Founded in France in the 17th century and now made up of around 300 négociants and 150 courtiers, La Place de Bordeaux is the oldest premium wine market in the world. As you’d expect, the requirements for entry are extremely demanding: high scores from international critics, an impeccable reputation, proven consistency across the vintages and a distinguished history.
A winery must be able to count with all these qualities in order to register its wines on La Place (as it’s known in the trade) and the good news is that four from Argentina have now joined the prestigious premium wine trading network.
Argentine wine in La Place de Bordeaux
As Marina Gayán, the only Argentine Master of Wine and the first from Latin America, explains: “Joining La Place means being part of the circuit of the best wines in the world, on what they call the Wall Street of fine wines. It enhances the prestige and reputation of a winery.”
Gerald Gabillet, the oenologist at Cheval des Andes, one of the Argentine wines listed at La Place, says: “This is an excellent shop window for Argentine wines because it means we’re part of a grouping of the great wines of the world, sought out by collectors and top wine dealers.”
The presence of Argentine wine in La Place de Bordeaux was made possible by the decision taken in 1998 by the market to include wines from outside of France. Since then, renowned labels such as Opus One and Joseph Phelps from California; the Chilean wines Seña and Don Melchor; Ornellaia and Masseto from Italy, and Vin de Constance from South Africa have earned a place. In all, about 90 non-French labels are part of the market.
“Over the years, La Place de Bordeaux has established itself as the epicenter for distribution of the best wines in the world, from Bordeaux and other regions,” says Mathieu Chadronnier from the firm CVBG, a well-known trader.
“For négociants, the chance to add labels from different countries helps them to expand their portfolios and supply customers asking for these wines,” adds Gabillet.
A network, not a place: how did we get Argentine wine in La Place de Bordeaux?
How does this fine wine trading network work? The main players are the négociants, traders who have exclusive access to en primeur wines from the major Bordelais chateaux. They pay for the wines in advance, long before they’re placed on the open market by the wineries almost two years later, in order to assign small batches of bottles to exclusive buyers; collectors and luxury enterprises from 186 different countries.
The other player is the courtier, a kind of broker who acts as an intermediary between the wineries and the négociants. “The courtier guarantees the transaction but they do more than that: it’s their job to monitor the market and ensure that the agreed upon prices for the wines are respected,” explains Gabillet.
So, this is a network between some very exclusive hubs: collectors, restaurants, hotels, wine dealers… Some traders move large volumes, others more select purchases. Across the board, the prices of the wines begin at 100 euros and can be as high as 1000.
Argentine wineries and wines on a par with the best in the world
The first Argentine wine in La Place de Bordeaux was Cheval des Andes in 2003, although they subsequently withdrew and have recently re-joined.
Another pioneer was Catena Zapata: “When we joined La Place there weren’t any other Argentine wines, so we had to explain why our Uco Valley terroir is so special and prove that Argentine wines can age well. We were successful, so much so that now they’re asking for more wine than we can supply,” says Laura Catena, the Director of the winery, which is currently selling Nicolas Catena Zapata and Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terrae on La Place.
This year, two more Mendozan wineries ensured the presence of Argentine wine in La Place de Bordeaux: Viña Cobos with their Cobos Malbec at 400 dollars a bottle (the highest priced Argentine wine on the market) and Zuccardi Valle de Uco with their Finca Canal Uco, at 130 dollars.
“It’s a significant step to have Argentine wines on La Place because it means that they’re part of a very traditional, prestigious distribution circuit, a chain that has taken many, many years to build that focuses on very famous wines, French initially, before they expanded their portfolio,” says Sebastián Zuccardi, the oenologist at the family winery. “It’s very important for Argentina to be able to compete in every category and level, on a par with wines from across the world.”
“Working with La Place allows our flagship wine to reach many more consumers and collectors of fine wines across the world,” says Paul Hobbs, the founder and oenologist at Viña Cobos. “We believe that La Place will help to reinforce the reach of our wines, which are already available in over 60 countries.”
In the future, it is to be hoped that other Argentine labels join this exclusive market so as to continue Argentina’s consolidation at the summit of global viticulture.