The lure (and economics) of en primeur

This week, I bought wine en primeur for the first time. Or rather, I've applied to. My application for an allocation of the wines won't be officially confirmed for several weeks yet.

I've gone for four half-cases of Rhône 2016, all of which I tasted as part of my en primeur coverage for last year. I had no intention of buying, but The Wine Society sent a flyer this week and I happened to have some money to spend. So, after a bit of research I went for the following:

  • 6 bottles x Ch de Beaucastel, Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2016 Côtes du Rhône
  • 6 bottles x Delas, Dom de Grands Chemins 2016 Crozes-Hermitage
  • 6 bottles x Pierre Gaillard 2016 Côte-Rôtie
  • 6 bottles x Yves Cuilleron, Bassenon 2016 Côte-Rôtie

The en primeur prices per bottle are £12, £15.33, £25.83 and £28.33. However, when you add on five years of storage, plus duty and VAT, the prices will work out more like £20.60, £24.59, £37.19 and £40.19.

So the question is, will the 2016 vintage of these wines be cheaper to buy at retail in five years' time? Wine-Searcher led me to the following retail prices for older vintages of these same wines, available to buy now:

For close to the same price, I could buy mature vintages of these wines right now, and have them to drink today. So why didn't I do that?

Seriously, why didn't I? Sort of wish I'd written this blog before placing the order.

But in fact, there is a reason, and it explains exactly why en primeur works. Firstly, the 2016 vintage is particularly good, and the en primeur prices I'm paying are at least not inflated. It is highly unlikely that these wines will be cheaper at retail in five years time (which can't be said for some red Bordeaux).

Secondly, I'm guaranteeing my share (assuming I get the allocation requested). I've tasted these wines, I know how good they are, and I don't want to miss out.

Finally, and most importantly of all, is the romance of buying en primeur. The reason wine is so compelling isn't about cold economics or rational thinking - it's about embracing the emotional pull of wine. Not just the endlessly intriguing flavours, but the personal connections to the producer, the place, the vintage.

Until this week, I've never been able to afford to buy en primeur. Frankly, I could probably have spent the £500 I'm paying for these 24 bottles on much wiser things. But the connection that I get for that purchase is worth more than the money. Years from now, I will take delivery of these cases and feel a much greater sense of connection and anticipation than if I'd bought older vintages found online via a search engine. Wine, after all, is not about objective quality of flavour, but what particular bottles subjectively signify to us as individuals.

That's the real lure of en primeur.