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The 2015 vintage
2015 was something of a textbook vintage for the reds. Tasting in Burgundy cellars in June and November 2016, the ‘15s were a real pleasure, often difficult to spit out, they offer so much pleasure. Stylistically I would say they are somewhere between the opulence of 2009, and the minerality, precision and freshness of the 2010. They are rather grand, fruit-laden wines, but their opulence has not tipped them over into simplicity. Their complexity – tasting in barrel – is generally open and fragrant. The reds will have broad appeal, to hardcore Burgundy enthusiasts and casual drinkers alike. This is a must year for laying down serious top level wines, but it is also a year to in which to stock up on lower level wines for everyday drinking.
For the 2015 whites I think it will be more a matter of personal taste. The wines seem to offer very round generous fruit, mid-palate weight and citrus through to stone fruit flavours. I think they will offer a lot of appeal for early to mid-term drinking. If you are looking for something more classically styled and for longer term cellaring, you should look now at acquiring what remains of the 2014 stocks, as this was a truly outstanding year for whites in the classical style.
Many full vintage reports have already been published that offer an excellent detailed explanation of the vintage as it unfolded. I won’t repeat all the details here, lest to say the key feature was a hot dry season broken by a little welcome rain in August that helped retain freshness. Pretty much everyone we met making reds in the Cote de Nuits was somewhere between happy and thrilled with the quality. The producers of whites in the Cote de Beaune faced a bigger challenge in choosing when to harvest, balancing phenolic development and rising sugars at the end of August.
WHY BUY EN PRIMEUR
The most obvious traditional answer was price. The basic deal was that the best price would be the en primeur or ‘futures’ price – the consumer rewarding the merchant, the merchant rewarding the negocient, the negocient rewarding the châteaux with cash up front, long before anyone would see the finished wine in bottle. This system broke (as it does every few decades or so) with the 2009 and 2010 vintages, where the price of the final delivered wine fell siginicantly below what customers paid en primeur. Price for the 2016s will be something to watch, though fortunately it doesn’t look this year (so far!) like aggressive pricing will be the order of the day.
Of course you are not buying an entire vintage, you are picking out individual wines, so over-performers who nonetheless price ‘normally’ may well prove to make financial sense.
But there are some other reasons to buy en primeur
- Provenance is assured. You will be the first to take delivery of the wine and you will have control over its handling and storage from day one, with all the assurance for preserving condition that that brings. Years down the line that will mean either drinking the wine in its optimal condition, or being able to offer it for re-sale with complete assurance to the next buyer. Everyone benefits from assured provenance.
- Access. This isn’t Burugndy, but it is true that some of these wines appear later in the secondary market in much lower quantities. This is the best chance to ensure you can own what you want.
- Sunk cost. It’s not an obvious one, but taking the pain of the expense now is something akin to savings. The wine will feel like a bonus when it comes to drinking it!
- Choice of bottle formats. If you like to own your favourite wines in a nice mix of halves, magnums and imperials, this is your best – often only – chance to have the wine bottled in formats you want. (Subject to availability and advance ordering).
- If you had a child born in 2016, or got married, this is a very nice way to mark the occasion from the outset – investing in furture anniversaries and birthdays.
SOME CAVEATS AND SOME ADVICE ABOUT CHOOSING WINES
It’s important understand that tasting and evaluating barrel samples is not as assured as tasting finished wine from bottle. The first point here is that we are not tasting finished wines. They are just a few months in to their barrel ageing and will change more in the next year in barrel than any subsequent year in bottle. Faults like aggressive tannins or greenness aren’t going to go away with bottle age, but sometimes other issues might be hidden at this stage, or a wine might improve considerably in barrel. Samples can also vary – in my experience – a great deal from day to day, and location to location. I taste a sample, I write down what I experience. For the sake of transparency, and to show just how much variance is possible, where I tasted a 2016 more than once I have given both notes here. You will see for yourself how much variance is possible.
Secondly, for some châteaux what you taste is the final blend. They have already assembled the young wine and re-distributed it back to barrel for further ageing. At other châteaux the final blend will be made many months later after they see how the components develop in barrel. In this latter case an ‘approximate blend’ is made from the components to represent the envisaged final blend. Can you see where there might be an issue here? I couldn’t possibly comment.
Finally, these are my experiences tasting a range of samples over a week in Bordeaux in April 2017. To this I would make two points: firstly, though I tasted many of the higher ranked wines (which are the ones of most relevance to Hong Kongers considered buying en primeur), there are in fact thousands of wines possible to taste. My preliminary views are therefore based on less complete observations than many others – especially the critics – who tasted for weeks and complied extrensive reports. My second point relates to the first – do not rely on any single opinion. My best advice to you is to pass on advice I received many years ago: pick two or three 2016 Bordeaux vintage reports – especially where you know how the author’s taste relates to your own – and compare the notes from each. This will give you a more reliable sense for how a particular château performed. From there, trust your own taste. There is no such thing as a ‘100-point wine’, or a ’90-point wine’. They don’t exist. What exists is a 100-point experience one person had with a wine on an occasion. Your mileage may vary.