You may imagine that I buy a lot of wine, and possibly also that I have a huge cellar and regularly buy en primeur. Sorry to disillusion you, but I don’t, on either score. Or, to be exact, I didn’t – until, egged on by a friend, I decided to dip a toe in the en primeur water with the 2018 burgundies, one of the best vintages in recent years.
So what’s involved? Well, essentially, it means that, on the basis of how the wines are tasting in barrel, you make a downpayment in advance, then pay the balance – that is, the tax and duty – when they are finally released, which could be anything up to 18 months later (for anyone interested, there’s a good guide to how the system works on the Berry Bros & Rudd website).
The obvious advantage is the saving, which works out around 20% on the eventual per bottle retail cost. More importantly, so far as burgundy is concerned, it’s a question of getting hold of any at all. Unlike bordeaux, burgundy is made in tiny quantities – a merchant may get just a couple of cases, for example – and good reds are particularly scarce.
Against that, however, you’re not tasting the finished article, plus you have to buy it by an unsplit case (a good reason for sharing with a friend) and you have to wait for it, as I’ve explained. You also need somewhere decent to store it when it arrives, particularly if you want to age it for any length of time.
If you’re tempted, make friends with a wine merchant, because that way you’ll stand a better chance of getting whatever allocation is going. I recently went to two local Bristol tastings, at Davis Bell McCraith and Averys, rather than the London ones, and although I bought some chablis (a particularly lovely one from Domaine des Malandes, in bond at £130 for 12 bottles from Averys, where it retails at £18.99 a pop – see what I mean about the potential savings now?), we focused mostly on lesser-known appellations such as Rully, Mercurey and Pernand-Vergelesses, not least because the likes of Meursault and Gevrey-Chambertin cost a lot more, even at supermarkets.
Some merchants such as Berry Bros and The Wine Society do their own bottlings, often in collaboration with good producers, which are likely to be better value, but you still need to think in terms of £20-25 a bottle. That sounds a fortune, but isn’t ridiculous when you consider what a vastly inferior wine would cost in a restaurant. Or, indeed, a meal itself. A nice bottle of burgundy shared between two at home or on a Valentines’ Day meal out? I know which I’d choose.
Four burgundies to bliss out on
Domaine des Valanges Saint-Véran 2018
£12.25 Co-op, 13%.
One of the more affordable names in Burgundy, but it’s not always this good. Well done, the Co-op.
Jean Chartron Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune Vieilles VignesBlanc 2018
Opulently, creamy white burgundy that punches well above its weight price-wise.
Joseph Drouhin Chorey-les-Beaune 2017
£17.49 Waitrose, 13%.
Fine, silky, delicate biodynamic red. Really good value (for burgundy).
Benjamin Leroux Côte d’Or Pinot Noir 2017
£23.50 Berry Bros & Rudd, 13%.
Very smart, basic burgundy from this incredibly pretty vintage. Tempting to drink it straight away, but tuck some away, too.
• For more by Fiona Beckett, go to matchingfoodandwine.com
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