En Primeur: Buy, Backfill or Chinon?
The Bordeaux 2015 releases continue to trickle out. Well, there has perhaps been a little more than a ‘trickle’ this week, as the pace seems to have picked up a touch. I have been watching the prices with interest, wondering if any would tempt me to bite, or whether they would simply push me towards buying older vintages – known as backfilling – instead, or indeed whether the prices would continue to push me even further away from buying Bordeaux at all (especially bearing in mind it is only four weeks until I head out to Chinon, and I have a Chinon-shaped hole in the cellar).
Quite a few wines have been released now, from a variety of appellations, and although scores and prices obviously vary from one wine to the next, I think some generalisations can be made. On the whole, prices have tended to be higher than most currently available vintages, back to 2006. The only exceptions to this ‘rule’ tend to be 2009 and 2010, which are more expensive, and going back beyond 2006 this is also the case for the 2005 vintage. Putting it another way, this means wines from a number of older physically available vintages can currently be bought for less money than the 2015 vintage. It perhaps it goes without saying, but these older vintages are a surer bet, having been reviewed and scored as wines in bottle by various critics (including me), often several times, over the course of the years that have passed since they were bottled. You can buy them and have them delivered the following week, not wait two years. They also have the added advantage of that extra maturity, being so much closer to being ready to drink and, if storage charges are a concern for you, they come with years of storage already paid for.
Alternatively, the 2015s customers are currently being offered are uncertain and unfinished wines, yet to be definitively reviewed after bottling, and they have a long road to travel before they get to their drinking windows.
I guess deciding whether to take a gamble on the latest vintage, possibly superior, or to go with the known quantity that is a vintage already in bottle, possibly the lesser wine (or possibly better too), is a very personal decision which reflects your character, wealth, the current contents of your cellar, age and perhaps many other factors. Such decisions also need to be made not just on the perceived quality of the two vintages, but – especially because 2015 is such a variable vintage – on the specific wines concerned. For example, with some 2015 St Emilions, I think a price point that sits above all those older vintages except for 2009 and 2010 might be appropriate. It is a great vintage in this appellation, and a price point like that puts the wine in a good position for consumers. When there is an incentive to buy such a wine, which really means a good score combined with a fair price (or even better, a great score and a price below that anticipated), I suspect 2015 may be a good investment (whether that be an investment for the future pleasure of our tastebuds, or a financial investment). But I think you have to be very selective though. I have written before it seems like the norm to lose money buying en primeur these days, and across the board I think that is still true. But some individual wines provide us with exceptions to that rule; the skill lies in identifying these wines before release and having the confidence to stump up the asking price. Yesterday’s release of Château Canon was one such wine, a truth which I think was widely understood judging by most merchants having immediately sold out with pre-orders.
There are other wines worth watching for in St Emilion, hence my comments above. Elsewhere, especially as you move northwards on the Médoc, I am not at all convinced wines released at a price above most of those older vintages offer a good deal. I worry about wines from St Estèphe, for example, which are priced at a level comparable or even higher than 2009 or 2010 – that seems stridently over-ambitious. I would say the same of many wines from Pauillac and St Julien. Whereas the St Emilions may be superior, many of these wines from the Médoc are of comparable quality to older physically available vintages in my opinion, and many will be available in the future for similar or even lower prices than those being asked now. I can’t help thinking that backfilling is a better option in these regions; avoid 2015, and buy those less expensive wines from the likes of 2006, an attractive vintage overshadowed by 2005, but still well-priced, and carrying all the advantages detailed above.
So for me, the 2015 has been a little buy (in St Emilion), and a little backfill (in 2006 St Julien). And in a few weeks, a little Chinon too. That’s my experience of the primeurs. What have you bought?