All you need to know about Bordeaux’s ‘Primeurs’ in 6 questions

The Primeurs is associated with the main Bordeaux wines. (AFP Relaxnews pic)

Traders, buyers and avid wine tasters come together every year to mingle in the vineyards of Bordeaux for the ‘Primeurs’ events that take place at the start of spring.

But why does this campaign, which took place last week, get so much attention from the wine world? And what is it fo

Jean-Michel Deluc, Master sommelier for Petit Ballon, and Edmond Gasser, chief sommelier at Beau-Rivage Palace, in Lausanne, Switzerland answer some of our questions.

What are the ‘Primeurs’?

Wine experts from France and other parts of the world are invited by the main Bordeaux chateaux to come and taste the first wines of the latest vintage, from the harvests that took place in September the previous year.

These wines have already been blended and put into barrels and thus only lack some barrel ageing. “As this is a projection tasting, caution is required as the wine is extremely young and is still a ‘work in progress’,” explains Edmond Gasser, head sommelier of the Anne-Sophie Pic restaurant at the Beau-Rivage Palace, in Lausanne, who manages what is considered the most beautiful wine cellar in Switzerland, with almost 40,000 bottles, plus those ageing in a dedicated area.

Gasser outlines that the primeurs process allows tasters to get an idea of the vintage’s concentration, the tannins, if they are firm or rounded and so forth.

What do professionals attending the ‘Primeurs’ aim to get out of it?

“It’s about buying Bordeaux wines that are still maturing in order to obtain the best prices compared to the prices they will be sold at retail in the next two years. By doing this we can save around 10 to 30% and in some instances where ‘rare’ wines are concerned, even more,” explains Jean-Michel Deluc, former head sommelier of the Ritz and master sommelier for Petit Ballon, a French wine subscription service that has gained renown for its oenological “boxes.”

Which wines are tasted?

While the famous castles of the Gironde vineyards are historically responsible for the legend of the ‘primeurs’, they are not the only samples that make up the Primeurs campaign. “Bourgeois crus and more modest wines can also be tasted, not only wines from classified vineyards,” Edmond Gasser outlines.

Restaurants and wine cellars organise their schedule for the Primeurs by making appointments with estates they appreciate in priority. “I taste about 400 wines from Bordeaux, from generic appellations to classified grands crus.

The Petit Ballon will highlight around 140 wines, the grands crus but also potential new favourites that steal your heart,” says the master sommelier of Petit Ballon, which allows consumers to reserve bottles by following his advice.

In terms of colour, reds represent the majority of the wines tasted. But some whites from Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes also reveal their early charms during this period.

Do vineyards other than Bordeaux organise similar ‘Primeurs’ campaigns?

“Bordeaux started this type of sale in the 19th century and due to the huge success, other major vineyards in Burgundy and the Rhone Valley, have followed suit. It can represent a significant cash advance for the winemakers,” confided Jean-Michel Deluc.

Why does this event get so much attention?

“The ‘Primeurs’ allow both journalists and professionals to judge the quality of the previous year’s wine before deciding whether to buy or not. The rating of Robert Parker (top wine taster and author of an eponymous wine guide) really encouraged demand in the 1980s and ’90s,” notes the sommelier of Petit Ballon.

Why should amateur consumers be interested if they are not invited?

Oenophiles have the opportunity to get wines at a lower price by essentially betting on their potential. Once bottled, the wines become more expensive and are harder to find on the market. “The interest is clearly financial, even speculative,” summarises Jean-Michel Deluc.

One could even use this occasion to reserve a wine to celebrate a birth, a wedding or just for one’s personal pleasure. That said, the analyses that result are very specific, Gasser points out, and can be used by consumers to bring them more pleasure in their tastings.