in Bordeaux, but the dry ones. And last summer there was scarcely a drop of rain from late June to harvest. 

As usual, the focus of discussion after the tastings will turn to pricing. The prices of the ‘15s were firm but not unreasonable given the quality. The ‘16s realistically may be higher priced for higher quality.

However, two factors may stem excessive price hikes:

1. 2016 is a large crop. The chateaux owners have a lot of wine to sell.
2. The world situation has changed a little from this time last year.

The crucial UK market has lost much of its luster after sterling lost value precipitously following the Brexit vote. If prices stayed the same as last year, they would already be 10-15% higher for UK buyers. Furthermore, the Asian market has largely sat out Futures campaigns since the 2010 vintage. That leaves only one really significant market for the campaign: the US, which is nowhere near big enough for all the wine that will come onto the market.

On the flip side, we are in an analogous situation to 2011, when the 2010s were released. Following the hugely successful 2009s, chateau owners hiked prices for the 2010s to a level that the wines only now are beginning to re-attain. Then and now, the chateaux owners are driven never to underprice their wines. Will they get the balance right this year?

In sum: a potentially great vintage and a potentially great campaign to come, for buyers and sellers alike. We’ll be recording our impressions of the vintage during and after our tastings in April. We sell Futures in New York and Hong Kong: sign up for our Futures emails if, like me, you’re already salivating over the thought of a great Bordeaux year.


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