Two weeks ago, as a guest of Millesima, I was among the thousands of wine professionals, from merchants to journalists, who descended on Bordeaux for En Primeurs 2015. Although Bordeaux has made some logistical adjustments to the tastings of Primeurs (now strategically located in the new football (soccer for Americans) stadium), it is still a week busy week with a frantic undertone wrapped in hopeful optimism. Since this was my first Primeurs I can say it was like nothing I have ever experienced….and I loved it!
So what exactly is En Primeurs?
The simplest answer is wine futures. Each spring the Grand Cru Classe chateaus produce barrel samples from the previous year’s vintage, in this case 2015. These wines are not ready for market, in fact they won’t be released for 1-3 years. Members of the international wine trade come to Bordeaux for a week to taste these samples. Upon conclusion a so called “buzz” is created. Is it a great vintage? Poor vintage? Average? Best in decades? How was the overall en primeur of the vintage received? At this point prices are determined and wine brokers, known as négociants, begin to sell the “futures.”
This process is good for the Chateauxs because their risk of a poor vintage is spread out by the négociant; meaning a poor vintage still equals profit. Furthermore, the Chateaux receives cash before the vintage is ready so they do not have to wait for barrel and bottle aging to profit from each vintage. The négociant is in a tough situation because in order to maintain their allocation they must buy their fully allotted amount in good vintages and in bad. If they chose to not take their full allocation in a poor vintage year, 2014, they risk losing the allocation in a potentially good vintage year, 2015. (For Americans this is much like many wine clubs that are based on allocations operate.)
How does this affect consumers?
Oddly enough the average American consumer knows little or nothing about En Primeur. If you are an oenophile who seeks to stock your wine cellar with some of the highest quality Bordeauxs from the best vintages with little concern of price, chances are you are well aware of En Primeur and have a wine merchant to supply you Bordeaux futures. If you are an average wine consumer who enjoys Bordeaux and is constantly seeking a bargain En Primeurs has little to no effect on your wine buying and consumption. There used to be a discount for buying En Primeurs but it really no longer exists.
Bordeaux has been hosting En Primeur week forever. It is simply the way the wine is sold there. As you can imagine this does not come without controversy. As The Drinks Business explained in an article last spring, Robert Parker claims En Primeur has lost its appeal, saying “I think that the en primeurs market – except in a great, great vintage – is largely moribund, it is largely dead, for now,’ he stated. Continuing, he said, ‘Bordeaux has to have a reckoning soon about their pricing.’ Explaining his comments, he said that classed growth châteaux owners had set release prices so high that there was no longer an advantage in buying the wine before it is bottled.” While attending En Primeur 2015 I also heard whispers of concern regarding the potential price of the vintage, many not wanting it to be raised again.
What about the 2015 vintage?
In the weeks leading up to En Primeurs there was some hype building around the 2015 vintage. As part of my En Primeur experience I attended a lecture on the 2015 by Dr. Laurence Geny and Professor Denis Dubourdieu of the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences of Bordeaux University, Oenological Research Unit. They declared the 2015 vintage to be outstanding in terms of both quality and quantity because it met the five conditions necessary for a great red wine vintage. These conditions are: 1 & 2: early and quick flowering and fruit-set during sufficiently warm and dry weather, ensuring pollination and predisposition towards simultaneous ripening; 3: gradual onset of water stress to slow down and ultimately stop vine growth during veraison; 4: full ripening of various grape varieties due to dry warm weather in August and September; 5: dry and slightly warm weather during harvest resulting in the grapes being picked at optimal ripeness without running the risk of dilution or rot. The last vintage that achieved all five of these conditions was 2005. Post En Primeurs the 2015 vintage is resulting in high praises for lush, terroir driven right bank wines from Saint Emilion and Pomerol, traditionally two of my favorite wine regions as I tend to be a right bank kinda girl. However, even in their baby state my unrefined palate was drawn to the left bank regions of Margaux, Pauillac, Haut-Medoc, and Pessac-Leognan. Furthermore, though most of the emphasis of En Primeur is on the beautiful Bordeaux rouge wines, don’t forget the magnificent Bordeaux blancs that were crisp and elegant and of course the outstanding Barsac Sauternes that range in style from viscous golden honey and banana to delicate dried stone fruits and herbs.
I have a few 2009s and 2010s Bordeaux in my wine cellar aging. I now have a 2005 as well! My advice on the 2015 vintage? Keep in mind as I have already said this was my first time tasting En Primeur and it was a daunting task to say the least. But I took really good notes and in going back over them I actually came away with an overall decent understanding of the wines of each region and shockingly cohesive reflections.
Therefore, I say YES to 2015 as a solid vintage and will definitely seek to procure a nice selection to represent in my cellar. An awesome inaugural En Primeur for me! Once again a huge thanks to Millesima for making my Bordeaux dreams come true and more! Cheers!