I don’t think I’ve ever written about en primeur here on sourgrapes.ie, so as it’s starting to get into full swing over in Bordeaux, I thought it was high time. You may have seen the words en primeur, some Irish wine merchants are currently pushing it so let’s step back and see what it all means.

En primeur is almost uniquely French, and Bordeaux in particular. It’s called “futures” in the US, and it essentially means buying wine from a merchant at a discount (hopefully) but you don’t get your hands for a while, often 2-3 years. Why? Because the wine isn’t ready yet, not even close. It’s still sitting in barrel and may not have been blended yet.

I like this quote from Tim Atkin’s 2009 report

The wines that I tasted were young, unfinished
wines, most of which will spend at least another year in oak before they
are ready to be bottled. Wines change in barrel, as well as bottle. It’s
also worth remembering that the en primeur extravaganza is a sales
pitch. Châteaux owners would be crazy not to pick their best barrels to
show the press and the trade.

But despite the fact it’s not yet a finished product, scores of wine writers descend on Bordeaux, taste the primordial juice, and then score it (out of 20 in the UK, 100 in the US).  Based on these scores, the chateaux and négiotiants (fancy French middlemen) drip out their prices. It’s quite a merry dance, not releasing prices too early, nor too late. They’re looking for highest price they’ll fetch, rather than one that relates to cost of production, the mortgage repayment on the land and

With the 2005, 2009 and 2010 vintages, each referred to as “vintage of the century”, and the rise of China, prices went a bit bonkers and the top chateaux for  ceased to be winemakers, instead producers of tradable assets. This is reflected by the popular liv-ex.com, an exchange for fine wines. So the wines became investment vehicles for many. Buy en primeur, sell to wealthy Chinese businessmen a few years later via a broker.

But for wine enthusiasts, what does all this mean?

Well, the main appeal of buying en primeur is that the wine is at a discount to the future shelf price, with savings normally around 20-40%. Prices also exclude VAT and excise, which you’ll pay when the wine arrives.

There’s also the scarcity (of some of the wines), you’ll get your hands on wine that there may not be too much of. Lastly, there’s that thrill, which you can’t ignore, of being involved in all the kerfuffle.

Downsides? Well, you have to buy a minimum of a case and you also need to be confident that the merchant you’re buying from will be around in 2/3 years. Lastly, if the Châteaux don’t have a successful campaign, you may not save any money at all as they’ll release wines at further discounts to shift it. So, even if buying for drinking, there’s the risk-reward trade-off you have to decide on.

Can I join in the party?

So while the top châteaux are trading away at €500 a bottle, what about en primeur for the rest of us? Well, turns out, you don’t need a fortune to join in the fun. Here are some of my recommendations.

  1. FromVineyardsDirect have a good selection of 2010 and 2011. Check out the Chateau Beaumont 2011 for €84 a case (excluding delivery, VAT and excise – I’ll do the sums below.
  2. Rednose wines in Clonmel had a great en primeur, not for Bordeaux, but for the Languedoc’s superstar, Mas de Daumas Gassac, so watch out come October/November for the sequel.
  3. The Corkscrew still have 2010 available (disclosure: I’m strategeur for their website)

Many other good wine merchants will also have an en primeur “campaign”. If you know of them, pop a comment below

Doing the sums, how does it add up?

Good question. So, let’s take the Châteaux Beaumont 2011. It’s a pretty reliable performer with a classic claret style (traditional left bank Bordeaux, lean, austere, nice freshness). I’ve had a few older vintages as well as some from the naughties, all good. Pricewise, it normally goes for around €20-€22, so let’s see if the 2011 will save us anything.

Let’s start with the €84 then add excise duty (which may change between now and when the wine arrives).

Let’s add the excise, €23.60 (around €1.97 per bottle), which gives us €110.60.

Add the current 23% VAT on top of all that, which gives us €136.04.

Finally, add delivery of €7.50 and we have have €143.54 per case or just under €12 a bottle. So, that looks like a decent saving, you just have to wait until Spring 2013 before you get your hands on it!

Further reading on Bordeaux en primeur 2011

  1. Read the thoughts of Tankersley wine brokers (based in Wicklow) here and here.
  2. David Whelehan in Business & Finance on “When is a wine, not a wine“.
  3. One of my favourite writers, Tim Atkin, has a really well put together report (£10) but see his 2009 report (free).

So, over to you, what’s your experience of en primeur if you’ve bought previously and if you haven’t, would you?