Our latest Wine Word of the Week is “en primeur” which refers to the practice of purchasing wine in advance of its release date, usually while it is still in barrel. Also referred to as “wine futures,” wines purchased in this manner aren’t usually released until 2-3 years after they are sold. Why spend money on wine that far in advance, you might ask? Purchasing wine en primeur is done primarily for two reasons: (1) to obtain wines which are produced in limited quantities, and (2) to lock in the best pricing of a wine, usually lower than the release price.
The practice of purchasing wines en primeur is most prevalent in France’s Bordeaux region where it has existed for centuries. Every April the grand cru classé properties produce barrel samples of their wines for the international wine trade who gather in Bordeaux to assess them. Based on these tastings, wines are given scores or ratings which reflect what they will taste like once they are bottled and how well they will age. The estates then release a portion of their total production at special pricing to wine brokers, known as négociants, who then sell the en primeur offers. Selling to négociants helps producers mitigate the risk of decreased demand in poor vintages: négociants are obligated to purchase their allocations in poor vintages for fear of not receiving any allocation in good vintages. The en primeur system works best when global demand outstrips supply and with skyrocketing prices of Bordeaux over the past decade due largely to Chinese interest, many US collectors have lost interest in the en primeur process.
Bordeaux is not the only region in the world to sell its wines en primeur; regions such as Burgundy, the Rhône, Port, Italy, and California also implement this practice. Consumers interested in purchasing wines en primeur from any country should consult a reputable wine merchant to handle the transaction since they’ll be waiting 2-3 years to receive their wine.
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