Posted on Sunday, 16 July 2023
The Bordeaux 2022 campaign has been well under way for some weeks now. "The best vintage in decades" or even "of all time", that's what I've heard more than once and what wine sellers would like us to believe. That may well be the case. I can't argue for the opposite, because I haven't had the chance to try any of the 2022 Bordeaux wines, yet. However, from a wine buyer's or collector's point of view, does it make sense to purchase Bordeaux wines en primeur? In general, and for the 2022 vintage in particular.
I'm not so sure anymore. Let's look at the facts: Bordeaux wines are not rare. Sure, there may be the odd winery or château that only produces a small quantity of their first growth, but the majority of châteaux produce hundreds of thousands of bottles per year. For example, Château Margaux has an average annual production of 120,000 bottles, plus another combined 150,000+ bottles of their second and third growths. Château Lagrange, owned by Suntory, produces around 250,000 bottles of its grand vin in a good year. Château Mouton-Rothschild produces between 17,000 and 20,000 cases of its grand vin on average. That's at least 200,000 bottles. So it's safe to say that there is enough going around to make sure that Bordeaux wines don't sell out. You don't need to secure your cases during the en primeur campaign, you will still be able to buy them later on.
While it is true that the price of buying en primeur is generally lower than buying the wine later on, the difference is usually not that big. According to Liv-Ex, the pricing of the 2022 vintage is about 5% and 7% higher compared to the 2020 and 2021 en primeur campaigns, respectively. In an article published on 4 July 2023, Decanter finds that en primeur prices may have been set too high to invigorate demand, saying it might be a "missed opportunity".
Apparently, demand turned out to be disappointing in light of persistent inflation, an uncertain economic outlook, and lacklustre demand from China. Personally, I'd argue that you don't miss out financially, if you skip the en primeur campaign. There may well be exceptions, but on average there hasn't been that much of a return on investment in recent years. That return does not look attractive to me compared to the value of holding cash or being invested in liquid assets that I can buy and sell easily, compared to en primeur wines that I won't possess or even be able to consume or sell for another one to two years.
To end on a more positive note, there are good reasons for buying wine en primeur, in my opinion. One of them is that you might want to purchase special formats, such as half bottles, magnums, double magnums, or even larger sizes. Interestingly, these are much harder to find for older vintages later on, so I do try to secure special format bottles en primeur. (I like my half bottles, which are perfect if you like to try more different wines in an evening or if you're enjoying your wine alone or as a couple.)
Finally, I place orders en primeur at small châteaux and boutique wineries, where quantities are typically much lower. Also, when it comes to wines from outside of Bordeaux, such as Burgundy or even Germany, the coveted grand crus and premier crus sell out quickly. If you get the chance to buy one or two bottles of these en primeur, think twice before passing it up!