WHEN I opened my newspaper yesterday, two wine articles jostled next to each
other, one claiming that the 2005 vintage in Bordeaux was probably the best one
so far this century, for a decade, for a hundred years — and the other saying
that Georges Duboeuf, "the king of Beaujolais", was being prosecuted for wine
What do these two messages really mean? First, there is no doubt that the
2005 vintage in Bordeaux is of excellent quality, but why are we getting these
golden headlines six months or so after the grapes were picked? The reason is
that, at the beginning of April, the international buyers have their first
chance to taste the new vintage. If I ring any of my friends in the trade this
week, their answerphone message tells me that they are away in Bordeaux.
A most profitable aspect of the trade for many fine-wine merchants is to
sell Bordeaux wine en primeur, or at opening prices. The best wines of
the region are sold by the châteaux in a number of tranches,
or slices. When the prices of the wines are announced, it is important that the
merchant has access to the lowest prices. He will then sell them on to his
customers, taking his margin. Basically, merchants will largely buy wines that
they have pre-sold. For cash flow, this is very helpful. Indeed, this morning I
received in the post an invitation from one merchant asking for "an Expression
of Interest" in a vast range of wines.
What does this mean for you and me? In the short term, not very much. Most
of these wines will not be ready to drink for a decade or more. Certainly, if
you would like to "invest" (I really mean speculate) in wine, this is a good
opportunity. If you want to lay down a case of wine for a godchild, this might
be the year.
However, two words of warning. First, Bordeaux (and much of the French
wine-world) has been going through a very difficult time. It desperately needs
a star vintage to bring in the money and to restore confidence. I might be
cynical, but I am wary of the PR machine.
Second, and very important, if you do decide to buy some wine
en primeur, do so from a long-established, reputable merchant. Beware
of graphs showing the enormous profits that can be made from investing in wine.
These are true only when you buy at the right price — and do not be afraid to
compare prices. Three names that might be useful are Berry Bros & Rudd Ltd
(020 7396 9600), Tanners of Shrewsbury (01743 234455), and Lay & Wheeler
(0845 330 1855). I myself will wait until they are ready to drink.
As for the Beaujolais story, it seems that this merchant is accused of
cross-blending his wines of the disappointing 2004 vintage, so that, he claims,
his customer could have a better wine. This comes back to the old question,
"Which is better, a fraudulent wine that you enjoy or a genuine wine that you
A final thought, on a totally different matter. I received a press release
from Sainsbury announcing that what used to be known as its Classic Selection
range will now appear labelled in the Taste the Difference range. Please let me
know if you can taste the difference.