Liquid Gold Futures

Food & Drink - August 7th, 2009
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by J.K. Whelehan

Rubbing shoulders with the aristocracy du bouchon in Bordeaux during the June Vinexpo, the atmosphere was certainly more upbeat than an earlier visit for the en primeur tasting in April, and for good reason.

The concept of the en primeur tasting is that cask samples of the previous vintage, in this case 2008, are tasted in April by members of the trade. Subsequently, part of these are released for sale, typically in May and June, through brokers and negotiants to the trade. They are in turn sold to the public, practically two years before the bottling and delivery, with an expected appreciation in value.

Initial reports based on poor weather conditions heralded a poor vintage. This combined with the economic doom and gloom and excess stocks of high priced wines actually resulted in some great bargains when the wines were promptly released for sale after the tasting. Some of the top wines came out at almost 50 percent below last year’s prices.

A good deal was sealed when guru Robert Parker proclaimed it an excellent vintage after the en primeur sales, citing “historically long hang-time for the grapes,” “a cooler and sunnier vintage than normal,” and a “drier than normal” vintage. To highlight this he rated 2008 Château Lafite higher than the much heralded 2005 ‘vintage of the century.’ In fact, he rated a number of wines close to, if not equal to, the 2000 and 2005 vintages. As a result the Châteaux owners are now more confident of selling their remaining stock profitably.

However there has been no fanfare regarding the en primeur sales to the public in Japan, and some importers offering Bordeaux en primeurs 2008 have taken a modest commission of as little as three percent on some wines.

I believe there is no inheritance tax on wine, so 2008, with a little judicious research, may well be an investment worth considering. I have a bottle of 1945 Lafite that my father purchased for £3, but is currently valued at ¥1.6 millon. To drink or to sell—that is the question!

J.K. Whelehan is a Tokyo-based wine expert and writer, as well as co-author of the best-selling book Japanese Dishes for Wine Lovers, published by Kodansha and available from Amazon.