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What is en primeur?

Richard Kihl Ltd was one of the first UK merchants to offer wines en primeur. Since 1969, we have been building excellent relationships with the Bordeaux Châteaux and negociants. More recently, we have been growing our relationships with small domaines in Burgundy and the Rhône.  We believe that buying en primeur is more relevant today than more about the advantages in our En Primeur FAQs below:

Buying wine 'en primeur' means buying the unfinished and unbottled wine shortly after the vintage, whilst still in the barrel.  The finished wine is then delivered at a later date, once it has been shipped and bottled.  The dates and timescales vary from wine region to wine region. 

Until the 1960s, Bordeaux was routinely bought by negociants 'sur souches', or 'on the vine', as well as in barrel.  Merchants often bought by the tonneau and bottled the wine in England, rarely if ever offering the wines to their customers whilst in barrel.  Richard Kihl was one of a handful of merchants who pioneered offering the wines en primeur direct to the public.

For wines offered en primeur, we usually taste the new vintage from barrel (a cask sample) shortly after it has finished fermentation.  At this stage, it may still have many stages of blending, maturation in oak or other vessels, and sometimes fining and filtration ahead of it, before final bottling.  Nevertheless, at the cask sample stage, we are able to assess the quality of the vintage based on the raw ingredients - the fruit - and make an assessment. 

The château or domaine then releases its price and the quantity available to us, which we offer on to you.  Once your order is confirmed, we send you an en primeur invoice (see below).

When the wine is bottled, we ship it to the UK and inform you that it has landed.  At this point, we will contact you for your delivery/storage instructions, i.e. whether you would like the wine stored in bond, or delivered duty paid.  If for storage, we invoice for annual cellarage charges and insurance.  If for delivery, we invoice for duty and VAT at the prevailing rate.

The advantages are numerous! 

Probably the reason most en primeur buyers share in common is an intangible one; a sense of a connection to the vintage, and to the château or domaine.  Despite modern winemaking advances and climate change, the character of each vintage is still very distinct in wines from classic regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Each year has a distinct personality and following the new vintage is not just about assessing which year is 'best'; it can be a pleasurable pursuit in itself.   

The most sought-after wines are usually released in very limited quantities.  An important part of our role is in building and maintaining long-standing relationships with the producers and their agents, to ensure we receive the best possible allocations.  Many such wines subsequently disappear from the market.

Financially, the opening en primeur price is usually the lowest price at which the wine will be offered to the market. For 'drinking' wines which will be stored at home, this is the most cost-effective time to buy.  For investment wines, a vintage may well be released at a high price, but may subsequently fall in value (as happened with the legendary 2010 vintage).  Such falls are rare and in-demand wines will usually accrue in price over the medium to long term.  Usually, the first re-assessment comes after the wines are bottled and are re-tasted by the critics.  Retrospective tastings can also lead to price movements.  The quality and size of the following vintage can also have an impact on market values, as of course can macro-economic factors.

Increasingly, provenance is a consideration, both for investing and drinking.  Buying en primeur is a guarantee of provenance, from the vineyard to the dinner table. 

For the consumer, the en primeur system helps to spread the cost of buying, with duty and VAT deferred until the wine is released from bond.  For the producer, particularly smaller ones like the artisan domaines we deal with in Burgundy, en primeur helps their cash flow, in an industry where it can take producers years to recoup their outlay.

Finally, buying en primeur allows a choice of formats, e.g. half bottles, magnums, double-magnums and larger formats, as well as unusual formats such as tappit hens for port.  Many of these are rarely available in the secondary market.

Schedules vary from region to region, according to tradition and how the wines are made.  The schedule for the key classic regions which we offer are:

  • Bordeaux: We taste in the spring after the vintage when the wine is around 6 months old and has just been put into cask.  After a further 12-18 months in barrel, it is shipped to the UK, landing around 20 months after the harvest.
  • Burgundy: We taste in the autumn after the vintage when the wine is around 1 year old.  The wine then lands in the UK that summer or sometimes in the autumn.



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