Bordeaux: Pour, Spit and Place Your Bets

'16 vintage declared good, but what will the prices be?
The scene at En Primeur / Photo by Alain Benoit

At Château Ausone in Saint-Emilion, winemaker Pauline Vauthier hopes to pour 30 tastings from a single bottle of wine during Bordeaux En Primeur. She aims to sacrifice no more than 10 bottles in this essential week when critics, importers, négociants from around the world descend to taste the 2016 vintage.

Château Haut-Brion’s director Jean-Philippe Delmas, in Pessac-Léognan, expects a record 1,700 potential buyers to come through the gates to taste the top wine, along with eight other high-end wines produced by other Domaine Clarence Dillon holdings. They make 10 pours per bottle (Haut-Brion 2014 red $330, white $848). That’s generous; other wineries said they stay in the Ausone pour range.

Each bottle poured and each half-empty glass tipped into the spittoon, is one less bottle to sell. Vauthier, the family winemaker, whose 2014 wine sells for $560 a bottle, said it “breaks my heart” to see the wine poured away.

The goal of this trade show in historic châteaux is to convince buyers from the U.S. China, Japan and the UK (among others) to buy the wines two years before the bottles are released.

In theory, the buyers get a good price, which they hope will rise after they take possession of the wine, and the producers will get capital up front to improve their cash flow.

Critics have declared the 2016 Bordeaux vintage healthy and hearty with plenty of good fruit.[See Wine Enthusiast European Editor Roger Voss reviews through the week here]. Many chateaux made twice as much wine as they did in in 2013, generally considered to be a disastrous vintage.

Determining how much a château spends during en primeur is a challenge. Some – notably Premier Cru Château Latour – have chosen not to participate.

Sometimes, the spend is small – perhaps $1,000 for the week when pouring up to five wines and with staff pitching in to help, one owner said. Sometimes, it is an all-out professional marketing push with hired staff, caterers, receptions, dinners at $15,000 – one enologist estimated $50,000 – by the end of the week.

“It depends on what people want,” said Hubert de Boüard, owner of Château Angélus in Saint-Emilion and consultant for 50 wines.

Multimillionaire Bernard Magrez, who owns 14 Bordeaux wine estates, ordered a party tent next to his Château Pape Clément (2014, $120 red, $160 white), and laid a red carpet to guide the buyers through tastings of multiple wines in addition to hosting lunches and dinners. He declined to give his costs.

“The buyers don’t come for the (beautiful spring) gardens or the food. They come to taste the wine,” said Magrez.

It’s pour, taste, spit, review and negotiate. The 2016 vintage has drawn more than 6,500 registered buyers, importers and journalists, up by almost 2,000 from last year. Prices will come out from now through mid-June.

This process drives the market from the greatest wines such as Lafite and Margaux to the mid-level and basic Bordeaux. “When taste is up, it trickles down,” said Gavin Quinney of Château Bauduc in Entre-Deux-Mers.

Published on April 6, 2017
Topics: Latest News



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