La Place de Bordeaux (and beyond)
Author: Charlie Geoghegan
The négociants of Bordeaux have got selling wine globally down to a fine art. So it’s little wonder that so many prestigious wines from outside Bordeaux are now sold this way. Here’s what you need to know ahead of the upcoming September release of top wines from California, Tuscany, Chile and beyond.
“La Place de Bordeaux is the best distribution system in the world,” says Max Lalondrelle, our Bordeaux Buyer. “Not just for wine, but for pretty much anything. Where else can a producer release their product at 10am and sell their entire production to their customers around the world in just a few hours?”
It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that La Place de Bordeaux has caught the attention of fine-wine producers from outside the region, too. The En Primeur campaign in spring remains the key event in the Bordelais calendar. But the release every September of a growing number of icon wines from around the world is attracting more and more attention.
Almaviva, the joint venture between Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Chile’s Concha y Toro, was the first to join, in 1996. Since then, more and more of the world’s most illustrious fine wines – Opus One, Masseto and Vin de Constance, among others – have followed suit.
One of the most in-demand wines comes from the Rhône Valley. The Perrin family portfolio includes Château de Beaucastel in Châteaneuf-du-Pape; that estate’s icon wine, Hommage à Jacques Perrin, is sold exclusively through La Place in September.
“Our volumes are very, very limited,” explains Andrew Bayley of Famille Perrin UK. “So, by using this route to market, we can reach a wider audience and, in theory, guarantee a broader, more equal spread of customers. September, following the end of the Bordeaux campaign and a summer break, is the most obvious window in which to offer ‘other’ wines.”
Some prominent names come from closer to home. A small number of Bordeaux châteaux also offer library releases this way.
La Place de Bordeaux
La Place is not a physical “place” at all. It’s a complex network involving hundreds – arguably thousands, depending on your definition – of companies, in Bordeaux and internationally.
In Bordeaux, there are the châteaux, who make the wine. Then there are the courtiers (wine brokers), who liaise between the châteaux and the next layer in the chain, the négociants (wine merchants). The négociants buy from the châteaux, paying the courtiers a two percent commission for their troubles. They then sell the wine to their customers around the world: wine importers, distributors, hotel groups, airlines, supermarkets and more.
“The system is tried and tested,” says Mark Pardoe MW, our Wine Director. “Look at it the same way that you buy your Bordeaux classified growths. It’s buying your Opus One the same way you buy your Lynch-Bages and your Super Seconds. If this is a wine you want in your cellar, this is the time to buy it.”
These wines are highly sought after on the secondary market. Buying them in a year, or a decade, may only be possible through auction or similar means. “With La Place, you get access to some of the world’s most sought-after wines at their release price,” says Sebastian Balcombe from our Wine Buying team. “You can rest assured that provenance is guaranteed, as it has the blessing of the winery.”
Ones to watch
There are now more than 50 international wines released through La Place each September. We asked our own Barbara Drew MW which names to look out for.
Dalla Valle Vineyards, Maya, Napa Valley, California, USA
“I have always had a soft spot for anything with a hefty dose of Cabernet Franc, and this wine shows off this gorgeous grape to its best. A beautiful harmony played alongside Cabernet Sauvignon’s sonorous chords, the Cabernet Franc gives a lushness here, and a delicacy and grace too. It’s simply delicious.”
Masseto, Tuscany, Italy
“Despite its power, depth and complexity, Masseto also balances elegance and subtlety. And I am always reminded of violets and irises whenever I taste it. This is often mentioned in the same breath as the greats of Pomerol, which is absolutely a fair comparison.”
Almaviva, Maipo Valley, Chile
“As you head out of Santiago the land starts to rise, gently at first, and then dramatically, until you are swiftly in a barren landscape – more likely to encounter vicuna than vineyards. This is where the grapes for Almaviva come from. The cool winds whistling down from 6,000 metres up in the Andes help to keep alcohols in check and the acidity fresh and bright.”
Bodega Catena Zapata, Nicolás, Mendoza, Argentina
“With a stunning setting in the vineyards of Mendoza, Bodega Catena Zapata sets the bar in Argentina for fine wines. The overriding memory of my visit here, apart from the gorgeous wines, was how bright it was. Even wearing sunglasses, my eyes were watering from the intensity of the sunlight, and it wasn’t mid-morning. The effect on the vines is noticeable, with a ripeness of tannins, and an intensity and purity of flavour that is breath-taking.”
We will be offering a selection of these wines as they are released. Browse all new releases here.