Some in the trade are against en primeur tastings. Not James Suckling, who finds them exciting opportunities to learn about fledgling vintages straight from the barrel
Irecently organised the first en primeur tasting of Super Tuscans. It wasn’t the first time producers tasted their fledgling wines together, as winemakers exchange barrel samples to compare quality. But the event, held in September, was the first time an outsider like myself organised a tasting of barrel samples in Tuscany—in this case 2015 reds— and just about all the 40 or so producers invited attended with pleasure.
I used the French term en primeur for the event because I wanted to emphasise its inspiration, the annual tasting fest in Bordeaux of the new vintage from barrels. Of course, the Bordeaux en primeur has a commercial purpose, as wine producers sell a percentage of their young wines the spring after the harvest based on initial quality assessments by critics and the trade. This year was the excellent 2015 vintage, one I rated extremely high.
The Tuscan tasting has no commercial connection yet. It served to enable me to evaluate what is destined to be an outstanding vintage in Italy’s most famous wine region, and for a large group of producers to taste the wines together and discuss the character of the year. The wines included Antinori’s Solaia, Petrolo’s Galatrona, Tua Rita’s Redigaffi, Pupille’s Saffredi and Sette Ponti’s Oreno. The only wines missing were Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Masseto. These producers did not want to send preliminary blends to the event, but I tasted their 2015s in their cellars earlier in the year. Check out the results on jamessuckling.com.
The 2015 vintage is an excellent one for Tuscany. The young wines show the richness of fruit and ripe tannins typical of a top vintage. The growing season was hot and dry with little rain. Yet it was cool at night, which maintained fresh acidity in the grapes. The tannins are particularly ripe and fine-grained. Some producers make comparisons to the excellent 2008 or 2001, but I think 2007 is a better comparison, as the wines from 2015 are fleshy and fruity with an underlying freshness.
I find it surprising that some vintners and critics are against en primeur tastings, saying the wines are not ready to evaluate. Some even say the samples do not reflect the wine that will one day be in the bottle. I think en primeur tasting is an exciting part of annual wine tasting for the trade as well as consumers. It allows everyone to learn about and understand a new vintage and make a mental note to follow the year, regardless of whether it’s in Tuscany, Bordeaux or elsewhere.
The 600 people who attended the Bordeaux 2015 en primeur tasting I organised in Hong Kong earlier this year were enthusiastic about the experience and the vintage. I well remember a participant from Shanghai saying, “I can’t believe how attractively the wines show. This is fun.”
Granted, tasting and rating raw barrel samples is a tricky business. I’ve been doing it since the 1982 vintage in Bordeaux. Understanding how the constituents of young wine, the alcohol, fruit, tannins and acidity, interplay and develop in the barrel and then the bottle is a complex matter and needs years of experience. But en primeur tasting is fun and exciting—something that everyone interested in wine can appreciate. I hope my Tuscan en primeur tasting becomes an annual event. Maybe one day even in Asia?