A number of people have asked why I did not go to Bordeaux this year to taste the 2013 vintage en primeur. There are two good reasons why I ought to have gone – as a number of my friends did. First, there’s the journalistic/intellectual angle. Surely I should have wanted to taste the wines for myself, especially given the controversial nature of the vintage? My response is to draw a parallel with the theatre. These wines are not really at a stage where they can be properly judged, especially given the lateness of the harvest. This is arguably always the case when tasting en primeur where one is often trying to assess samples to which press wine has yet to be added and in which samples vary from barrel to barrel. But in vintages for which there is a strong demand, there is a logic for judging them before the rush to buy begins. With the best will in the world, no such rush was ever likely this year. The most optimistic Bordelais talk about these wines finding buyers “within three years”. I reckon that gives me plenty of time to taste them at my leisure – at events like Vinexpo in Hong Kong in a couple of months time.
The second reason is rather trickier, because it has to do with my loyalty and commitment to the region. On this basis, attending the annual en primeur circus is like turning up at a family Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, or to watch your football team play every match. I’m pretty sure that this is the way the Bordelais view en primeur: an annual party they go to a lot of trouble to put on. Turning down the invitation is just bad manners.
And so it would be, if en primeur really were a party, like the Fete de la Fleur event at the end of every Vinexpo. But of course it’s not; strip away the fripperies and it’s no more nor less than a commercial showcasing of a range of products to a set of potential purchasers and media that are likely to influence their purchase.
My problem is that I while I love the opportunity of buying good wine at an appealingly low price in return for making an advance purchase – much like saving money on an airline ticket – I see neither logic nor appeal in buying a questionable product at a cost that may well actually be higher than the one I’d pay in a year’s time.
The Bordelais have conveniently forgotten that en primeur, is a recent construct, not an ancient pillar of their temple. The system we know today was born in the 1960s and, like sur souche, the on-the-vine buying that preceded it, was devised as a means of helping often financially precarious estates to manage their cashflow. The chateaux that are at the heart of the en primeur circus today all have money – plenty of it – in the bank. They no more need to sell en primeur than I – or anyone else – need to buy that way.