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95 Points Are the New 90 in Bordeaux

In a recent article about wine values and speculating on wine, I mentioned the increasing frequency with which wines from Bordeaux were getting rave reviews. I also discussed this trend in an earlier article about Bordeaux en primeur, the futures buying program for Bordeaux wines. As a person who enjoys drinking Bordeaux wines, I'm excited by the improvement in quality. But, as someone who sees danger in the steep upward spiral of prices for wines from the most sought-after chateaux, the increasing availability of very good to outstanding wines signals further need for caution.

Top wines from top properties in Bordeaux have long claimed high prices. This is because the wines were very good to drink, aged well and were somewhat rare. Today, such wines are still good to drink and, if Robert Parker's predictions are to be believed, will age absurdly well. (He has said that the 2009 vintages from Chateau Margaux and Mouton Rothschild, among others, may age well for 100 years.) Yet, such wines may no longer be considered rare.

Does it make sense for these wines to be selling for $1,000 to $3,000 nearly three years before their release when these chateaux are producing tremendous, if not "perfect," wines every year now? Does it make sense when chateaux such as Pontet Canet are producing wines nearly as good from neighboring properties but are available for well under $200? The high production of places such as Chateau Margaux prevents their wine from being considered "exclusive" based upon availability in a single year let alone over a decade. It seems exclusivity is now based almost on extreme pricing. A wine is exclusive not because it's a rare great wine but because almost nobody can afford it.

I received a promotional e-mail today citing reviews from Robert Parker so full of praise and passion that my toes nearly curled. But, it also set me to wondering. How much better have the top Chateaux of Bordeaux gotten over the years? I decided to do a bit of research to find out.

I chose seven of the most coveted red Bordeaux to analyze: Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateaux Margaux, Chateau Latour, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Lafite Rotchschild, Chateau Petrus and Chateau Ausone. I then went to Robert Parker's database and tallied their individual scores by decade. How many times did they receive 98 points or better, 95 to 97, 91 to 94 or less than 91?

I found a clear trend. The specifics varied only slightly from one Chateau to the next. I then tallied all of the results so that they might be more easily charted. The results were staggering. While it used to be that scores above 90 points were achieved in only the best years, now scores of less than 91 points are only handed out in only the very worst years. The chart below shows you exactly what I'm talking about.

parker_scores

Again, for the bulk of Bordeaux fans, the improvement in quality is fabulous news. Tremendous wines are available nearly every year for $25 to $100. But, it also makes me feel more than ever that the stratospheric pricing for the First Growths and a handful of others is now geared solely toward those people who collect expensive things simply because they are expensive.