Tuesday, 8 November 2016

En Primeur - is there still a market in the UK?

It's EP season, the time when merchants send out offers for wines which, in the main, have not yet been bottled. Prices are a little confusing to novices, priced without duty or VAT so the trick is to add £25 then divide by ten to reach the per bottle price (although an allowance should be made for onward delivery).

I had thought that Bordeaux had killed off much of the EP market. The outrageous opening prices demanded by some chateaux certainly slowed things down; I know The Big Red Wine Company is not a reliable gauge, given that I work with just one Claret producer, but in 2009, pre-shipment sales of Cahors estate Chateau du Cedre were more impressive than those of Chateau Teyssier.

So why should anyone buy EP? Traditionally, price and availability were the reasons. If you want a particular wine in a particular vintage at the best price, your best bet is to throw your hat in the ring at the earliest opportunity. Wine prices tend to go only in one direction and, as availability decreases (stocks decrease as people drink the stuff!), collectors and investors with stocks to spare rub their hands with glee, especially given that wine is classed as a wasting asset (assuming its life expectancy does not exceed 50 years) and, as such, does not attract capital gains tax when it is sold.

Now it is the 2015s that are being offered. Will anyone buy? Already, we have offered Mas de Daumas Gassac (Languedoc) and, in the last week, Chateau de Beaucastel (Rhone) and Domaine Joblot (Burgundy).  MDG sales were the best I can remember so the EP market is still very much alive and kicking, it seems. It's still early days for the other two but Beaucastel (and, especially its little brother, Coudoulet) tends to be popular and already a good number of cases have been snapped up.

Joblot is different, however. Chalonnaise wines are less sought after than their Cote d'Or neighbours, even those from families such as the Joblots who have been fairly described as 'Givry's best estate' (Clive Coates MW, The Wines of Burgundy, University of California Press) or 'a leader in Givry' (Jasper Morris MW, Inside Burgundy, BBR Press). Sadly, greater interest is in the top estates of the Cote d'Or where astronomically priced wines are snapped up by wealthy buyers afraid that they won't be able to get their hands on the stuff most of us can only dream of - or are they just buying to invest?

For me, I would - and do - buy wines which I can afford at this point in time and, if I can resist (not always possible), hold on to them for long enough to see them fully mature and enjoy them then without worrying about whether the wine now commands a price that I would otherwise balk at. A case in point: I did buy a (very) few bottles of Ruichebourg in 1999 to celebrate the birth of my oldest  child. It was expensive for me at that time (and now!) at around £80 per bottle but you only have a firstborn once, after all and I bought just three bottles. Now the same wine would cost me over £500 to replace (not that I would) but I can enjoy it knowing that I could just about afford it back in 2001. Joblot wines will never achieve such dizzying prices but they are worth putting aside for a decade or so, especially in vintages such as 2015.

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