Veraison - Grapes are ripening !!

Veraison -  Grapes are ripening !!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Buying a wine before its time.

In the Bordeaux wine trade there is a phenomenon known as “Wine Futures.”  This is when someone like me—short on sense but long on credit card—has the questionable opportunity to pay for wines several months after harvest when they have been transferred into new oak barrels.  For the unapprised, this is eighteen to twenty-four months before the wine is bottled and shipped by the Chateau.

Futures buying, or En Primeur as it is also known, is done under the assumption, hope or folly (depending on one’s perspective) that the wine’s price will appreciate significantly between En Primeur and when it is available for purchase in retail stores.  In short, buying wines before they are even bottled may still be the lowest cost option.

But, why in the world would anyone do something like that? Buy a wine before its time?

To be sure, the most important reason for entering into that commitment is that the vintage should be quite special, if not exceptional.  It should also be from world class, time proven appellations (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piedmont, Tuscany, Port, and others) that have consistently produced wines of substance and structure that evolve and improve for years and, therefore, are able to deliver long term drinking pleasure.

Historically, for Bordeaux vintages of high caliber, prices have indeed escalated after En Primeur, and they have continued to increase long after the wines are distributed and sold to retail wine consumers.  The 1982 vintage is a singular example of how retail and auction prices soared for many years after they were released.  (I unfortunately missed that first window of opportunity and purchased mine at retail.)

As for other Bordeaux vintages, 2005 was also praised by many wine critics and publications as one of the finest since the 1982.  For most Bordeaux wine enthusiasts (or for those who engage in futures buying as a speculative investment), the quality level of the 2005 vintage, in and of itself, would have been the primary reason for acquiring a few of those wines. 

However, for this tooth stained oenophile, that was a lesser motive, and one that was easily overshadowed by a particularly personal event that called for recognition and celebration.  More explicitly, 2005 was the year our first grandchild—Carter Thomas McMillan--was born. As such, nudged by the converging events of an exceptional Bordeaux vintage and Carter’s birth, this gloating grandfather took the plunge and decided to wade into the wine futures arena. 

But what to buy?  Two or three bottles of the famous and exceedingly expensive five Premier Crus (La Tour, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Haut Brion, Mouton Rothschild), or a few mixed cases from the excellent second or third echelon of Bordeaux Chateaux? While many might disagree with my decision, I chose the latter.

Based on the reviews by leading critics and wine publications and in consultation with a good friend at the reputable K & L Wine Merchants, I purchased three each of the following Chateaux: Lynch-Bages, Forts de LaTour, Ponte-Canet, Leoville-Barton, Clos du Marquis, Sociando Mallet, Montrose, and Calon-Segur.  (Bordeaux enthusiasts will note the quality of the appellations which underlie those Chateaux.)

What triggered retelling this ten year old story is our recent move from the San Francisco Peninsula to the Silverado Resort area in California’s Napa Valley. During the course of kitchen upgrades and other remodeling, I had a temperature-controlled, wine storage unit built into the rear of the garage, and the first bottles I placed into a special section of the wine racks were Carter’s 2005 Bordeaux.
As a quick side note, my recent Internet search for updated tasting notes confirms that while these wines are “approachable,” it is clear that further aging will be required before they will reveal their best.  (New World wine enthusiasts, who drink their wines rich and ripe, young and fruity, must be rolling their eyes in disbelief at this requirement.)

In closing, I’m hoping that sometime in the future when he’s a maturing young man, and he’s been exposed to the intellectual pleasures of wine appreciation, that Carter will have an inkling that the purchase was something more than twenty-four bottles from a great vintage. Rather, it was an acknowledgment of his arrival and the continuing joy of his presence. But certainly, and indeed quite importantly, it was also a celebration of daughter Julie and son-in-law Doug taking the scary leap into the selfless and life enriching experience of parenthood.

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