Icon Napa wineries are the envy of most of the world’s fine-wine producers. They have loyal consumers on their doorstep, high prices, and waiting lists for their top labels. So, why are increasing numbers of them, even those with their own well-established sales networks, choosing the Bordeaux system of négociants to distribute their wines?
A few years ago, just a handful of non-Bordeaux wines went through the local merchant system of brokers and négociants known as the Place de Bordeaux. And the first international wines to sign up had clear Bordeaux connections. Almaviva, which traded entirely through the Place from 1998, was a joint venture between the Rothschilds of Mouton Rothschild and Chile’s Concha y Toro.
Opus One, which arrived with the 2001 vintage, released in 2004, is an estate that began as a project between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild (now jointly owned by the Rothschilds and Constellation Brands, but run entirely separately). There are plenty of others with similar connections, such as the Tuscan Caiarossa, owned by the Albada family of Château Giscours, or LVMH’s Cheval des Andes, a joint-venture between Cheval Blanc and Terrazas de los Andes.
Many others have no links to the region but see it as a way to increase their visibility, or to ensure a wider distribution, harnessing the benefits of La Place de Bordeaux, which works as a virtual marketplace, selling on to around 10,000 trade clients worldwide (the wines below are hitting the market, via fine wine merchants, now).
La Place de Bordeaux works as a virtual marketplace, selling on to around 10,000 trade clients worldwide
The first of these was Masseto from Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, which arrived in 2008 with its 2006 vintage – adding its second wine, Massetino, for the first time in 2020. Solaia, made by the Antinori Family, arrived one year after Masseto, followed by Chile’s Seña in 2011. This year, there are around 90 different names on La Place, from Napa, Sonoma, Chile, Argentina, Italy, South Africa, Australia, Spain and more.
We are focusing here on the wines from South America and the United States, mainly from the 2018 and 2019 vintages. Just a quick glance through the names tells you why this is such a key moment of the year – it’s a way to take the pulse of producers that you don’t always see together but that represent the best of their own regions.
You’ll find key releases such as the 25th anniversary vintage of the brilliant Seña and Harlan’s excellent Promontory from the extremely dry 2015 vintage in Napa; among other clear highlights are the brilliant Adrianna Vineyard from Catena Zapata, and Dalla Valle Vineyards’ Maya, both from 2018 and embodying a sense of place that makes them stand out in this crowded field of excellent wines.
With the exception of summer’s en primeur, the month of September has become the busiest of the year in Bordeaux – and it is showing no signs of slowing down.‘The great wines of the world are no longer specifically linked to one region, and this is a trend that isn’t going away,’ says Jean-Quentin Prats, director of a négociant that specialises in this system.
The reviews that follow are taken from Jane Anson’s full report and tasting notes on all 90 wines that form The September Releases, including wines from Clos des Goisses, Penfolds, Masseto, Beaucastel, Bibi Graetz and Klein Constantia, as well as Bordeaux ex-château releases. The report is being offered free on Anson’s new site, ahead of the official launch in October 2021.
For more on the wines of the Americas, see the autumn issue of Club Oenologique, out next week