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    Black holes in the Bordeaux sky 

    Part 1: The endless race between the wine merchant and wine estate

    When a wine investor or collector wants to complement his or her cellar with a bottle of the most recent vintage of Château Pétrus, there is only one alternative: estate-made and estate-bottled Château Pétrus. If you want to purchase a Château Pétrus that is beginning to mature enough to drink, say a 1959 vintage, the situation gets more complicated. There are Pétrus wines in the market that do not carry the familiar and reliable label and whose contents have not been blended, let alone bottled, at the Pétrus estate. The labels of these strange-looking Pétruses carry names such as Van der Meulen, Lafitte or Hannappier in large lettering. The same labels also tell that the wine has been blended and bottled in places like Belgium, the Netherlands or Sweden. The prices of these wines vary widely. This strange phenomenon is not typical only for Pétrus, because there are also British Lafites, Dutch Cheval Blancs, German Moutons and Belgian Latours. Should you then dare to buy a “Belgian Pétrus”? Yes, because it may be even better and less expensive than the original French one!

     

    Bolshevist activity

    Up until the late 1960s, many Grand Cru estates used to sell all or part of their harvest in barrels to wholesale wine merchants who then bottled the wines. They also stuck labels on the bottles carrying their own information. This practice dates back to the 18th century, and as late as the 19th century, estate bottling was such a rare occurrence that the merchant’s name was often mentioned first on the labels of even the best-known estates, and the estate name in small letters afterwards.

                          It was not until the early 20th century that the largest and most prestigious estates started to bottle their wines at the estate. After the First World War, wine production was still a very unscientific activity; wine trade was dominated by large wholesalers instead of the estates, which made the ownership of a top-class estate in Bordeaux rather unprofitable. The most noted promoter of estate bottling was Baron Philippe de Rothschild. When he boldly bottled his entire 1924 vintage of Mouton-Rothschild himself, it was an unprecedented act. To underscore his position, the baron used works of the Cubist poster artist Carlu on his labels, which was called “Bolshevist activity” by Maurice Healy. Encouraged by de Rothschildt’s example, Château Latour, Lafite, Haut-Brion and Château d’Yquem started to bottle their own wines. Many top estates such as Château Petrus and Château Margaux, however, let the wholesalers bottle their wines until the late 60s.

     

    Rich merchants, poor estates

    The quality of wholesaler-bottled wine might vary a lot in comparison with estate-bottled wines, depending on who actually bottled it. The truth is that this system allowed unscrupulous merchants to increase their profits through blending unauthentic, cheaper wine in the bottles. On the other hand, several estates are guilty of this as well. Fortunately, you meet such bottles in the wine market very rarely. The other side of the coin is that there was a large group of wine merchants whose bottles were not only as good as estate bottlings, but often even better.

                          There are understandable reasons for this. The largest wholesalers with the best reputation tasted the wines barrel by barrel at the estate and then bought the best barrels. If necessary, they also blended the contents to guarantee even quality. Wholesale merchants had always made more money from the wines than the growers, which allowed them to invest more in first-class cellars. Significant operators in the market, the wholesalers also had excellent contacts with bottle and cork manufacturers who offered them their best products to guarantee the quality and preservation of the wines.

                          The wholesalers also bottled the wines at the optimal moment, whereas estates often bottled when other work at the estate gave them time for it. For example, the Château Latour 1961 bottling took a whole year at the estate.

     

    The New Roles

    When estate bottling was made legally mandatory for Grand Cru Classe wines in 1969, two centuries of wholesaler domination seemed to have come to an end.

                          The first half of the 1970s was a nightmare for wine wholesalers. They had made unsuccessful purchases and overloaded their warehouses with poor-quality 1972 and 1973 wines for which they could not find buyers. At the same time, the credibility of the merchants suffered because of a great wine scandal. Cruse, one of the largest and most reputed wholesalers, had bottled and marketed large quantities of AC Bordeaux classified red wine with the Cruse label. Which proved to be quite ordinary unclassified table wine. When Cruse’s forgery was revealed, the scandal erupted and the credibility of wholesalers was destroyed. The wholesalers also quickly lost their grip on the Bordeaux estates. The pricing, as well as the bottling, became the realm of the estates.

                          Not even the good-quality year of 1975 changed the situation, because it was commercially poor and the wholesalers were very cautious with their purchases. Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Lafite made a bold decision and bypassed the wholesalers altogether. They sold part of their wines in batches direct to collectors and investors through Christie’s auction house in London. This was considered a daring move and the final blow to wholesalers. There was no return to the previous situation, even if the wholesalers still sell three-quarters of Bordeaux wines. Many wholesalers -négociants- folded because of financial difficulties in 1974 and 1975.

     

    The best and the most reliable

    The largest and most traditional wholesalers were naturally the most reliable ones, as a good reputation was a matter of honour and the cornerstone of a successful business. The best-known are A&R Barriere, Van der Meulen, Barton&Guestier, De Luze&Fils, Sichel, Berry Brothers, Avery’s, Cuvelier&Fils, Hannappier, Calvet, Lafitte, Grafe-Lecocq, Charles Bardin and Sander’s, to name just a few.

                          Because wholesaler bottlings are often up to 20-40% cheaper than estate bottlings in the secondarymarket, they are good value for money. It is worth remembering, however, to make sure that all the external factors that affect the quality of the wine are in order. The price should also be in the correct proportion to estate-bottled wines. One should always pay attention to the the origin of the wine, because there are lots of counterfeit wines. Only few wholesalers used corks and capsules with vintage and estate information on the wine, in addition to their own data. That is why so-called easy counterfeits, bottles with changed labels, are being offered far too often.

     

    As a rule, excellent wines

    We have bought hundreds of wholesaler-bottled wines over the years, mostly to be enjoyed at dinners and tastings.  Our best memories are from Van Der Meulen Château d´Yquem 1921, De Luze&Fils  Château Lafite 1811 and 1900, Sichel&Fils Château Calon-Segur 1928, Van Der Meulen Château Pétrus 1947, Berry&Bros Château Palmer 1961, Sichel& Co. Château Cheval Blanc 1953, Barton&Guestier Château Margaux 1959, Lafitte&Co. Château Pétrus 1959 and Van Der Meulen Romanée-Conti 1923 and 1929. Unfortunately, we have also encountered major disappointments and hundrets of forgeries.

                          We do not recommend wholesaler-bottled wines as investments except in special cases, because one can never be quite sure about their origin or their authenticity. Uncertainty usually elicits healthy mistrust in wine investors as realising these wines may take a long time. On the other hand, the best wines from the best wholesalers can easily be recommended for enjoyment, because nine out of ten will reward the buyer, and not only through price.

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Wine Moments

Here you can see wine moments from tastingbook users. or to see wine moments from your world.

Pekka Nuikki / Founder of the Fine Wine Magazines, Pro (Finland)  had a tasting of  13 Wines  from  10 Producers 

DRC La Tâche 1955 / Decanted for one hour. Deep colour, already mature at the edges. Immensely aromatic, wild meaty bouquet that reached all corners of the nose. Intensive and rich on the palate. Delicate flavours of coffee, truffles and violets. Not very robust or multi-dimensional wine but has a lovely sweetness of soft tannins and fruit at the end. A very satisfactory Burgundy from this ordinary vintage.

21d 11h ago

Pekka Nuikki / Founder of the Fine Wine Magazines, Pro (Finland)  had a tasting of  72 Wines  from  37 Producers 

Champagne Magazines 100 Best Champagnes 2020 -tasting day III.

1m 20d ago

Dom Pérignon P2 2002, Moët & Chandon
Dom Pérignon 2008, Moët & Chandon
MCIII NV (10's), Moët & Chandon
Dom Pérignon Rosé 2006, Moët & Chandon
Grand Vintage 2012, Moët & Chandon
Cristal 2008, Louis Roederer
Veuve Clicquot Brut NV (10's), Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin
La Grande Dame 2008, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin
Krug Vintage 2004, Krug
Rosé 22 Edition NV (10's), Krug
Pol Roger vintage rosé 2009, Pol Roger
Sir Winston Churchill 2008, Pol Roger
Cuvée Joséphine 2008, Joseph Perrier
Brut Millésimé 2008, Charles Heidsieck
Brut Réserve NV (10's), Charles Heidsieck
Blanc des Millénaires 2004, Charles Heidsieck
Rosé Réserve NV (10's), Charles Heidsieck
Belle Epoque Rosé 2010, Perrier-Jouët
Blanc de Blancs NV (10's), Perrier-Jouët
Grand Brut NV (10's), Perrier-Jouët
Blason Rosé NV (10's), Perrier-Jouët
Brut Réserve NV (10's), Taittinger
Vintage 2013, Taittinger
Comtes de Champagne 2007, Taittinger
Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2007, Taittinger
Le Millésimé 2012, G.H. Mumm
Cuvée R. Lalou 2006, G.H. Mumm
RSRV Blanc de Blancs NV (10's), G.H. Mumm
Vintage 2012, Piper-Heidsieck
Cuvée Brut NV (10's), Piper-Heidsieck
Essentiel Cuvée Brut NV (10's), Piper-Heidsieck
Rosé Sauvage NV (10's), Piper-Heidsieck
Rare Rose 2008, Piper-Heidsieck
Rare 2006, Piper-Heidsieck
Dom Ruinart 2007, Ruinart
Brut Souverain NV (10's), Champagne Henriot
Millésime 2012, Champagne Henriot
Rosé Brut NV (10's), Champagne Henriot
Joyau de France 2007, Boizel
Nec Plus Ultra (N.P.U) NV (10's), Bruno Paillard
Amour de Deutz 2009, Deutz
Rosé Prestige NV (10's), Duval-Leroy
Prestige Rosé NV (10's), Pierre Mignon
Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV (10's), Pierre Mignon
Cuvée Louise 2004, Pommery
Silver NV (10's), Pommery
Dappier Réserve de l'Oenothèque 2002, Drappier
Barons de Rothschild Brut NV (10's), Barons De Rothschild
Essentiel 2010, Collard-Picard
Oeil de Perdrix NV (10's), Jean Vesselle
Millésime 2008, Collet
Blanc de Blancs NV (10's), Palmer & Co
Brut Millésimé 2012, Palmer & Co
Brut Réserve NV (10's), Palmer & Co
Blanc de Noirs NV (10's), Palmer & Co
Rosé Réserve NV (10's), Palmer & Co
Rosé Grand Cru NV (10's), Nicolas Maillart
Mesnillésime 2012, Guy Charlemagne
Special Club 'Grands Terroirs de Chardonnay' 2012, Pierre Gimonnet
Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut NV (10's), Edouard Brun
Substance NV (10's), Jacques Selosse
Rosé NV (10's), Jacques Selosse
Special Club 2014, Forget-Chemin
Comte de Marne Rose Grand Cru NV (10's), Charles Mignon
Extra-Brut NV (10's), Champagne de Castelnau
Blanc de Blancs NV (10's), Champagne Lallier
Brut Tradition NV (10's), Veuve Rayer
Carte Blanche Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV (10's), Roland Champion
Armand de Brignac Demi-Sec NV (10's), Champagne Armand de Brignac
Armand de Brignac Blanc de Blancs NV (10's), Champagne Armand de Brignac
Armand de Brignac Brut Gold NV (10's), Champagne Armand de Brignac
Armand de Brignac Rosé NV (10's), Champagne Armand de Brignac

 Vintage 2008  has updated wine and vintage information

1m 26d ago

Vintage  1966  has new information

2m 12h ago

 Niepoort  has updated producer and wine information

2m 16d ago

Vintage  2015  has new information

2m 16d ago

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