Any­one’s Guess

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

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life -

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.

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