Just about everyone I know who has developed an interest in wine has at some time asked: "What is en primeur?"
A good question.
Not that we really need to know the answer, because in this part of the world this system of buying and trading in wine is rarely used. And long may it remain that way.
But it's a question that deserves an answer.
Although there is some debate over the precise translation of en primeur it is used in the wine industry to mean selling wines on a "futures" basis. In other words, while they are still maturing in the barrel.
Which, in simple terms, adds up to merchants and investors buying wine in the hope it will be worth more when it has been bottled and matures – ie, speculation.
However, it is also a way of securing wines that are difficult to obtain and highly sought after once bottled and it is in this sense the term is used, though rarely, in this country. The best known examples are Stonyridge, on Waiheke Island, and Trinity Hill and Esk Valley, two Hawke's Bay wineries, all of which offer their flagship red wines (Larose, Homage Syrah and The Terraces ) en primeur.
In this case, however, the process involves nothing like the circus that surrounds buying en primeur, particularly in Bordeaux, which starts pre-Easter with the annual tasting of the new vintage wines and continues as the various chateaux set their prices.
Last year it dragged on until July.
This year the "campaign" as it's called was notable for some completely different reasons – lower prices and the announcements by two chateaux that could jeopardise the future of this poker game that has become the wine world's No1 event.
First the famous Chateau Latour announced that as of next year it will no longer sell wine en primeur, company president, Frederic Engerer, saying: "It is a paradox to sell a wine that isn't in bottles yet and then isn't consumed until 10 or 15 years later. It is something that we have to change."
Now the director of Chateau d'Yquem, Pierre Lurton, says the 2011 vintage will not be offered en primeur "at this time". There is no question of following the example of Latour, he says. "It is just more sensible to wait, and ensure Yquem 2011 gets the reception that its quality deserves."
What would make even more sense is changing the system, if it must be maintained, so that wines aren't tasted so early; that samples aren't manipulated to make them softer and more approachable so the critics will mark them up and force the prices in the same direction.
As British wine writer Tim Atkin has already suggested, perhaps the Bordeaux should take an en primeur holiday and show its 2012s in April 2014, when those lucky enough to get a taste would have a much better idea of what these wines, which are a measure for the rest of the world, will actually taste like.
Meantime, some homegrown reds for which you won't have to wait:
Church Road 2009 McDonald Series Cabernet Sauvignon ($32)
A wine that would win the approval of the famous Tom McDonald who pioneered and proved this variety in Hawke's Bay. It's rich, it's gutsy and it runs on currants of both persuasions with a hint of licorice and a twist of spice. Worth cellaring.
Mills Reef 2010 Elspeth Hawke's Bay Syrah ($45)
Rarely do the red wines produced by Tim Preston off the Gimblett Gravels fail to make a statement, in this case more elegantly than some. Lush, bright black fruits, pepper and some fetching florals. Drink now or conserve to the cellar and reap the rewards – in kind.
Elephant Hill 2009 Hawke's Bay Merlot ($24)
A drink-now red from a producer of some increasingly classy wines, this one from Merlot grown near the coast out Cape Kidnappers way. A lovely soft and cuddly wine with plenty of plums and berryfruit.
- © Fairfax NZ News