This week Bordeaux welcomes the en primeur circus for the latest episode of this classic long running, remarkably slow moving and greatest spectator sport in wine. Will 2015 revive the flagging attraction of buying en primeur or will #winelovers around the world again decide to keep their credit cards sheathed?
Two much faster moving and probably more gripping classics (known as monuments) in another great spectator sport – cycling – in bookcase Bordeaux’s en primeur week.
Last Sunday saw the 100th edition of the gruelling Tour of Flanders. 255 kilometres ridden over many winding narrow roads and featuring a number of short, sharp, steep climbs with sections up to at least 20% and over viciously irregular cobbles Flanders is one of the great classics. The race starts in Bruges finishing in Oudenarde. You have to be very strong and tough to win this, while avoiding bad luck! Northern Belgium is popularly thought to be as flat as a crèpe. Although there are indeed no mountains here, there are some very steep climbs. Riders, in this edition who got to the finish, went up 18 climbs – two ascents of the most difficult climb –Paterberg – and three of the the Oude Kwaremont plus seven other cobbled sections.
Winners: Peter Sagan (Mens) and Lizzie Armistead (Womens)
Next Sunday (10th), after the merchants and journos have departed Bordeaux ready for their appointments with their dental hygienists attempting to limit damage to their teeth inflicted by a torrent of tannin and youthful acidity, its the turn of the Paris-Roubaix – flatter but with more cobbled sections than the Tour of Flanders. This is the 114th edition of the Paris-Roubaix and again you have to be strong, very fit and have luck in avoiding crashed on the cobbled sections to win. Since 1968, despite its name, the race now starts in Compiègne to the north of Paris. Once famous as the place where the armistice that ended the First World War was signed, it now owes its fame as the birthplace of our Les 5 colleague – Hervé. Whether the great man travelled along the route of the Paris-Roubaix when he moved to Brussels is not known….
But back to en primeur Bordeaux stately waltz. The first few introductory movements have now been completed. These feature increasing optimistic noises emanating from Bordeaux that this may well be the greatest vintage since Julius Caesar last set sail for the UK and dire warning from merchants that the Bordelais must not increase their en primeur prices this year with cuts preferred if the new campaign is to have any chance of success. This can resemble a minuet of the deaf…
I am delighted that for this edition the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux, has acknowledged that en primeur is a spectator sport by holding the journalist tastings in Bordeaux’s new football stadium. As a famous sport normally has sponsors, I would like to take the liberty of suggesting that Emeric Sauty de Chalon and Fabien Hyon’s 1855.com would be a highly appropriate choice underlining what a gold-plated vehicle for fraud en primeur can be for fraudsters.
Screen shot from France 2’s arnaque report on 1855.com in 2012
These days it is difficult to see any advantage for #winelovers to buy Bordeaux en primeur. Anyone, who bought the 2010 vintage en primeur, the last highly touted vintage will find that they can find these wines considerably cheaper especially if they bought trophy wines like Château Lafite.
Price movements for 2010 Château Lafite:
From stats on wine-searcher.com the average bottle price (excluding tax) for the 2010 dropped from £1079 in May 2011 to just £696 in February 2016. It is also significant that there are plenty offers for this vintage of Lafite.
If there is little or no point in consumers buying en primeur what of the role of journalists in this circus. It is, of course, always interesting to taste young wines but the scores, tasting notes and opinions of leading writers/journalists are now an essential part of the en primeur process used by châteaux and merchants alike.
Message from Jancis Robinson MW (2nd April 2016)
‘By the time you read this I should be fully immersed in assessing embryonic samples of the latest Bordeaux vintage. Having canvassed members of JancisRobinson.com, as I tend to do every year, I know that a significant proportion of them want early assessments of the 2015 vintage and the wines produced, so, ever obedient, I will do my very best. But I do hope everyone realises just how non-definitive these barrel samples are. The wines will not be delivered in bottle for more than two years into the future. A lot can happen in that time. And we have to rely on individual producers to show us samples that are as representative as possible, however tempting it must be to show us the most flattering samples.’
Jancis’ comments underline the problems associated with Bordeaux holding the en primeur tastings so early on – ‘non-definitive’ barrel samples and ‘most flattering samples’.
Also it also looks like Jancis has recognised that the en primeur needs to be freshened up. Her interesting twitter suggestion (3.4.16) of scoring wines according the weather conditions is a good start, although I think there is plenty of scope to be even more adventurous.
Although some journos have dropped out of the en primeur circus, there, however, still remains a distinguished field in long-running The Robert Parker Succession Handicap Stakes.
Following the conclusion of the Paris-Roubaix the Bordeaux châteaux will begin the process of declaring their opening prices for the 2015 vintage. As 2015 is considered a good vintage the declaration process is very likely to be an agonisingly slow process resembling a striptease performed by a severely arthritic snail with the First Growths (excluding Latour) not discarding the last vestiges much before late June and the start of the summer holidays.
Moi ? This coming week I will be on the Island of Colonsay for a family wedding to be held on Thursday on the Kiloran Beach, which I hope will not turn out to be as insane as Bordeaux en primeur.….
The Island of Colonsay
With due acknowledge to David’s trenchant comments made in this post in January 2016.