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The 2014 Vintage
It is pleasing to say that the 2014 vintage is shaping up very well! It is certainly the finest since the blockbuster 2010, and was subject to a healthy growing season especially aided by transforming weather in late September, early October, and good yields at harvest. Reports from the UGC En Primeur tasting week are positive, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc outperforming amongst the varietals: Pomerol, St Estephe and Pauillac are particular appellations to look at. If prices are attractive this is a vintage to embrace.

Q&A En Primeur Explained
Unless you were lucky enough to grow up in a household of wine connoisseurs then I am sure you are occasionally baffled by the plethora of terms used in the fine wine world. One such term that will be popping up frequently over the next few weeks is ‘En-Primeur’. In the Q&A below we have tried to outline the basics. Although it is not the only region in the world that offers wine in this way, we will be looking at Bordeaux En Primeur.

What is En Primeur (or wine futures)?
The Chateaux release a proportion of the wine from the previous year’s harvest whilst it is still in barrel - this term is known as ‘En Primeur’ or ‘wine futures’.

When does En Primeur happen?
Grapes are harvested in September and October, with first sales of the wines taking place in April the following year.

What is the process?
Every Spring, the chateaux offer a sample of the previous year’s harvest. Members of the international wine trade, including critics and UK wine merchants, taste the samples. The Chateaux then release a proportion known as a ‘tranche’ of their total production for sale at an opening price. This is often the best price and is sold in strict allocations to French wine brokers known as negoçiants; this is then sold to international merchants who, in turn, offer it to their customers.  

Why do they do this?
Negoçiants receive a specific allocation of certain wines each year and are obliged to buy the full amount offered. As vintages vary dramatically, this provides a balance of great to  less good vintages in the Chateaux –Négociant relationship.

Do all Chateaux take part?
All of the top Chateaux offer their wine En Primeur. The only notable exception is Chateau Latour, who since the 2011 vintage, have decided to cellar their wine and only release for sale until they deem it ready for consumption.

Why is there so much hype around one specific week?
In Bordeaux, The UGC (Union des Grands Crus) arrange for chateaux to display their wine for tasting from barrel during one week of the year. This is the first opportunity for critics and merchants from around the world to taste the wine and gauge the potential  of the vintage.

Whose opinion matters about whether it is a good vintage?
The most respected opinion came from US wine critic Robert Parker, however he announced his retirement from En Primeur wine tasting in February 2015 and has passed the baton to his protégé Neal Martin, a British wine critic. Whilst there are a number of other well-trusted critics, such as Jancis Robinson and James Suckling, the final judges are the merchants who have to believe in the quality to sell the wine.

What is the scoring system?
Whilst both critics and merchants alike use their own scoring system, Robert Parker, developed the influential 100-point scoring system in the late 1970s.

What are considered good scores?
It is generally perceived that wines scoring over 90 points are age worthy and of interest to consumers and collectors alike.

Which vintages have the top scores?
In recent years, vintages such as 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010 have been blockbusters. Prices were high due to both the quality of wines on offer and increased demand from around the world.

Where can I find out if 2014 is a good year?
Firstly, feel free to contact Richard Dawes Fine Wine for advice regarding the new releases. Secondly we advise reading up online through the critics’ websites, such as The Wine Advocate, Vinous Media, James Suckling, Jancis Robinson, Decanter Magazine and The World of Fine Wine.

Can I taste En Primeur?
Most consumers and collectors are unable to visit the Chateaux for tastings of En Primeur. In special cases appointments may be available, but some merchants in the UK offer opportunities to taste the newest vintage in April and in May.

Investing in En Primeur?
History has proven that purchasing En Primeur Bordeaux can be an excellent investment, as prices are secured at opening offer. However like any market, prices can go down as well as up. Investing in the top Chateaux, and/or good vintages can be very profitable; however buyers should look for a long term investment (5-10 years). Buying large format bottles En-Primeur can be a shrewd investment as these become hard to find in years to come and they are specifically poignant when celebrating births, weddings or other special occasions.

How do you buy En Primeur?
The best way to buy is from a reliable merchant who has good relations and history with Bordeaux negoçiants. Your merchant will let you know about the latest releases.

When do you get your wine?
Each year En Primeur is released in April, while the wine is still in barrel. The delivery of the wines typically takes between 12-24 months depending on the wine maker and what they believe to be the optimum time in barrel.

How long does En Primeur last?
Most wines are released in an 8-week period from April to June each year. If it is a great vintage a buying frenzy usually takes place and the wines sell out extremely quickly. If it is an average vintage and stocks don’t sell out, there is still an opportunity to pick up allocations throughout the summer, however most Chateaux tend to close their books at the end of July, before their holiday.

How much do they release for sale?
Each chateaux is different, but the wines are typically released in staggered tranches, the first usually seen to offer the best value.

If you would like to sign up for this year’s En Primeur offers, which are due to be released next week, then please send your email address to: wine@rdfinewine.com