Grapevine Archive for En Primeur

Fri 23 Jun 2017

Bordeaux 2016: Roll Out The Barrel

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I have been visiting Bordeaux vineyards every year since the early 1980s. Though Tim Sykes, our current Bordeaux buyer, now does all the work, going out there several times a year, I was delighted to join him for the crowded but fascinating week in early April, when all the châteaux first show the new vintage together in organised tastings for the world to judge.

Bordeaux vineyards

We visit all the top châteaux to taste on the spot, and many others too, and double check or triple check samples with merchants at well-organised general tastings.

Because they receive so many visitors, châteaux prepare fresh samples of their final blend so people can taste from sample bottles. I rather miss the opportunity of tasting direct from barrel with maîtres de chai, which was possible when I made several more leisurely visits in the past. So I was delighted to be able to do just that on a couple of occasions during a packed week this year.


At Château Canon in Saint-Emilion, Nicolas Audebert has recently taken over from John Kolasa, who did such a marvellous job rebuilding the quality of both Canon and Rauzan-Ségla for owners the Wertheimer family, of Chanel fame. Nicolas let us taste Canon 2016 from several barrels (subtle differences because of different barrel makers), before we tasted the final assemblage. The wine looks most promising.

Nicolas Audebert

Tasting with Nicolas Audebert

Next day Tim and I missed a turn (my fault) on the way to Tertre Roteboeuf and stopped to ask a couple of men chatting in a nearby vineyard for directions. One of them turned out to be Nicolas. Another promising sign for the future of Canon. This man does not just sit in an office and tell others what to do. He walks the walk.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

Bordeaux has produced an abundance of superb wines in 2016. Our main en primeur offer is available now, including reds, dry whites and sweet whites.

Wed 25 Jan 2017

Reaping The Rewards Of En Primeur

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All the current excitement about the excellence of the 2015 vintage reminds me of my first year working at The Society back in 2006.

The talk then was of the brilliance of the 2005 vintage, which was similarly hugely successful across much of Europe. My first few tasks were to write about this ‘Vintage of a Generation’ and my capacity for superlatives was being tested to the limit.

This was my first exposure to the concept of buying wines en primeur, ie purchasing wines that not only were nowhere near being ready to drink but not even bottled or shipped.

Persuaded no doubt by the overwhelming pulling power of my purple prose, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and take the plunge.

And all I can think now is why on earth didn’t I buy more?!

Languedoc en primeur wines

Just before Christmas I withdrew one of the mixed cases I had bought from the 2005 Rhône & Languedoc-Roussillon en primeur campaign and had been keeping in The Society’s Members’ Reserves storage facility since.

The case in question was the 2005 Languedoc First Growth Case and includes a roll-call of the great and the good of the South of France. And it provided all the wow factor I needed over the Christmas period.

The wines

• The one I was keenest to try was the Coteaux du Languedoc, Prieuré Saint Jean de Bébian and it didn’t disappoint. Deliciously à point, this thrilling blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre confidently treads that fine line between power and elegance.

• I may have broached the cabernet sauvignon-dominant Mas de Daumas Gassac, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault a tad early; it was still mature and delicious but I think that I’ll leave the second bottle until next Christmas.

• Conversely, the Domaine de Perdiguier, Cuvée d’en Auger, Vin de Pays des Côteaux d’Ensérune may have been better last Christmas (the initial recommended drink date was indeed for 2015) but it was still a great taste experience.

Domaine Alquier’s Faugères Les Bastides couldn’t have been better: all velvety richness and concentration.

Domaine Madeloc Collioure Magenca was very mature and a tad raisiny, but I mean that as a compliment. The primary fruit flavours had all but disappeared to leave a rich, mineral, spicy, earthy complexity.

• The Roc d’Anglade, Vin de Pays du Gard was extraordinarily fine and elegant, and could easily have been mistaken for a very posh northern Rhône costing many times its price.

And let’s talk about the price, as that for me was the real bonus part of the whole experience and one I hadn’t really anticipated. I paid for the wines in 2007 and the duty and VAT in 2008. So long ago that, such is my head-in-the-sand attitude to personal finances, I felt that these fine wines were now, to all intents and purposes, free.

Sure I did have to pay for their storage in the interim but even so a little research online suggests that were I able to find these wines now (no small task in itself) it would have cost me a darn sight more than I had shelled out. Furthermore, if you factor in the pleasure of the anticipation of enjoying your purchases then I’ve had more than a decade of mouthwatering expectation!

That isn’t the point, of course, and it shouldn’t matter, but it does add to the rather smug satisfaction one experiences when you pull the cork.

I did my best to hide my self-satisfaction when sharing these special bottles, but even if I failed to suppress it then I’m not sure that anyone would have noticed. They were too busy enjoying the wines! I’m delighted to see that we’re expanding the range of wines we offer en primeur. In 2016 we offered wines from Ridge in California and the Cape’s Meerlust as well as the usual suspects from the classic French regions, and we have plans to continue to look further afield in 2017.

I for one will be buying as much as I can afford, including a good chunk of our 2015 Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon allocation and I advise you to do the same. A decade or so down the line I’m certain that you’ll be very glad you did!

Paul Trelford
Head of Content & Communications

Our en primeur offer of the 2015 Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon vintage is available until 8pm, Tuesday 28th February.

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Recently I was at my village wine club tasting (nothing to do with my job at The Wine Society) in the local parish rooms for a tasting. Our host Simon brought along some wines he’d bought en primeur, some from us and some from another merchant.

He wanted to see how the wines had developed and to see if buying them en primeur had ‘paid its way’ in terms of initial cost (including storage) vs how much the wines would cost now.

The wines were great (with just one that was ever so slightly past its best), and Simon had done his calculations and seen that, for those wines which he could still get, the prices now were much higher on almost all the wines.

En Primeur tasting

It was a fascinating evening for me as I look after our en primeur offers at The Society and it was very reassuring to meet another wine drinker so interested in it and getting such satisfaction from the service; both in terms of value and, more importantly, pleasure from the experience.

I buy en primeur myself mainly for the enjoyment and delayed gratification of having it stored away – sometimes for decades – only to get them out, having long forgotten what I paid for them and slightly smug about being able to drink something so mature that not many others can!

So it was nice that, for the wines we had last night anyway, the numbers also made great sense…

I did come in to work the next morning feeling that what I do gives enormous amounts of pleasure to a lot of our members and it offers good value too. Oh, and none of the wines were the stellar-expensive wines you often hear about – most were in the £15-£40 bracket.

With our 2015 Rhône offer available now, it also felt like a good time to share the experience!

Shaun Kiernan
Fine Wine Manager

Here are some quick notes from what we tasted:

1. Three vintages of Clos Floridène Blanc, one of members’ favourite dry whites from Bordeaux.

Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2010
Real class here – exactly what you’d hope for from this excellent wine and vintage. The sauvignon blanc and semillon that make up the blend were in perfect balance, and this wine will still keep for some time yet.

Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2009
Still very good too with real class and finesse, and a long satisfying finish.

Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2007
Sadly this wine was just outside its drink date and should have been drunk already. It was slightly oxidised but still interesting, but its mature flavours may not be for everyone.

2. Four vintages of Vacqueyras Saint Roch from Clos de Cazaux. This family-owned southern Rhône producer is another popular name at The Society, featuring regularly in our regular and en primeur offers – not to mention being the source of our Exhibition Vacqueyras – so I was especially intrigued to taste these.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2010
From a great year, this is still muscular and would benefit from further ageing. You could certainly see its potential though. Keep for two more years: will make a fab bottle.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2009
Similarly young as per the 2010 and would be better kept for longer, although the 2009 was lighter in weight. Still highly enjoyable.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2008
Smoother and more mature, this was just about ready, and backed up by some appealing sweetness of fruit.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2007
Wonderful wine – for me, this is what what en primeur is all about. Totally à point, this is all chocolate and cream, with the freshness that demanded we try a second glass! Best wine of the night for me.

3. Three vintages of Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, a bit of a Bordeaux ‘insider’s tip’ gaining an increasingly large following for its excellent claret, which is offered at reasonable prices.

Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2009
Lovely sweetness here, and quite tannic. Not typical of 2009, so without the heaviness I sometimes associate with the vintage. Good wine.

Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2008
Leave a little longer: quite typical of 2008 (not my favourite vintage) in its austerity, but the quality was evident and there is more to come from this wine.

Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2005
From a classic vintage, this is now ready but was drier than I thought. Slightly muscular, and would come into its own with food.

4. Two vintages of Château Suduiraut, Sauternes, one of the grandest sweet wines one can find in Bordeaux, and which still offers excellent value for its quality.

Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 2010
This is rich but also very fine with lovely balancing freshness, and will keep well. Marmalade nose and lemony freshness on the palate but rich too.

Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 1997
A lovely contrast to the 2010 with the aromas and flavours that come with maturity. A barley-sugar nose but rich on the palate, and again with good acidity. Needs drinking now but won’t go over the top for a few years. Very good indeed!

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A few of us from around The Wine Society sat down with buyer Marcel Orford-Williams the other day to plan the forthcoming en primeur offer of the 2015 Rhône vintage. The wines will be available to order in late January.

The picture Marcel painted for us was of an excellent vintage, and our message to members is to start getting excited.

Weather patterns were complex and it’s a difficult vintage to generalise. Annoying for those of us who enjoy the simplicity of summaries, but stimulating stuff for those of us who enjoy exploring the numerous fascinating differences between wine regions. Being both of those things myself, I was unsure how to feel about it… until the wines were poured.

Côte-Rôtie in the northern Rhône was very successful in 2015

Côte-Rôtie in the northern Rhône was very successful in 2015

Each one of them was a joy. Tasting and talking with Marcel, it seems that the principal uniting factors in the 2015s are to do with generosity and pleasure. Even given the Rhône’s impressive run of form over the last few vintages, this is the sort of vintage that will delight aficionados, and would make a great first en primeur buy if you’ve yet to take the plunge. Most will be delicious throughout their drinking windows, with younger wines being gorgeously approachable but complex and fine too.

The northern Rhône’s reds performed superbly overall, with Côte-Rôtie and Crozes-Hermitage looking especially successful. In the south, where the majority of wine is made, the picture is inevitably more complicated, but the successes are quite magnificent, and there are some very special wines indeed. The more mountainous areas tended to perform best: lovers of Vinsobres and Gigondas, for example, are in for a particular treat.

The white wines are rich, powerful yet balanced and rather wonderful. There will be fewer on offer than in 2014, but they will be worth looking out for.

Lovers of Gigondas are in for a treat this year

Lovers of Gigondas are in for a treat

Another exciting announcement is that Marcel has decided to feature some new faces in the forthcoming offer – more news on that very soon. Keep an eye on your letterboxes, inboxes and for the end of January!

Martin Brown
Digital Content & Comms Editor

Categories : France, Rhône
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Thu 15 May 2014

Bordeaux 2013 Vintage: The View of Our Buyers

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Tim Sykes

Tim Sykes

A great deal has been written in recent weeks about the 2013 Bordeaux vintage, much of it less than complimentary, with some commentators not even taking the trouble to taste the wines at source. Our own experience is that there are plenty of attractive wines in 2013 if you know where to look, and we have been particularly rigorous in our selection process this year.

Selecting the wines
In early April, we (Joanna Locke MW, Sebastian Payne MW and I) spent the best part of two weeks in Bordeaux, tasting and retasting several hundred wines from the 2013 vintage. We tasted most of the top wines at the châteaux, and many other wines were on show at the communal tastings organised by the Union des Grands Crus.

Here is an extract from our itinerary on a typical day:

Tuesday 1st April:
9.30 UGC St Julien (CH. LAGRANGE)
10.30 CH. LATOUR
15.30 UGC Pauillac/St Estèphe (Lafon Rochet)

Despite the challenging schedule we were able to come up with a clear view of the most promising wines of the vintage. It is impossible to generalise about which communes fared better than others in 2013, as we found that it was individual châteaux, rather than particular regions or communes that succeeded or failed.

This year, more than any other in recent times, required severe fruit selection by the châteaux, and as buyers our selection process has had to be equally rigorous. In both our pre-order (online) offer and our main (printed) offer, we have reduced considerably the number of wines offered. Those that have made the final cut are the very best, within their price category, that we tasted over the fortnight in Bordeaux.

François-Xavier & Marie-Hélène Borie made standout wines in 2013

François-Xavier & Marie-Hélène Borie made standout wines in 2013

The style of the 2013 vintage
2013 is a Bordeaux vintage for drinkers rather than speculators, and will appeal to those members looking for wines with finesse and poise, rather than power. The red wines have fresh acidity, modest alcohol levels, perfumed fruit flavours and moderate tannin structure, and most will be drinking in the next five to ten years. The châteaux that made the most attractive wines avoided over extraction in the winery, carefully handling the grapes to ensure that the perfume and charm of the vintage were not lost.

The standout wines for me, and the ones which display the most appeal overall, are those from the François-Xavier Borie stable (Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Haut-Batailley and Lacoste Borie), Beau-Site and Batailley from the Castéja family, Angludet in Margaux, and Cantemerle. At the upper end of the scale, Mouton is probably the finest of the first growths, with Haut-Brion a close second. On the right bank, Grand Corbin-Despagne is particularly attractive, and Figeac is exceptional. All these wines will provide a great deal of medium-term drinking pleasure for claret lovers.

Tim Sykes
Head of Buying

Our main offer, which will include the majority of wines selected by the buyers and most of the more moderately priced wines, will be available from 27th May.

Some wines from our initial offer of the most highly sought-after wines are still available. Please call Member Services on 01438 741177 if you would like to order these wines.

Categories : Bordeaux, En Primeur
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Thu 10 Apr 2014

A Real Privilege: The Birth of a Wine

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Fine wine manager, Shaun Kiernan, helped blend the exclusive Contino 930 Reserva Rioja 2010, The Society’s first Rioja to be offered en primeur. Here he describes the process.

I’ve worked for The Wine Society for many more years than I care to remember, but fortunately opportunities regularly arise to remind me why I continue to do so.

207759 (283)Last February, I had the privilege to visit Spain with Pierre Mansour, our Spanish buyer, to taste through a large number of old Riojas, which we subsequently listed in an offer. At the same time we visited the cellars of Contino, a long-term Society supplier, and their charming winemaker, Jésus Madrazo, to blend what has become our first Rioja Reserva to be offered en primeur.

Over the years, I’ve been involved in blending new wines before in Stevenage and, on occasion, helped with the mix for The Society’s Claret out in Bordeaux, but this was special as I was witnessing the birth of, and helping to shape, a wine which I think will give members enormous drinking pleasure over a number of years.

It was a fascinating process and I have to admit to feeling quite daunted as we entered the cellars where we were confronted with numerous bottles all containing wines with different attributes from different vineyards and different grape varieties.

Our job was to come up with a blend which was in keeping with the Contino style and one that Society members would enjoy over the next decade.

After about an hour and half of extreme pipette action, tasting and blending and re-tasting and re-blending, we finally felt that we had found a wine which achieved what we set out to do. It is Contino 930 Reserva Rioja 2010, a blend of tempranillo, graciano, garnacha and mazuelo aged in French and American oak for nearly two years, including fruit from Contino’s most famous ‘Olivo’ vineyard.

It is offered now in bond (until 9pm, Tuesday 29th April), while still ageing in Contino’s cellars, and is due for release in early 2015. We think it will be ready to drink on arrival but will start peaking from 2019 until 2025.

Witnessing, and playing a part in, the birth of something so special was one of the very memorable moments of my career here at The Wine Society. I hope that you enjoy the fruits of our labours.

Categories : En Primeur, Spain
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Tue 16 Apr 2013

2012 Bordeaux – What to Expect

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Against expectations, Society buyers Joanna Locke MW and Tim Sykes find themselves genuinely excited and impressed by 2012 clarets.

The cellars at Ausone

2012 has produced a Bordeaux vintage full of surprises. From properties that did, genuinely, make better wine this year than last, to wonderful cabernet-dominated wines in a generally more merlot-oriented vintage, our first week of tasting the grands crus and much else besides was a fascinating one.

We began with a ‘ok, impress me’ attitude, and found ourselves, well, impressed! As already noted on Grapevine, thus far the vintage has not received a great deal of comment, let alone hype, which is not only refreshing but all to the good for we buyers. Top-end Bordeaux has honestly risen to the 2012 challenge and cleverly kept its counsel on this one, allowing trade and press to make up their own minds. The general mood during UGC week, amongst a turnout of visitors not quite up to the numbers for the celebrated 2009 and 2010 vintages but pretty much in line with last year, seemed to be one of positive surprise sprinkled with genuine enthusiasm. A US buyer whose palate and opinion we respect used the analogy of childbirth to describe the long labour required for success in 2012 but (mostly) joyful end result that is parenthood!

The vineyards at de Fonbel in full bloom

Thu 11 Apr 2013

Bordeaux 2012

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Society buyers Tim Sykes and Joanna Locke’s first impressions on a far from black-and-white vintage

Tasting at the UGC

Until now there has been little comment from trade or press about the 2012 vintage in Bordeaux. The debate that did start early was around whether prices would be appropriate to ignite significant interest. The jury is still out on that one (though there seems to be a general consensus that prices will – or at least should – be out earlier this year) but we will know soon enough, and there is plenty of lobbying going on here in Bordeaux for sensible pricing this year.

We’ve been told it’s a merlot year, and Sauternes has been in the limelight more for news of notable omissions from any 2012 campaign (Yquem, Suduiraut, Rieussec) than for the few good news stories.

Into our fourth (mostly wet!) day of Bordeaux’s UGC (Union des Grands Crus) week we are better placed to comment ourselves. The consistent message for us, irrespective of some statements to the contrary (for example that merlot was the success of the vintage, that cabernet(s) didn’t ripen, and that Sauternes was a write-off) is that this is not a consistent vintage. The dry whites may be the honorable exception, and today’s Graves/Pessac tasting was impressive, reds as well as whites.

The chai at Mouton-Rothschild

Overall for Bordeaux 2012 the picture is not black and white. Indeed it is not even safe just to go for the ‘best’ producers. One producer commented to us that it’s a buyer’s vintage, meaning not that we are spoilt for choice but that we have to work hard to sort the good from the ordinary, in stark contrast to 2010, for example, where we just had to hope we had enough money to buy everything we wanted!

We have tasted good and great wines already this week. Our first selection of pre-order wines will be available on the website in the next few weeks. Our second, wider, offer will be available in print and online in June.

Contrary to earlier speculation, 2012 Bordeaux is well worth a look.

Joanna Locke MW and Tim Sykes
Society Buyers

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Tue 10 Apr 2012

The Week The World Came To Bordeaux

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Primeurs week in Bordeaux is a marathon of tastings of inky young red (and a few dry and sweet white) wines, a whirlwind of meeting and greeting, top and tailed by fine food and wines. You may be thinking that we wine buyers are spoiled – and you’d be right (we’ll spare you the detail, but these experiences re-affirm why Bordeaux remains unrivaled in the world for its potential finesse and keeping potential) but the pleasure is greater, and the debate all the more stimulating in the good company of buyers and sellers from all over the world.

At Château Haut-Bailly this year our tasting group included contingents from the UK, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Chicago, and Texas (featured). The debate was open, friendly, and lively thanks to General Manager Véronique Sanders’ invitation to all of us to give her our views on the prospects for the Bordeaux Primeurs campaign this year. Irrespective of national and personal preferences, all nationalities were of one voice in asking for Bordeaux to reduce its prices significantly this year.

Generous hospitality is not unusual in Bordeaux, but this relaxed and open discussion was as refreshing as the very fine range of wines we enjoyed. Wines that could not come from anywhere else.

Please remember that we will be offering the 30 or so most sought-after wines from the vintage in a different way this year, requiring members to pre-order them. For more information, please refer to our website.

Joanna Locke MW
Buyer, Bordeaux

Wed 04 Apr 2012

A Few Words From Bordeaux

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Shiny new (and rather Dalek-like) tanks, waiting to go into their new home at Château Palmer?s cellar.

Two and a half days into this year’s Primeurs tastings and over 250 wines sampled (mostly left bank) so far. The best have bright fruit and freshness, and some show real charm.

It’s the producer – more precisely the vigneron – that counts this year; far more than location, appellation, or classification. It is no surprise that those who walked their vineyards and acted early on the vagaries of the growing season, and who could then afford to wait for ripeness, have made the best wines.

It looks unlikely to be much of an investors? vintage; it could be a good ‘drinkers’ vintage, if – and it remains a big if – prices are correct. Our purchases will be a tight selection this year, and we’ll taste a lot more wines, including several numerous times, in order to finalise our Opening Offer which is due to be published in June.

As mentioned, we will be offering the 30 or so most sought-after wines from this vintage in a different way this year, requiring members to pre-order the wines. For more information, please refer to our website.

Joanna Locke MW
Buyer, Bordeaux