Even the great chateaux of Bordeaux knew that three great and hugely expensive vintages in a row was more than the market could stand. The ambivalence of 2011, with its difficult weather conditions, presents an opportunity to offer more modest prices, making Bordeaux en primeur affordable again without compromising the brand. This is not being proclaimed as the third successive vintage of the century, but the chateaux are still bullish about its quality. The big surprise this year is Chateau Latour's withdrawal from the en primeur system, which some think may be the beginning of the end of it. Chateaux of comparable status to Latour no longer need the cash flow the en primeur system was intended to generate. 'What Latour has done is very smart,' says Patricio de la Fuente Saez, managing director of importer Links Concept. 'You can guarantee the quality of the wine if it comes directly from the ch?teau. Even if it's not a great year, if it has spent long enough in the cellars, it will be good wine, and they can release it when they think it's ready to drink.' Berry Bros & Rudd Bordeaux specialist Alun Griffiths says nobody in Bordeaux is pretending that this vintage is on the same level as 2009 or 2010, but it does seem superior to 2008, 2006, 2004 and 2002. He expects to see prices pitched between the opening offers of 2008 and 2009, perhaps nearer to the former. 'Early indications from the chateaux are that they will release the wines early and at prices that reflect in part this sentiment,' Griffiths says. 'If this happens, then we would be recommending some of this vintage strongly; if prices fail to drop sufficiently, however, then it may be wiser to sit and wait or to look at older vintages that could offer better value.' Many chateaux are making much of the vintage available en primeur. Chateau Pape Clement (above) and Chateau La Tour Carnet expect to sell about 90 per cent of it through the system, with Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere roughly the same. Chateau Brane-Cantenac owner Henri Lurton attributes the quality level in part to a new optical sorting system for the grapes in which he invested in 2010, which sorted the best of the berries from the substandard ones more efficiently. Griffiths suggests that chateaux that lack such resources may have been at a disadvantage last year and that this 'may not, therefore, be a vintage for the petits chateaux'.