En primeur is the process which allows consumers to buy wines early while a vintage is still in a barrel. One of the benefits to us is the opportunity to purchase the wines at a discounted price, before thy are bottled (although this is by no means guaranteed). Another benefit of the process is to secure an allocation of a wine only available in small quantities – only a barrel or two of some top wines are produced in Burgundy owing to the massive fragmentation of some vineyards. The benefit to the producer is improved cash flow and an opportunity to market their wines and encourage new consumers to savour their vinous delights.
But there is a downside… Most of these wines will need another 5 years or more before they are ready to drink!
This week is the en primeur kick off for the 2011 vintage, so these wines have been developing since the grapes were picked in September 2011. Many of the wines will be bottled in February, however some of the very best Grand Crus may spend many more months in their oak barrels to develop even more complexity.
2011 appears to be a good, if not great year. Elegance seems to be the buzzword, with light and fruity wines. The view from the experts are that the wines will be great for early drinking so that’s good news in my book.
So off I went to the Lay & Wheeler Burgundy 2011 En Primeur tasting:
I managed 21 whites and 25 reds… And I know this sounds ridiculous but it was really hard work! The reason it was such hard work was because I found it so difficult to judge these young wines, many of which won’t be at their best for another 10 years. To give scores to any of these wines would be impossible for me, and made me realise how much I have to learn. Also, 40-plus wines is a heck of a lot to get through and I did feel my palate getting tired! Some wine experts will do 3 of these tastings for 3 or 4 consecutive days, scoring each and every wine they taste – that to me is miraculous and I genuinely raise my glass (of water!) to them.
For me, the winner on the night was the Chardonnay. This is a very floral vintage but with lots of pure fruit aromas and flavours. I get the impression that the wines will be very approachable in their youth as there is plenty if crispness and decent acidity, although I would like just a touch more. The disappointment for me was Meursault, which just didn’t have the precision and purity of Chassagne Montrachet or Chablis. My pick would be Chassagne and I may put my name down for a couple of cases.
The redsI found really difficult to pinpoint. Being so young, the wines are still very tannic and you have to look beyond that to find the fruit – I suppose its a bit like buying a house and trying not to notice the floral yellow wallpaper! The Côte de Beaune reds I found a little uninspiring, lacking a bit in acidity and freshness. Having said that, my favourite red of the night was the De Montille Clos du Roi, from Corton (one of their Volnays was my wine of the year in 2012). The wines from the Côte de Nuits, however, seemed to have more depth and are built to last. The other thing that was also consistent was the quality progression from Village to Premier Cru to Grand Cru wines.
But the last word has to go to Chassagne… My choice of last wine on the night was the Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Criots-Montrachet Grand Cru… I just wish I had a spare £540 for a case of 6!