April 1, 2012 An intense week of tasting Bordeaux 2011 kicks off tomorrow. The international press and wine trade will have descended on the region for the annual tasting of wines, en primeur, for which Bordeaux producers open up their homes and châteaux and offer the current vintage which is still maturing in barrels for wine journalists and buyers to assess.
The En Primeur market, can be a tricky subject for the uninitiated but the pleasures to be had from buying En Primeur Bordeaux are very real. En Primeur is a form of trading in wines that have been vinified but are not yet in bottle, writes David Cobbold, as he unravels the mysteries of the en primeur system and explains how you can buy premium Bordeaux wines long before they are released in the open market.
The market for such wines, he notes, opens in the spring following the harvest, and may continue for up to a year, depending on demand and availability for each wine. The purchaser of these futures will have paid, in exchange for advancing the funds, a price which he hopes to be lower than the wine’s in-bottle release price. After all, he is taking a risk on a product that he does not yet fully own and which he has not even tasted. In this form of trade, confidence and guarantees are naturally paramount. There have, unfortunately, been cases of dishonest traders taking the money and running, quite literally!
This futures market only concerns a relatively small number of wines, under the “château” designation. It is hard to give a precise number for the châteaux who sell a sizeable part of their wine in this way, as this will vary according to the reputation of the vintage. The market is elastic, and will expand for a vintage considered to be very good. Conversely, it will shrink for a vintage with a poor reputation. All the wines sold in futures are at the top end of the Bordeaux market, and nearly all are classified growths or their equivalents. One could say that this activity represents between 2% and 5% of the total volume of wine produced in Bordeaux, but between 10% and 20% of the value, and perhaps 50% of the media coverage. In other words, it is not only about selling, it is also about image.
Former more about Bordeaux En Primeur read the Q&A with David Cobbold in Sommelier India Issue 3, 2012