Final Thought: Bordeaux 2018, A Perplexing Vintage

  • Anthony Maxwell, Liv-ex Director

  • 10 Jul 2019 | News & Views

“Exceptional,” “heterogenous" or “controversial,” Bordeaux 2018 evoked numerous quality and stylistic comparisons with preceding years among the critics and trade. Ultimately, the question that lingered on the minds of the trade was whether the newly released wines would capture the attention of collectors and be priced to justify the investment at this early stage. The vintage was highly regarded among the critics—the extremely positive reception gave the campaign legs and turned some releases into great successes. 

Liv-ex’s merchant members were more reserved in their view of the vintage, rating 2018 above 2017 but below 2016, 2010 and 2009 and at a similar level to 2015. This year, Liv-ex introduced a critics’ choice ranking and a ‘Benchmark Critic’ series in addition to its ‘Fair Value’ methodology, designed to account for the diverse opinions of the leading wine critics. These guidelines helped to determine an individual wine’s implied value at the time of release, and position it within its own historical, critical and market context. 

While there was a marked improvement in the quality of this year’s releases compared to last year’s, for some merchants few stood out as a “must buy.” A number of wines were offered at record-breaking prices, though on average the vintage was released at the same price level as the much-admired 2016. As Chart 1 shows, the discount to current 2016 prices was a low 2.6%. Back vintages of comparable quality at similar or lower prices, already physical and easily available, confused the scene and challenged the assumption that En Primeur is the best time to buy. The wines that saw the highest demand were offered at a significant discount to the current Market Price of their 2016 alternatives, making them look like an attractive purchase. Others benefited from either tight allocations or unprecedented levels of critical acclaim.

Feedback from merchants suggested that while the 2018 releases did not necessarily persuade long-standing collectors with large stockholdings, they did appeal to a new generation looking to start building their cellars. Some merchants approached the vintage with great enthusiasm, taking advantage of the high average critic scores, while others with greater caution focused instead on the price—two contrasting strategies that were reflected in contrasting sales figures. 

As Chart 2 shows, overall sales by value rose 60% on 2017, surpassing the levels achieved for the 2015 and suggesting a successful 2018 campaign. As production rose on last year, so did the volumes sold—by 50%. Liv-ex members expected this jump: 69% predicted that demand would increase, although it would be price-dependent and therefore not evenly spread. The campaign saw a narrow selection of highly desired wines and record scores driving demand despite near-record prices. When scores did not support the price level of this year’s offerings, wines were discounted shortly after release.

Readers should take note that the views of this author represent those of a company with an interest in the wine trade. Liv-ex operates the global marketplace for fine wine. It offers trading, data and settlement services to professional buyers and sellers of fine wine. Private collectors can view Liv-ex prices and value their portfolios using Cellar Watch and find regular market analysis on the blog. The opinions of Liv-ex are their own and do not represent those of Robert Parker Wine Advocate or Wine Journal. Liv-ex contributes articles to Wine Journal that we feel are of market relevance to readers, but we do not specifically endorse this company.

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