On Sunday I spent the morning at the 2014 Real Wine Fair at Tobacco Dock in London’s Wapping. After a slow start – doubtless a blend of Sunday morning lie-ins and the clash with the London Marathon, things had started to hot up by the time I left just before 1pm.
This annual fair along with the similar RAW Fair, which will be held in mid-May, continues to be popular. It doesn’t appear to be important that there is no official or agreed definition of what is a natural wine. People appear to be attracted by the chance to taste individual wines made by interesting and characterful producers.
If the Real Wine Fair hotted up after a slow start, the same cannot be said of the 2013 Bordeaux en primeur campaign. Unsurprisingly customers appear to have minimal interest in loaning money on an interest-free basis to the already fabulously wealthy leading Bordeaux châteaux for wines that are pleasant early drinking at best. Recent research from Liv-ex shows that wines bought en primeur from recent vintages could have been purchased more cheaply once the wines were in bottle, so negating the probably most persuasive argument for buying Bordeaux en primeur.
A recent example from the Liv-ex blog on the release price of 2013 Cos d’Estournel:
‘With the UK release price at £900 per 12×75, the 2013 is more expensive then the current price of the 2012, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2004, 2002 and 2001.’
‘So, should the collector buy? Returns from previous vintages provide little comfort. The chart below is stark: those who bought Cos d’Estournel at En Primeur during the last five years have lost money. Little incentive, then, to get involved this year.’
My impression is that reputable UK merchants are being very wary over which 2013 wines they recommend to their customers. Upsetting their customers by pushing wines en primeur that will either turn out to be a disappointment or a bad buy because they will be cheaper once in bottle, has a stronger pull than protecting your allocation for future vintages.
A number of critics have suggested that the en primeur system is broken – no longer working. May be so but Bordeaux institutions tend to be resilient. If 2014 proves to be a spectacularly good vintage, then talk of en primeur being broke will probably disappear in a foaming cappuccino of hype!
However, some critics are becoming increasingly queasy over the role they traditionally play in the Bordeaux en primeur process – publishing their score soon after the primeur tastings that allows the châteaux to benchmark their prices. There is, of course, no such thing as a free lunch or even slice of foie gras!
Tim Atkin MW is declining to publish his score until the châteaux have released their prices. Already the châteaux will not have Robert Parker’s scores to gauge their prices as he will not be visiting Bordeaux until June to taste the 13s.
Much of the ep comment has been about the minutiae of pricing by the properties, who have released so far. What no one has yet provided is a convincing reason for consumers to offer the châteaux a two-year interest-free loan for their 2013s. Why not wait until they are bottled and save money? Even at today’s minimal savings rates on bank deposits you would be better off leaving the money in the bank than splashing out on en primeur!
Back at the Real Wine Fair the 2011 Testalonga El Bandito, a South African Chenin Blanc made by Craig Hawkins, was the most interesting wine I tasted. It has 6 weeks of skin-contact then 18 months in neutral wood, which produces a fine Chenin Blanc amontillado. Now this would be a good investment in pleasure!