In May 1983, numerous 1982 bordeaux futures were being offered at what now look to be spectacularly low prices for wines so much in demand. First growths such as Latour, Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild went for $400 to $450 a case from several local shops.
Furthermore, top second through fifth growths were selling for as low as $100 to $165 a case and many other highly regarded wines from this great vintage were well under $100 a case.
Now, barely more than two years later, the prices for the first growths start at $750 to $800 and go up to an unbelievable and ludicrous $3,600 a case for Pe'trus. The other glamor wines of this vintage, particularly top second through fifth growths such as Leoville Las Cases, Cos D'Estournel and Ducru Beaucaillou, as well as the top pomerols, if and where they can be found, are going for $400 to $600 a case and seem to have no shortage of takers.
Although values continue to exist among lesser-known wines that do not have international reputations, the prestige and glamor wines for the 1982 vintage have largely disappeared from the marketplace, or are available only at astonishingly high prices for wines that will not be ready to drink for at least a decade.
The worldwide demand for the 1982s has also resurrected something with ominous implications for all bordeaux wine enthusiasts: Gallic greed.
The 1983 vintage was another very good year for the Bordelais and for three specific areas in Bordeaux -- Margaux, St. Emilion and Sauternes -- it is possibly a great vintage that can approach the level of quality present in 1982.
These wines were offered as futures in the spring of 1984 at prices that were 10 to 40 percent above the same chateau's prices for their 1982s. Since stocks of 1982s were virtually wiped out by the insatiable worldwide demand for these wines, most merchants jumped into buying 1983s, realizing that they would have no 1982s to put on their shelves.
The French growers have continued to raise prices each time a new offering of 1983 bordeaux has been made and the current 1983 prices are now 45 to 60 percent above what they were when the wines were first offered in the spring of 1984.
While America's strong dollar has allowed us to take king-size portions of the big wine inventories in Bordeaux, it has also suggested to the French that we would continue to pay higher and higher prices for their wines.
Virtually everyone expected price stability as well as trade sanity to be restored after the Bordelais were brought down to earth by their smallish and rather mediocre crop of 1984.
Following three straight years of big crops and high quality, no one was talking about high quality in 1984. Despite some successful red wines in the Medoc and an ample supply of good, dry, white wine, the quality level of the 1984 bordeauxs is nowhere near that of '83, '82 or '81.
However, while almost every grower said, during my two weeks in Bordeaux in March, that prices for the '84s would be lower because of the mediocre quality, most chateaux have released their wines at 10 to a whopping 45 percent above their prices for '83s, which, if you remember, were 10 to 40 percent above the great '82s.
One only has to look back a decade at the speculative rush to invest in poor bordeaux vintages such as 1972 and 1973 and remember that such poor judgment by the wine trade and wine consumers caused the great worldwide wine depression of the mid-'70s. What is happening could well represent a very dangerous parallel to the circumstances of 1972-1973 if the trade blindly and stupidly rushes to purchase what are nothing more than overpriced, mediocre '84s.
It remains extremely difficult to comprehend why the Bordelais would not try to keep a lid on prices of what is simply a small crop of ordinary, unexciting wines after the great acceptance they have had in this country over the last three or four years with not only their top prestige wines, but also the high-quality, lesser-known cru bourgeois wines.
It is hoped that no readers will rush out to purchase these wines when existing stocks of the much better '81s, '82s and, in a few months, '83s are still available.