Timing is everything with en primeur which is why MMD decided to host a ‘sneak peek’ tasting of three of its prestigious agencies at the tail end of last year – Domaine Faiveley, Billaud-Simon and Rhône’s Delas Frères from the much-lauded 2022 vintage were on show at London’s Carousel restaurant. Victor Smart, polished his tasting glass and went along for the ride.
“The thing to consider with en primeur is whether you are prepared to wait,” says Smart.
The 2022 harvest heralded a good year for Burgundy. There have been three years of low yields with the 2021 harvest marked by such miserable production that even the good quality of the wine wasn’t much compensation. Due to adverse weather, overall volume was only 50% of a usual vintage, according to trade association BIVB.
That all changed with the 2022 vintage. Although the winter was chilly, February and March were warm. Low temperatures in April brought a risk of frost but there was little damage. Temperatures then remained above normal and the rest of the season was dry until the end of the harvest.
BIVB says that the 2022 vintage encapsulates “generosity and promise. This will take some of the pressure off sales and allow stocks to build back up.” It may be unrealistic to expect prices to fall but at least they should not rise (too much!). The picture was not dissimilar in the Rhône Valley where last year’s vintage looks to be one of the best in terms of quality of the last five years.
Maisons Marques et Domaines, the purveyor of Roederer champagne and other prestigious brands, invited tasters and potential buyers to upmarket restaurant Carousel on London’s Charlotte Street to taste the 2022 from three of its wineries: Domaine Faiveley which embraces 300 parcels from Côte Chalonnaise, Côte de Beaune and other fine Burgundy areas, Chablis’s Billaud-Simon and the Rhône’s Delas Frères.
En primeur is basically a futures market and is the only route to wines with strict allocations – but to me it remains a mystery with ‘lesser’ wines why some people would chance their arm on buying now, rather than simply waiting to see what the final product, aged and bottled, can – or can’t – deliver, or indeed buy the same wines fully matured at often less money than the current vintage.
Even if most of the wines at the tasting will improve dramatically with time, they are remarkably approachable at this early stage. Let’s start with Delas Frères. The Rhônes are here in magnum formats, which adds a certain presence to the display. The reds include Crozes Hermitage Le Clos and Côte Rotie La Landonne. These are already powerfully fruity, with the characteristic aromas of ripe Syrah. And the acidity remains low.
But it’s a white that attracts my attention, the Condrieu Clos Boucher. This is a single vineyard of Viognier from a plot of a mere two hectares. More barrel ageing will lend this more complexity. But it already has a delightful, marked intensity with notes of ripe yellow fruits. I worry that this must be made in depressingly small quantities.
On to the Faiveley line-up. This comprises around 25 wines with storied names on the whites such as Puligny-Montrachet 1 er Crus Charmes and on the reds like Beaune Clos de L’Ecu. The latter shows how these wines have yet to really open up. Even so, I am immediately struck by a Mercurey 1 er Cru Clos du Roy. The velvety mouthfeel is a joy, the acidity is fresh and there is already a decent length. This will have a 10-15 year drinking window from 2026, for those buyers who can keep themselves in check.
Finally, to Domaine Billaud-Simon which produces some impressive wines in Chablis. Here it is probably the Chablis 1 er Cru Les Vaillons that stands out. Vaillons is a big and important premier cru which can be sub-divided into other climats. To most, Vaillons has a reputation as an easy-drinking, fresh style of Chablis. This is an aromatic white with a recognisable citrus zest and a good tension in keeping with the domaine’s steely, mineral style.
The thing to consider with en primeur is whether you are prepared to wait if you commit now to your favourites. Or, as Clint Eastwood might have said, “are you feeling patient, punk?”