The Fix Is In?
Robert Parker has just released his 2010 Bordeaux barrel scores, and along with his ratings, he has offered some contradictory observations about the state of the Bordeaux market. In one section of his report, he dismisses concerns that a bubble has formed and claims that demand, particularly from Asia, is growing. But a few paragraphs later, he suggests that maybe demand isn’t so strong after all and that there may indeed be a bubble at the high end (a New York retailer reprinted those comments in an email sent out yesterday; you can read them here). Parker notes that some unnamed people in Bordeaux are skeptical about how much buying is coming out of Asia and cites speculation that the leading châteaux—the First Growths and their Right Bank equivalents, plus the Super Seconds and other marquee estates—have held back vast quantities of wine in order to create the illusion of scarcity and “manipulate the market price.” Or it could be that the wines are being stockpiled by third parties—négociants, importers, wholesalers, investment funds. Either way, says Parker, it is possible that consumer interest is not nearly as robust as the stratospheric prices would seem to indicate and that a “major adjustment, just as we have seen in the United States with the real estate market” is in the offing.
Parker is a former lawyer, and I assume he wouldn’t give credence to the hoarding rumors if he didn’t think there was a possibility they were true. So here’s a question: If Parker is concerned that the top châteaux may be completely manipulating the market, why did he just issue ratings for their latest wines? His scores are still the coin of the realm in Bordeaux and are used to pump up demand and to justify the exorbitant prices. If Parker has reason to believe that the biggest names in Bordeaux are engaging in this kind of chicanery—and shafting consumers in the process—why abet their efforts? A few years ago, I wrote a piece suggesting that Parker stop rating wines that were subject to rampant speculation. He didn’t take kindly to the suggestion and accused me of having a “very provincial point of view” (it’s true—I’m such a bumpkin!). But consumer advocacy à la Ralph Nader is not just about talking the talk; it’s about walking the walk. If Parker, a uniquely influential critic, suspects that high-end Bordeaux is now a rigged game, he ought to use the power of his pen to do something about it. And in this case, that would mean putting his pen down and not rating some of these wines until he is satisfied that the châteaux are playing fair.
What’s your take on this? Should Parker have withheld scores for the wines in question, or is that placing an unjust burden on him? And I’d love to hear from some people in the trade. Parker writes, “The fact that no one can (or wants to) provide the actual sales figures of how much 2009…is actually being sold through to consumers is astonishing.” Have consumers been buying the 2009s? How much demand have you seen at the retail level?