Bordeaux 2020 en primeurs – be prepared to act fast

Bordeaux 2020 En Primeurs is expected to be a fast-paced campaign with smaller supply – be prepared to act fast! We will know about the quality of the vintage imminently as the first stage in this year’s en primeur campaign kicked off with the tastings this week. As with the 2019 vintage, the pandemic has meant that the annual trade pilgrimage to Bordeaux has been cancelled this year and the Chateaux have sent samples of the embryonic 2020 vintage to the international fine wine critics and merchants. The Bordeaux new vintage tasting week is one of the key highlights of the trade calendar and probably the most significant test for the professional palates in terms of the number of wines to be critiqued and with £millions riding on the critical opinions now being formed.

Expectations for Bordeaux 2020

Climatically, the 2020 vintage challenges were a mildew-inducing wet Spring followed by a long hot summer and an intense, grape-shrivelling, harvest heatwave. Whilst the Bordeaux chateaux are experts at managing the weather and pest problems posed each year, there are still consequences. The cost  for the 2020 vintage has been a 10% lower yield than in the preceding 2019 and 2018 vintages, with St Julien and Sauternes & Barsac the hardest hit.Grapes hanging on vine

In contrast Pomerol’s yields are near average annual levels due to the predominance of the earlier ripening Merlot grape, allowing for a harvest that avoided exposure to the extreme conditions in September 2020.

Saturnalia utilises satellite and geo-spatial technology to analyse harvest performance and their research identified Pessac -Leognan, St Emilion and Pomerol as the top performing appellations this vintage with the expectation that the highest rated ten wines of the vintage are likely to be from Pomerol.

Ripeness, concentration and alcohol levels are being scrutinised during the tastings now and early observations are that there is the potential for some excellent wines, but there will be variations from vineyard to vineyard and by appellation – in the trade lingo ‘an heterogenous vintage’.

The drama of this week is all about those first experiences of the new vintage and the critics will be pondering their findings, preparing tastings notes and awarding their qualitative scores which are likely to be published mid-May.

Pricing the vintage will shape success

The challenge for the Bordelais will be to get the prices right in a very complex market. The backdrop of Covid-19 and an energised market for Bordeaux wines, in part stimulated by Biden’s suspension of the US Tariffs, will make it a finely-tuned balancing act, but get it right and they can look forward to another successful campaign as for the 2019 vintage releases.

First Growths: Top 5 great vintages best returns from en primeurs

Wine Vintage Average Score Price Increase
Margaux 2015 99.3 £10,100 137.6%
Lafite Rothschild 2015 96.3 £5,600 28.7%
Lafite Rothschild 2016 98.8 £7,010 17.3%
Mouton Rothschild 2018 98.8 £5,940 16.2%
Lafite Rothschild 2018 98.3 £6,891 14.9%

Source: Liv-ex.com, April 2021

Last year saw a fast-paced sales campaign following the more convoluted tastings due to the first-time logistics challenges of shipping 2019 samples around the world because of the pandemic and then a longer period to get the results published. This year, the infrastructure is in place and we are expecting a much quicker campaign.

The 2019 releases surprised and delighted the market with prices reduced by nearly 30% on the previous 2018 vintage by some top chateaux. But they didn’t just cut prices, they also reduced the 2019 volume for sale – with 2020 an even smaller vintage we can expect reduced en primeur supply this year.

Bordeaux 2019 – Reduction on 2018 volume:

Chateau 2019 Supply lower than 2018
Leoville Las Cases 35%
Cheval Blanc 30%
Figeac 30%
Pichon Lalande 25%
Mouton Rothschild 20%
Lynch Bages 20%
Leoville Barton 20%
Cos d’Estournel 20%
Conseillante 20%
Grand Puy Lacoste 15%
Leoville Poyferre 10%

Source: Liv-ex.com, April 2021

2019’s lower volume at release meant that there was very limited opportunity for new investors to get involved in the en primeurs last year as the supply available, priced very attractively, sold out rapidly. Furthermore, the pricing strategy meant that the secondary market performance has been strong since release. Sixty-three wines from the 2019 vintage were traded on Liv-ex following their release compared to just eleven following the 2018 releases.

Prepare for a fast-paced 2020 en primeur campaign

The fine wine trade expects another fast-paced campaign for the 2020 en primeurs. Given the smaller vintage yield, the likelihood is the release volumes will be lower than average and possibly the 2019s last year. This is further compounded by the devastating frosts in 2021 which has decimated vineyards across Europe. 2020 vintage supply could well be held back to temper shortage in the 2021 vintage. This could also affect the release prices the chateaux impose on the negociants and global merchants.

Chateau Pontet Canet CellarA further influence on pricing the 2020 vintage is the current buoyant market for Bordeaux. 2019 was sold at a discount to the 2018 release, will the Bordelais be able to resist the temptation for higher release prices for 2020 as values for back vintages have risen over the past year. Should they adopt a similar approach to last year there is no doubt that this would solidify sentiment towards Bordeaux right now. With all this to contend with critics’ scores may have an even greater sway over the pricing strategy

For fine wine investors, the key critics are Neal Martin (Vinous.com), Lisa Perotti-Brown MW (The Wine Advocate), James Suckling, Antonio Galloni (also Vinous) and Jeb Dunnuck. Robert Parker originally chose Neal Martin to be his specialist successor at The Wine Advocate on Bordeaux and Martin is seen to be the most trusted by the trade for his view on the region’s en primeurs.

We will publish the critics’ scores as soon as they are made available and shortlist our top 2020 en primeurs for investment. Register your interest in allocations and more information here. For further details on the benefits of investing in en primeur wines contact our expert team on 0203 384 2262.