Wines Then and Now: Part 3

Old World big boys: Burgundy and Bordeaux

This is the final part in a three part series on wine prices over the past decade. Part one, with an introduction and a look at the wines of Piedmont can be found here, while part two, focusing on the wines of both Tuscany and the Rhone Valley can be found here. Today I’ll be wrapping things up with a look at the big boys, Burgundy and Bordeaux.
If Syrah, which we looked at last week, is a fringe player, Bordeaux is the bullseye. The most famous, most liquid, in a financial sense, and most heavily commoditized wine in the world; Bordeaux is the wine world in miniature. I used to love Bordeaux, as so many people did back in the day. It was easy to understand, had great variety, and was well-priced. Not to mention there seemed to be an infinite catalog of back vintages available at affordable prices, so even the neophyte could buy a few bottles and have a fair sense of what might come out of his cellar one day should he add some Bordeaux to it.
And things changed, slowly at first. Over a longer period, and to a lesser degree the caricaturization of Bordeaux blazed the path followed years later by Chateauneuf du Pape, though with the Bordeaux Market the way it is, having good wine isn’t always required. Today, some of these wines are after more commodity than wine. Even through all of this, I admit to still having a soft spot for Bordeaux, and in truth there are still plenty of producers making good wines, and amongst the thousands of producers crowding the scene, there are some great values to be had. But today we’re looking at the big boys, or rather some of the smallest of the big boys. These are the wines I bought from the 2000 vintage, let’s see what’s happened with them.

Sommelier cartoon via Shutterstock
Across the board we can see that the prices over the span of a decade have almost uniformly increased faster than any other region we’ve looked at yet. In fact, many of the wines have doubled or tripled in price. It’s hard to see much value here, but on faith I would have to say that the Grand Puy Lacoste and Gruaud Larose still represent fair value for world class wines. The one standout here being of course Sociando-Mallet. A throwback wine, still hard and green in the context of Bordeaux, but lovers of its style like it. For $40 you’d be hard pressed to find a more interested bottle of wine. Will it increase in value over the coming year? I’d have to bet yes, since it is such a unique expression of Bordeaux, and many producers whose wines are roughly in the $20 to $50 range continue to offer compelling value, but above that range, the pickings seem to be getting awfully slim. 
And that brings us back to where it all started, sort of. We obviously started with the wines of Barolo, but my premise was and remains that the jump in the pricing of Burgundy has shifted attention that was previously focused here to other regions, Barolo in particular. Unfortunately I wasn’t a big buyer of Burgundy a decade or so ago, so I’ll have to rely on purchase made from the 2005 vintage and compare them with their 2010 counterparts, a particularly apt comparison since these will likely turn out to be the top two vintages of the past decade.
Since we’re using a compressed time frame here, changes in the exchange rate can hardly be blamed for price jumps, and jumps in pricing similar to or greater than what we’ve seen in other regions should be even more alarming. Let’s see what the numbers say.
Well, the number’s don’t lie. What we’re seeing are jumps similar to those experiences over a decade, yet in other regions occurring in just five years. 2010 was a low yielding vintage in Burgundy so supply is unusually depressed, but in many cases these 2010 prices are very similar to their 2009 counterparts. Once the marketplace has crossed a threshold and determined that Domaine X in a good vintage is worth $Y, it’s almost impossible to uncross that threshold, particularly in a region like Burgundy where there might be a touch less influence wielded by the major critics. 
Some relative bargains still remain. I think the Pousse d’Or wines are better than they were in the past and Jadot still sells their wines for very fair prices, but more and more, wines are simply selling for sums of money that have more to do with their rarity than their intrinsic quality, not that this is a new development. I don’t begrudge the sellers, nor the buyers in these transactions, and wish I had some money lying around to pick some of those $200 bottles of Mugneret Gibourg Echezeaux which looks to be a great deal. I only bring all of this up to help myself, and perhaps a few readers along the way, better understand what is going on with the world of fine wine. 
I’ve been fortunate to be a player on this field for more than two decades, albeit in a very very minor role. I find the interconnections between market segments fascinating, and sometime a little scary. I’ve bought many wines that I can no longer afford, some that I no longer like, and have always been fortunate to find wines to replace those that I’ve lost, but understanding why, and how wines move from one price level to another has always been a bit of a mystery. Perhaps it is now less of a mystery, and with the predictions I’ve made here it will be fascinating to discover in the years that come whether I was right, or just another cog in the wine industry blowing smoke out of his ass.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: davidboyer
    208575 26

    Hi Gregory,

    You may recall that prices for Bordeaux really began to go up sharply in 2000, which I believe was, in part, due to the massive efforts of the marketing machine: critics, the wine press, and the press in general. Add to this, the growing consumer demand for finer wine, due to better informed consumers created by the universal adoption of internet technology. People could, at their leisure, go to a site like Snooth and learn more about wine rather than engage in the traditional methods of learning by studying to become a sommelier or employing other courses of formal education. So demand began building along with more access to information.

    2003 was another ‘great’ vintage in Bordeaux and the Bordelaise naturally took advantage of their great luck with Mother Nature that year, producing very good wines from a very hot (ripe) vintage and raising prices again to meet rising demand. By 2005 US pockets were full of cash relative to today’s economy, and buyers were lined up for yet another spectacular vintage and they had the money to pay for it.

    By '06 and '07 auction prices for fine wine on the secondary market had gone absolutely wild so I suppose it only seems fair that the châteaux should be entitled to a bit of the windfall too. To wit, at its peak a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild 1982 was suddenly selling for $10,000 or more. It’s release price was somewhere around $41. That’s insane! Prices are headed down to a more reasonable level these days as China turns its desire for drinkable luxury goods to Burgundy.

    Before the next ‘greatest vintage ever’ of 2009 everything had changed and the bubble burst (in 2007 and 2008) leaving millions jobless, with plummeting real estate prices, and a globally depressed economy. Americans all but abandoned Bordeaux, some by choice, others with no choice but ‘trading down’ was how retail survived, quite well I might add. Wine consumption was increasing year over year in the US. However, despite the problematic economy Bordeaux simply followed the money and although US sales were off, China was rising as surely as the sun rises each day. With China being so remarkably liquid, there seemed to be no end to rising Bordeaux prices. In 2010, also being touted as the next ‘greatest vintage ever’, prices rose yet again. Having barrel tasted '10 in Bordeaux France the following year, I can say that this is NOT an over-hyped vintage, nor is 2009.

    This how we got to where we are today. As China continues to discover Burgundy, the same thing will continue happen with those great wines until such time as China’s bubble bursts, which is inevitable. There is no possibility of sustaining such staggering economic growth in any country, even China, and eventually the wine world will have to follow the money again to whatever emerging economy is looking for prestige. We have historically seen wine sales growth tied in to the nation de jour like Japan, the Middle East, and now China but none stay at the top, unfortunately including the US.

    This a fine example of capitalism, supply and demand principles, and the boom and bust cycles related to this economic theory, as it exists today. Nations chasing trophy wines will always contribute to high prices. And trophy wines are indeed something to be respected and cherished but for the right reasons: they are remarkable examples of what fine wine is about, they are very rare, or both.

    Best regards,

    David Boyer

    Jan 31, 2013 at 5:14 PM

  • Snooth User: Cadmo
    518452 31

    Hi Gregory,
    Where I can get today's price for old wine? Thanks, Ricardo

    Feb 01, 2013 at 7:53 AM

  • Snooth User: Tiakittie
    1041141 85

    Good Morning Gregory!! Thanks for the articles! As someone who only recently began collecting (in the last 4 years), it's interesting to see how the pricing has changed!! I would be curious to watch those lesser regions such as Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Chile (and even Canada, though pricing is already pushing boundaries here on those stellar vintages!) and see how their prices track over the next 10 years as wine lovers move to product that fits their budgets. If the classic laws of supply and demand hold, at some point down the road we could all be back to drinking Gallo!!! ;)


    Feb 01, 2013 at 11:25 AM

  • Snooth User: Martin E
    249368 16


    It's a great summary. I agree with all your statement. I think it is important for the French producers to not only focus on the race for new markets and higher prices, but also ensure that their relationships with traditional long-term customers in UK, Germany, US, etc. are not damaged. People may turn in-mass to wines from other regions, while (as history shows) fashion in the emerging markets can change very rapidly. Anyway, I hope to see a slowdown in Bordeaux price increase in the future. Can't say this about Burgundy; may be it's time to look for great Pinot from Oregon instead...

    Feb 02, 2013 at 5:50 PM

  • Snooth User: davidboyer
    208575 26

    Hi Martin,

    Thanks for your kind words. You are absolutely right: the notion of pushing aside tried and true clientele for the current mad rush is not a sound long-term business strategy. I wrote about the dangers of Bordeaux chasing newly emerging countries in 2010 (in reference to China) and if you look at what Americans are NOT buying, I would say that your assertions have already come to be.

    Alas, Americans have not been buying en primeur since 2005 and it shows, but they clearly haven't stopped drinking. As you said, they found something else and it does seem to be mostly west coast domestic wines. Bordeaux is much less accessible than it used to be for certain.

    As for Oregon Pinot? It's very good but of course it's not Burgundy.

    Best wishes,

    David Boyer

    Feb 02, 2013 at 8:16 PM

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