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A rant about Bordeaux en primeur


Back in the mists of time, the châteaux of Bordeaux behaved in a sensible manner. The 1989 vintage - a harvest torrid in the extreme and one that, yes, produced some fabulous wines (Haut Brion being the pinnacle) but a great many ugly ducklings - was widely taken up by the world's wine lovers. And it was followed immediately by '90, which had clearly produced wines that were more consistent and, in most cases, of better balance.

Yet the French realised that the global economy would not support higher prices. The '90s were released at lower tickets than their immediate forebears.

So what's going on now? 2016 is a large vintage; Bordeaux has a great deal of wine to sell. Yet it doesn't appear to be that keen to unload the stuff. Châteaux are releasing tiny quantities of wine and holding back the vast majority of what they've made from last year's fruit.

The problem is that they're too rich. After a succession of unbelievably pricey primeurs campaigns they have managed to do away with that annual requirements of maximising their only income stream. They have enough cash squirreled away for them not to have to sell any wine at all. We should probably feel as though they're doing us a favour in releasing what they are onto the market (!).

The other reason they're not all that bothered about selling their wine is one of asset value. A cellar full of wine makes their property worth a great deal more.

So...the Bordeaux market has changed. And I would dearly like it to change again. I fervently hope that primeurs business comes to an end. I find it rather depressing to see the big UK wine merchants falling over themselves to obtain allocations to sell to their clients in the belief that they're offering a necessary service; that if they don't supply the wines all their customers will go elsewhere and, anyway, there will be downstream benefits in terms of profits on storing the wines and another bit of margin to be made when they broke the wines for those customers who decide to sell up in the future.

And I find the attitude of the trade has become as unhealthy as this primeurs business. I remember expressing a few words of doubt about the 2015 red burgundies and was told in no uncertain terms to button it. The feeling was that this was an opportunity to extract wadges of cash from one's clients, so one should speak of the wines with glowing praise only.

Primeurs business is fired by these big merchants who cannot bring themselves to say enough is enough. To suggest to one's clients that they really should be buying Bordeaux wine during the primeurs campaign is largely, in my opinion, doing them a dis-service. I suspect almost all these wines will be available in five years time at more-or-less the same price. Keep your money in your pocket, I say. And perhaps take the daubings of the wine trade super-tanker with a pinch of salt. 
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