Each year the international wine trade travels to Bordeaux to taste the new Bordeaux vintage, whilst the wine is still in the barrel or ‘En Primeur’. The wine is tasted, scored and priced over spring and early summer months. It then remains in barrel for eighteen months. According to a Liv-ex survey of members who attended this year to sample the 2014 vintage, Vieux Chateau Certan is the wine of the vintage, Grand Puy Lacoste tops the value for money category for the fifth year in a row and the vintage scored 92 overall – the best vintage score since 2010. But what does that all add up to? Does it work and is it worth getting involved?
Here are some key points to bear in mind when considering ‘En Primeur’:
What is En Primeur? En Primeur, EP or ‘wine futures’ is a historic part of the wine making process and a way in which wine makers have been able to assist cash flow whilst the wine resides in barrel. The trade-off was a lower price for the wine before bottling – while the wine was still evolving. Traditionally the EP market centres on Bordeaux, but also Burgundy, Rhone and other regions including Piedmont, Tuscany and Rioja take part.
What are the risks?
Buying EP is such an antiquated system that technically there is a risk that wine won’t be delivered at all! (If buying from a reputable merchant you should be ok on that front). Calling the quality of the wine at such an early stage is an art – and the finished product may not always score as highly in bottle as anticipated. Finally, in recent years, there has been the question of value.
Is En Primeur good value?
Traditionally it was more or less essential to buy EP year in year out to secure a cheap allocation of the most sought after wines. In the modern era however there have simply been too many price hikes for EP wines. 2009 and 2010 saw dramatic price rises at release and prices haven’t dropped enough in the mediocre years which followed. In some cases recent vintages are still below their EP release prices. The last vintage to have strong value at EP was 2008.
En Primeur is a gamble, and in many cases it hasn’t paid off for a while. Fine wine prices in general saw a boom up to 2010, the Châteaux responded by then setting the bar too high for release prices for subsequent vintages. However, what is fascinating about the market is that it is an eternal game of cat and mouse as the new vintage comes to market. We will have to wait till next spring and the release of the 2015 prices to see if this is a year when the right adjustments are made and EP once again offers value for money.