I just purchased the above bottle, a 2008 Ch. Larcis Ducasse for $ 60 at K&L , a San Francisco wine merchant. It was discounted from $80 when it hit the shelves around a year or two ago. This unusual event, a Bordeaux which experiences a price decline, is an important lesson for those of us who buy Bordeaux on the futures market.

Bordeaux is expensive, especially the 1855 Cru Classe high growths, or other celebrity names not included in this classification like Petrus, Cheval Blanc etc. In general, the best way to buy Bordeaux is on the futures market. The way it works is that first one hears the scuttlebutt about a given vintage in wine magazines or newspaper articles. Then, anywhere from 6 months to 1 year before the bottles hit the shelves, pre-arrival prices for the vintage are offered by various wine merchants. These are usually at a bit of discount, but the main reason to jump on pre-arrivals is the expectation that once the vintage  hits the shelves, the prices will skyrocket. It’s a bit like getting into an IPO at the very beginning.

I have been buying Bordeaux on the futures market for over a decade. In general, with many good vintages the shelf prices are indeed considerably higher than pre-arrivals. 1995 & 1996 certainly worked that way. But when a vintage is maligned by the pundits, sometimes the wine arrives on the shelves and stagnates there at the same price as pre-arrival, and especially if it is followed by a grand, much hyped vintage, deep discounting may occur. I first experienced this phenomenon with the 1997 vintage, which in my opinion was unfairly criticized. In any case, it came and it stayed on the shelves. It was the year 2000, with its magical millenial number and hyped vintage that finally caused merchants to deeply discount their 1997’s which were still gathering dust. I came into some nice deals then, such as First Growths at around $70-80 per bottle (currently these are going for over $1000).

I also encountered some deals with 2004, not as good as the 1997’s, but with 2008 I expect a lot more. There were actually two problems with this vintage. The first was that it was not considered good. The second, and more unique problem, was that it was overpriced to begin with, because of the exchange rate between the Euro & Dollar at the time of pre-arrival, and eventual arrival, and because the Bordeaux merchants were greedy that year. Well, you can guess what’s happening now. The two vintages that are to follow 2009 & 2010 are both being touted as “the greatest” (the hype has become hyperbolic over the years), and 2008 is sitting on the shelves.

As I indicated in a prior blog, off-year Bordeaux can be a good bargain. A bad vintage does NOT mean that the wine is bad. It simply means that it does not have extended longevity and needs to be consumed within around 10 years. A case in point, the 1999 version of Larcis-Ducasse, the Right Bank St. Emillion which is mostly Cabarnet Franc & Merlot, was wonderful about two years ago in 2010. I just opened my last bottle and while still quite drinkable, it was clearly past its prime. With grand vintages on the other hand, one can hold and drink for many dacades.

Since post-arrival discounting beats pre-arrival prices only once a decade (if you’re lucky twice), for those who buy Bordeaux every year, the futures market still makes more sense. And now for a special bonus: Wine Spectator recently indicated that the prices of the much hyped 2010 vintage, currently offered on the pre-arrival market, might collapse because of anticipated reduction in Chinese demand. The Chinese, with their nouveau riche have been driving up prices in many luxury products. Apparently a slow down in their economy is anticipated to slow their demand. If 2010 prices reduce after hitting the shelves, this will be my first experience with post-arrival discounts in a good vintage. Let’s hope it happens.

In the meanwhile I am hedging my bets. I already ordered two cases of 2010 at pre-arrival prices.