Wine’s sub-primeur crisis

PUBLISHED: 11:08 08 July 2009 | UPDATED: 15:13 20 February 2013

Our new wine writer is Francis Peel, owner and managing director of Whitebridge Wines, the Midlands' leading wine warehouse. Francis was educated at Oxford where he gained a degree in theology - the same path into the wine trade as Oz Clarke. He i...

Our new wine writer is Francis Peel, owner and managing director of Whitebridge Wines, the Midlands' leading wine warehouse. Francis was educated at Oxford where he gained a degree in theology - the same path into the wine trade as Oz Clarke. He is married with three children, all currently at school in Shrewsbury, and lives at Wollerton in the north of the county.


Always at this time of year the wine world gears up with the grape expectations of the Bordeaux 'en primeur' market. This is when the great clarets of the world are foisted on the wine buyers as advance sales are made of the wine while still in barrel and barely finished fermenting for delivery in two years' time. I have to confess that I loathe the whole process and have never bought a single bottle this way. Why not, you may ask? Well, for a number of reasons. First, there is the huge danger of being ripped-off by unscrupulous merchants who take your money now, and then do a runner when time comes for delivery; it has happened time and again over the last 20 years, among the casualties such famous names as Hungerford Wines, Greens, and most recently Mayfair Wine Cellars. Secondly, while you can make good money on certain vintages, you are at the whim of the market and prices can plummet, as the ill-fated 1997 vintage showed; the market is certainly high at the moment so what is the point in parting with your money now if the wine is worth less when it arrives in two years' time? Thirdly, and I think most importantly, there is something disingenuous in the whole process. English merchants are forced to buy every vintage or they lose their allocations. Consequently they buy lesser vintages that they still have to sell, praising them as lighter vintages for early drinking.
This year could well see the collapse of the whole system. As I write, only a few smaller chateaux have declared their opening prices, but so far they are only just below the price of the 2006's. So with the pound and the dollar weakening by 20 per cent against the euro since the last campaign, the Bordeaux merchants are expecting the public to pay vast amounts for what is definitely a weaker vintage. With a bit of luck the whole market will collapse and claret can be sold like the rest of wine, that is to say it is aged in the cellars then sold to merchants around the world to sell on to you. Wishful thinking perhaps, but this time it might just happen.

Bottle of the Month

I get to taste a lot of wonderful wines in this job, but it is as difficult for me to be subjective as anyone. My wife and I were very kindly taken out by Staffordshire's leading chef, Paul Gilmore of Restaurant Gilmore in Uttoxeter, to Simpsons in Birmingham. If you haven't been there, it is a stunning Michelin-starred restaurant run by the great chef, Andreas Antona. The food was sensational and we ordered a bottle of a top cru bourgeois from Moulis-en-Médoc, Château Poujeaux 1996 as recommended by the sommelier Thierry Trigeau - despite the above I am a claret lover at heart! The first bottle sadly was corked, but the second was sublime, with layers of complexity, firm in structure with fine berry fruit. Would it have tasted just as good in other, lesser surroundings? I'd like to think so.

Wine of the Month

Domaine du Gouyat - Bergerac Rosé, £5. 99
As a wine to enjoy this month you don't get much better than a good rosé, and the new vintage of our Bergerac Rosé, Domaine du Gouyat is sensational: dry, full of strawberry fruit flavours, it is dangerously addictive. Made from the Merlot grape, left on its skins overnight to pick up its lovely colour, it slips down far, far too easily. Bring on the sunshine!

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