Buying En Primeur: Is It Worth It?

Enjoyment of fine wine necessitates deep pockets.  Most of us therefore know relatively little about it.  But does buying wine “en primeur” spare some of your outlay?

“En primeur” is a wine trade term for buying wine as futures before bottling.  Usually, a price is paid for the wine when the en primeur offer is made.  Within two years after that, you have to pay the duty owing and shipping costs.  You then either store the wine yourself until it is mature enough to drink, or pay storage charges for someone else with suitable facilities to do so.

The reasoning is that by buying early, less money is spent on the wine in the long run.  However, there are various downsides to this approach which include:

  • falling wine prices
  • reliance upon the opinion of the person who tasted the wine sample in cask
  • interruption in the supply chain for whatever reason
  • having the means to store wine safely and in optimal conditions until ready to drink – or sell.  Provenance is important for value retention and includes proof of where and how the wine has been stored.
  • Insurance is also needed in case of loss or damage e.g. theft, fire, flood etc. if wine is kept for some time.

The wine trade has bought en primeur for many years, but consumers also began to buy en primeur in the late 20th century as a result of rising demand and relative economic prosperity.  Bordeaux wines are particularly associated with this practice, but there are en primeur offers in other regions of France, and indeed, further afield.

The cost and risks involved would normally be enough to deter a risk averse lawyer like me.  But my status as a godmother led me to dip my toe into the en primeur market as a bit of fun.  I decided to buy my god daughter 6 bottles of something ageworthy and approachable in the hope that when she reached 18 she would enjoy it (and maybe share a bit with her godmother!?).  I sought to minimise risk by using The Wine Society to source and store my investment, but there are plenty of other reputable and knowledgeable wine merchants who sell wine to private consumers en primeur.

The choice of en primeur wines was bewildering but price, style and the drinking window helped narrow the options.  Claret didn’t seem right for an 18 year old girl, and the delicate nuances of Burgundian pinot noir are subtle and not to everyone’s taste.  Port was a possibility and its sweetness might appeal to her but I feared it might seem a bit old fashioned.  But Chateauneuf du Pape seemed ideal – a long drinking window, a fashionable full bodied spicy style, and relatively affordable.

img_1144So in 2007 I bought 6 bottles of Domaine Font-de-Michelle Cuvée Etienne Gonnet Chateauneuf du Pape AOC 2005.  I gave the details to my god daughter’s parents in case anything happened to me.  We then forgot about it while the Wine Society stored it.

I didn’t know much about it, to be honest.  I since see that Hugh Johnson names Font-de-Michelle as a top name, calling it stylish, and 2005 is still drinking well in general for Chateauneuf apparently.  The 2005 was described as a classic vintage for the cellar by The Wine Spectator when writing about it in 2007 (not that I read this at the time!)

Here is an extract about 2005 from The Wine Cellar Insider:
2005 – A beautiful growing season for the Rhone Valley and all of Europe. The vintage was shaped by warm, sunny dry days and cool to cold nights and a long growing season. This all helped to produce rich, ripe, concentrated, sweet, fresh berries. The wines combine great style, depth of flavor and the ability to age and evolve.

Jancis Robinson seemed happy with it when released, giving it 18 points.  But by 2014 she scored it 16.5 for enjoyment (“very ripe and vivacious”) but remarked that there was lots of very obvious alcohol in it – the Grenache was presumably very ripe as it has a heady 15% abv.  I won’t reproduce the notes in full as they come from Purple Pages, a subscription service.  But I hope they won’t mind if I tell you the blend is 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre.

We all taste differently, so I looked forward to tasting a stylish, spicy, full on wine with lots of development flavours.

img_0973Enough about the wine, let’s talk money!  I paid £125.00 for the wine.  When it arrived in the UK I paid £31.29 duty and VAT.  Storage charges per annum vary but based on last year’s charges The Wine Society estimate that I paid around about £43.20 in total i.e. £4.32 per annum.  My total spend therefore comes to approximately £199.49.  The 2005 is no longer available via The Wine Society and I don’t have access to LivEx to value the wine.  I could ask a merchant to value it but I’m not selling so that would be naughty.  The Wine Society was selling the 2009 for £39 a bottle, i.e. £234 for 6.  Assuming the 2005 is worth the same,  total “profit” is therefore £34.51 i.e. 17.3% over 12 years – I might have made more had I called it off sooner! I therefore (almost) bought 5 bottles and got one free.  It doesn’t sound much but if you buy in any scale it starts to seem shrewd.  Though to be honest, I’m not sure it competes with buying wine in France and bringing it over duty free – or just moving there!

img_1145My god daughter turned 18 this year, so what does she think of it I hear you ask?  Sadly, for reasons I won’t go into, her health is such that she can’t partake of much of it.  She has kept a bottle to share with her family, and I have bought the rest from her – like any 18 year old she is content with cash!

The husband and I had a certain birthday this year so we enjoyed a bottle to ease the transition into our next half century.  It was silky, still fruity, and ethereal, with all the leathery smoky spice you would want but in impeccable balance – I didn’t notice the alcohol particularly.  A wine of poise and distinction.  It could keep longer, but it’s drinking beautifully now.  So it won’t last long.

Author: Diana Lyalle BA (Oxon) DipWSET

Lawyer turned wine educator and tasting events host based in Wraxall, North Somerset. Wine Specialist for Harvey Nichols Bristol. All opinions expressed are those of Diana Lyalle only. Email: Mobile: 07772055928

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