Isn’t it time that Bordeaux changed the way it shows wines at en primeur week? Mike Turner, wine blogger and importer of Bordeaux wines, argues that the whole point of the system has been lost. He also visits Primeurs Panorama which is a tasting of the vintage exactly one year after en primeur week, and argues that it makes a lot more sense to look at 2015 now rather than 2016.
The Bordeaux en primeur season gets a lot of stick these days, and at times it’s completely justified.
I know a good handful of wine writers from the UK that just don’t care to go anymore. The tastings are all the way around the place so you spend most of the week in the car, it’s mostly an excuse to go out and eat big lunches and get fat, and once released the pricing structure is so random that the upside of buying these things two years early is waning thin at best.
But the most daft thing of all is that you’re trying these things the April after harvest when the wines are horribly young and the blends are just complete guesswork. It’s never the actual wine that gets released into the market. So what’s the point?
Bordeaux en primeur is big business, and the idea behind it used to make a lot of sense. Critics would turn up, taste the wines that were being aged at the châteaux, the châteaux would then offer a few up at a discount to punters so they could get a bit of cashflow in and the buyers got a bargain. All that sounded great in theory, but then it all went a bit…well…wrong I guess.
Critics (and I’m not thinking of anyone in particular when I wrote this) and their scores became so important that they were wined and dined all week, and schmoozed to the nth degree. Before long it became less about the wines and more about the piss up with your mates over some massive bastard meals. All sounds like a laugh except when the flight out of Bordeaux airport on the Friday afternoon struggles to get off the ground!
In theory it was all about the wine, but in practice it was tough going.
See, once grapes are picked, pressed, and fermented they are left to settle in barrel for a couple of years usually, to soften up and add a couple of bits of flavour. Blending discussions can start in the vineyards, but wouldn’t usually happen seriously til much later than the April after harvest, when en primeur week happens. So winemakers head round to pick their best casks and make a mock-up blend to please the world’s journos. That blending mix is rarely used in the final blend, so you’re not actually trying the wine as is.
Primeurs Panorama: now this makes a lot more sense!
Well someone, somewhere has finally twigged.
I was invited out to Bordeaux recently as a guest of the negociant company, Millésima. They have begun to do “Primeurs Panorama” tastings, a year on from the initial en primeur week for that vintage. We were tasting 2015, exactly a year on from the 2015 vintage’s en primeur week.
All of a sudden you’re tasting wines that are more ready to drink and taste, and crucially blends that are near as damn it the final draft. So when you’re supping on your Pavie Macquin, or dribbling Calon Segur down the front of you, at least your tasting notes have a bit of relevance.
It worked very well indeed.
How it would work, to scrap or tweak the current Bordeaux en primeur system and move towards a later event like this one, is a bit of a funny one. There’s way too much money at stake in an increasingly elaborate system of negotiants, brokers, and investors.
But maybe, just maybe, the criticism of the current system is hitting home and soon Bordeaux en primeur week will be more for the detractors than a roll of the eyes and hiding their bathroom scales.