A brief post: time is of the essence. Which is rather the point here.
A few months back, a customer commented to me that fine wine had become “just another poorly run commodity market”. At the time I thought this a pretty decent comment, filed it for later use, and carried on. He was referring to the plethora (miasma?) of UK fine wine traders trying to flog classed growth claret as a punt, along with the wine funds and, most scarily, the “wine investment specialists”.
But top Bordeaux is a commodity whatever the purists might say, especially when it is offered in en-primeur form. Our American friends, who tend to take things at face value, call en-primeur “wine futures”. This is a less romantic nomenclature, though perhaps a better one as it (a) succinctly describes what the process actually is and (b) infers finance rather than romance.
That’s the commodity bit covered. Herewith the poorly run bit:
More than forty chateaux released their 2011 vintage today. Some at silly prices (Biggus Dickus?), some at merely very full prices (well, that would be most of them), a select few almost quite attractive. The first of these that was of real interest was Calon-Segur. In brief, this is good wine, impeccably made, a wine with character, and available in the UK at a decent price. An investment? No, but buying early might just save you a few quid and the ownership of this wine will give some pleasure – a bit like having the MGB in the garage that you only drive a few times a year (rather than the Jag on the driveway that bleeds money as you look at it, more so when you drive it).
But offering Calon? Trying to sell it? Here comes the poorly run bit. At the same time we get all of the Haut-Brion stable (confusing in itself in that no one knows what any of the wines are called anymore), Langoa-Barton (wot about Leoville?), Clinet, Kirwan and all sorts of other kit, some dross, some not. Trying to offer forty wines in a day is like pushing water uphill with a fork. Will my customers want Haut-Brion, Langoa-Barton or Clinet? What did I like best? What do I want to recommend? What can we buy from whom? What is worth it? What is the one answer to these numerous questions? Shall we just go to the pub instead?
A few merchants are still trying to offer everything; a few have given up. This is my fourteenth en-primeur “campaign” and the feeling that comes to mind is not unsimilar to the feeling you get when your flight is cancelled. I invariably go to the pub when this happens. I think the UK wine trade might just do the same.