Currency movements have made buying en primeur more attractive this year, writes James Suckling, but it’s hard to predict prices when the bottles hit the market
May saw the release of en primeur prices for the best Bordeaux of the 2014 vintage, and interest, particularly in Asia, is said to be better than for the previous three releases, but it’s nothing compared to demand for the 2008, ’09 or ’10 vintages.
“As it stands, despite currency benefits, a decent vintage and a willing buyer, consumers are just not being given nearly enough incentive to buy en primeur,” said Anthony Maxwell, director of the London wine-trading platform Liv-ex.
Buying wines en primeur— while they are ageing in barrels in the cellars of Bordeaux’s châteaux, about two years before they are bottled and delivered to the market—has long been a fascination of some consumers. En primeur enables them to reserve their favourite wines in anticipation of their release and, in some instances, to pay less for them.
There are some incentives this year that could see 2014 en primeur sales flourish. One is the appreciation of key currencies, including the US and Hong Kong dollars and the yuan, against the euro—by about a third in some cases. In addition, the 2014 vintage produced some superb Bordeaux, particularly from the Left Bank regions of Saint-estèphe, Pauillac and Saint-julien (see my tasting notes on page 178). Top sweet and dry whites are also of outstanding quality.
Yet many consumers are uninspired by the opportunity to buy en primeur, mainly because of what the trade calls “back vintages.” A consumer won’t buy a certain 2014 wine en primeur if an older vintage can be bought for the same price or less. Why buy a case of 2014 Château Palmer en primeur for £1,500 from a London wine merchant when you can buy physical bottles of the 2006 or 2008 vintages for about £1,170 a case? Granted, the quality of most Bordeaux from 2006 or 2008 is not as outstanding as that of the wines from the 2014 vintage, but who wants to tie up their money for two years?
“En primeur prices have been standing high in the past few years, which has made Chinese consumers’ hype for en primeur die down a lot,” said James Pun, product manager of Yesmywine, the largest online wine retailer in Mainland China, with more than seven million registered users.
“The only reason they are still interested in en primeur is because [some] price points are still the lowest of that vintage. Hence, mainly collectors are still continuing to buy, but for the other general consumers who don’t really care about the vintage, they would much prefer to buy back vintages now.”
Personally, it’s hard for me to recommend buying the 2014 vintage en primeur because it’s difficult to predict whether prices will be higher or lower when the wines are bottled and released on the market in 2017. But I may buy a case or two to reserve some special bottles, such as the Mouton Rothschild and Haut-brion Blanc.