Hold Off Buying the 1987 Bordeaux: Prices Will Fall

TIMES WINE WRITER

Bottles of the 1987 vintage of red Bordeaux are hitting U.S. wine shop shelves. But don't buy them . . . yet.

These wines are generally priced too high for their quality, and they are coming in at a time when stores are still well supplied with top-quality older vintages. Most merchants I spoke with expect '87 prices to drop by about 20% in the next two years, meaning we should see the very top wines selling at $60 a bottle.

An informal survey of West Coast shop owners indicates that consumer and retailer interest in the 1987 Bordeaux is virtually non-existent. "I have yet to have a single person ask me a question about 1987 Bordeaux," said Ed Masciana, wine buyer for Bristol Farms. "I don't have one (1987 Bordeaux) in the store. I overbought the 1986s and I'm still selling them."

Asked what his customers' reaction to the '87s has been, Chris Sandin at the Wine House replied: "Zilch. I've got three in the store, Pichon-Lalande, Mouton and L'Arrosee, and nobody has asked for anything else, and they don't ask why I don't have more of them."

Sandin added that the 1987s, coming on the heels of a run of successful vintages ('81, '82, '83, '85 and '86), represent "a total non-vintage. They are way too high in price. This is the biggest mistake the Bordelais have made, and they've made so few missteps in the last 10 years. But here I feel they have underestimated the intelligence of the American wine-buying public."

One wholesale buyer compared the '87 Bordeaux to the '84s, which came out at inflated prices after some writers over-praised the vintage before the wines were released. Those high prices seemed to stay up for at least two years before beginning to soften. Only in the last year have prices for the 1984 Bordeaux really collapsed.

(This may be a good time to shop for '84s. However, a check of Patterson's, a price guide to wines available in Southern California, showed some 1984 Bordeaux are still high-priced. For instance, the suggested retail price for Chateau Cheval-Blanc is $73 a bottle; of 1984 Chateau Margaux, $82; of Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, $60; of Chateau Pichon-Lalande, $42.)

Steve Wallace of Wally's in West Los Angeles staged his annual black tie tasting of eight of the new Bordeaux at the Regency Club two weeks ago. The best wine we tasted, in my estimation, was the 1987 Chateau Margaux, which is being offered at $75 a bottle. The wine continues a marvelous run of three consecutive vintages for this property. The 1985 and 1986 Chateau Margaux wines were superb.

The aroma of the 1987 Margaux showed floral, violet/cranberry notes and a forward, ripe fruit and spice. The wine is deeply complex and rewarding, showing how great properties can often make great wine from supposedly mediocre vintages. Still, at $75 a bottle, the wine is priced too high.

Close to it in terms of quality was the 1987 Chateau Latour ($75), which has a powerful cassis/black cherry aroma and is fairly massive in depth of fruit (typical of Latour), but with length and richness in the finish. It's a wine that improved markedly in the glass after an hour of aeration.

Both wines will be better after aging for three to five years in a cellar. By then the wines may have dropped in price, some merchants said.

One of the better values tasted was the 1987 Chateau Lynch-Bages ($36), which is extremely dark in color and has an aroma of black cherries and earth. A slightly hard finish, from high acidity, is bothersome, but the wine should smooth out with some bottle aging. The Lynch-Bages may soon be seen in discount shops at $30 or so.

Chateau Lafite-Rothschild ($75) was slightly lighter in tone and texture than the Latour and Margaux, but with good fruit and great finesse in the finish. A more delicate style of wine that still has a load of richness.

I was less impressed with the aromas of Chateaux Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion. The former was deeply complex in taste, but the aroma was closed in and showed hints of tree bark and truffles. The latter was strongly reminiscent of rosemary and tarragon with huge, intense fruit in the mouth, but the wine was quite disjointed and showed an earthy component. Both wines should develop with time, but at their prices ($75 each), both are a gamble.

Bob Berning, wine buyer of Trader Joe's, said he will carry no 1987 top-quality Bordeaux for now, focusing only on a few so-called "cru bourgeois" wines that can be sold for $10 or less. He said he is negotiating to buy a 1984 Bordeaux that he will offer at $13.95, making it such a good buy that he hopes it will satisfy his potential Bordeaux buyers.

Moreover, Berning said, as the Bordelais realize they have a lot of wine to sell and a flat market for the 1987s, they will begin to make deals on all the wines they sell, including the so-called second wines, such as the famed Les Forts de Latour. Berning said he favors Chateau Cos d'Estournel's second label, Chateau de Marbuzet.

During the last few years, I have tasted excellent wine from the second label of Chateau Lagrange, called Les Fiefs de Lagrange, and the second label of Chateau Pichon-Lalande, Reserve de la Comtesse. Other second wines reportedly of top quality (but seen infrequently on the West Coast) include Chateau Pichon-Longueville's Les Tourelles de Longville (formerly called Baronet), Chateau Lynch-Bages's Haut-Bages-Averous, and La Tour-Haut-Brion, second label of Chateau La Mission-Haut-Brion.

(Other second wines of high quality, but which typically are fairly expensive, are Pavillon Rouge, the second label of Margaux, and Moulin des Carruades, second label of Lafite.)

Meanwhile, demand for highly regarded 1988 and 1989 Bordeaux already is high. Futures on a number of 1988s may still be found at fair prices. I have seen the following 1988 futures prices posted within the last month: L'Arrosee, $198 a case ($16.50 a bottle); Latour, $540 ($45); Chasse-Spleen, $150 ($12.50); Lafite and Cheval-Blanc, $666 ($55.50).

Moreover, some shops are offering prices on 1989s for payment now and delivery next year. Red Carpet Wine and Spirits in Glendale is offering futures on 1989 Chateau La Lagune at $208 per case, which equates to $17 a bottle. And you can buy 1989 Chateau Leoville-Barton at $226 ($18.83)

Berning of Trader Joe's, in addition to looking for bargains from the "off" vintages, said he will look carefully at 1988 and 1989 cru bourgeois wines, because in great vintages such wines often represent excellent value.

Wine of the Week

1988 Nalle Zinfandel ($12.50)--This is prototype Zinfandel by a master of the concept, Doug Nalle. The wine's cherry/blackberry aroma and lush fruit combine with a toastiness from French oak aging to make a most luscious, complex and complete wine. Nalle, who made the Quivira Zinfandels until his recent resignation, established a style for this wine that warrants closer inspection. Both the Nalle and Quivira wines will get just that in this column in the next few weeks.

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