Following our 2015 En Primeur Tasting WinePorn Post, Los Angeles-based wine investment broker Alexander Westgarth gives us his perspective on this season’s much anticipated Bordeaux event, and discuss its potential future.
This guest post was written by Alexander Westgarth of westgarthwines.com exclusively for Social Vignerons.
“En primeur tastings always carry great excitement and anticipation, and this spring’s introduction of the 2014 vintage hailing from the world’s finest and most respected chateaux is certainly no exception. Of particular interest are the 2014 Bordeaux offerings, due not only to the region’s consistently superior product, but also because of the high prices they have recently carried – so high, in fact, that the chateaux in this most prestigious wine pocket of France have run the risk of alienating their loyal fan base. Early reports have suggested that 2014 was a good year, so solid performances are expected. Still, with the en primeur, or futures, as they are known in the U.S., this air of optimism is underlined with caution. The product may be good, but will the prices be attractive enough to keep buyers away from other vintages already on the secondary market?
For those not acquainted, en primeur refers to the two years that a wine spends in the barrel before being bottled. En primeur wine gets tasted twice while in the barrel each spring, with critics assigning the wines a range of scores into which they might fall once they’re bottled. (The wine is finally tasted out of the bottle on year three.) While still in the barrel, they are available for sale prior to optimal maturity and the ability to be physically transported. These conditions allow acquisitions at more favorable prices, with the knowledge that the juice itself will not be ready to drink for several years. Initial en primeur tasting events set the course for determining the viability of the vintage at hand, predicting the future value of an investment at this stage.
En primeur purchases are nothing if not speculative to the core, as it’s difficult to know just how well these wines will perform once they’ve had the chance to develop and mature in the bottle. It is, nonetheless, a way to purchase some quality vintages for less. (Another practice, called “sur souche,” held even more risk than en primeur, as it allowed buyers to invest in grapes while still on the vine. This practice was suspended in the late 1960s after two vintages – 1961 and 1969 – proved disastrous due to climate changes and their effect on the final products.)
While the en primeur system has existed for centuries, Bordeaux continues to sell most of its product in this fashion today, as the method has helped build and cultivate its renowned reputation. But there have been innovative and interesting actions of late, influencing the market in equally interesting ways. Chateau Latour, which made the decision to withdraw from en primeur and recently re-released its 100-point 2003 vintage of ex-chateau (wine bought directly from a chateau), assigned its offerings similar prices to what the wine is currently being bought and sold for elsewhere. In other words, what the market would support. This move resulted in a rapid and successful campaign for the noted chateau. If the 2014 en primeur wines are priced with the same respect for the market, they can count on generating both new and re-energized interest.
The upcoming weeks will tell the tale. Going on the assumption that demand and prestige will overcome all other factors, the majority of Bordeaux chateaux have consistently kept en primeur prices high, but at an increasing risk of pricing their loyal customers out of buying contention, or turning them off on principle. Regular Bordeaux consumers are becoming less enthused over buying young wines at high prices, opting instead to lean towards older stock purchases which represent a better value.
Finally, the recent drop in the Euro’s value will play a role in increasing Bordeaux wines’ accessibility abroad. Furthermore, if the wines, in turn, prove to be worth their mettle, chances are that the 2014 release will prove successful.
So stay tuned. The 2014 tastings are sure to bring intrigue and curiosity as well as important market changes to the global investment wine marketplace.”
Find out more about Alexander on his fine wine investment firm’s website westgarthwines.com.
Learn more about what the En Primeur week is all about with our Guide to Bordeaux En Primeur Tasting.
All images in the post are courtesy and copyrighted to ©CIVB at Bordeaux.com.