We were out in Bordeaux during Primeur week. This is the week where the world’s wine press meets in Bordeaux to taste through last year’s recently fermented and mixed wines. We then all head off and tell everyone if it was a good year or not and which were the better wines than others. That we’re tasting the wines 2 years before they’re released is neither here nor there. On the back of recommendations, the end client pays for some wines that they’ll get delivered in 2 years time, and the Châteaux get some much needed cash flow. Maybe you’re noticing one or two holes in the theory?
Tasting wine “en primeur” itself is not easy. Nothing is settled, the fruit is powerful, the acidity is almost impossible to get over, and the tannin (that thing that sticks to your gums) is so massive it’ll have you whistling for a piece of bread in seconds. The whole point is to get your crystal ball out and channel your inner Mystic Meg. What will this taste like in 5, 10, or even 20 years time? Ok the structure (acidity, tannin, fruit concentration etc) is mind blowing now, but will it settle in a superstar wine?
Buying wine “en primeur” is equally tough. I know that now as we’re the other side of the #bdx15 campaign. I sell Bordeaux wine for a living as the head of the UK arm of 20h33. We’ve been trying to get our clients the best wines around for the best prices around. When the best Châteaux with the best scores and reviews come up for sale then it’s an absolute bun fight. More than once did I see the top wine exchanges by the arse out of a wine from a Château and the put it for sale 20% higher the next day. Getting hold of the ones you want is tough in good vintages.
So is doing Primeur still reasonable? It’s a personal view this, but no, I don’t think it is. Back in the day there was a discount for buyers that isn’t there any more, so unless you’re hoping to get access to a top wine that you might not get access to in a couple of years (which I do and encourage my clients to do as it’s the only upside I see), then I can’t see the point. Are any of us willing to part full price for just-another-chateau’s wine two years before we can get hold of it? Smarter people than me will have to come up with a better way for Bordeaux in the future, but Primeur itself is too reputationally damaged to continue down the same path for much longer.