So what is buying en primeur?
It means that you buy the wine while it is still in barrel with the idea that this way you get the best price. It may also be the only way to obtain a small production wine – more true of Burgundy than Bordeaux. As in the investment sector, the top properties of Bordeaux dominate the en primeur market.
Following the tastings in late March/early April, the Bordeaux châteaux start to release their prices – likely to be a long drawn out process for the 2009 vintage. However, the top Bordeaux properties do not sell direct to the world's wine merchants and brokers, their wines are sold through the Bordeaux négociants who then sell it on to merchants around the world.
If you decide to buy 2009 en primeur your wine will not arrive until the end of 2011 or early 2012 depending upon when the merchant you buy from decides to ship it. However you will pay for your wine when you order it – in effect you will be giving the wine trade an 18 month interest free loan. It is crucial that your loan does not turn out to be a gift as has happened too many times in the past. I will be amazed and relieved if there are not people who pay for 2009s en primeur which they never receive.
It is always best to buy from an established, reputable merchant but it is particularly important when buying en primeur. This will be particularly important for 2009 en primeur if there is huge demand for it. Only established merchants will have the contacts to obtain the most sought after wines. The current popularity of wine as an investment will only ratchet this up further, especially as far as the Bordeaux First Growths are concerned. Any recently formed company offering 2009 en primeur will have a very tough job getting the wines they want.
The 18 month to two year gap between paying for your wine and receiving it is a golden opportunity for the fraudster. There have been instances where companies took clients' money with no intention to place orders. Equally there have been companies that have run into financial problems and failed to pay for orders they made.
If it all goes wrong it can be a nightmare getting either the wine you ordered or any money back. Certificates of ownership, however fancy, may well count for nothing. While the wine is in barrel it is impossible to identify what small fraction is yours. If your merchant has paid for the wine, the Bordeaux négociant is very likely to have sold the allocation elsewhere.
Buy en primeur only from established, reputable merchants and even then, in these recessionary days, check out their financial health through Companies House. Ideally pay by credit card, which will provide you with protection if things go wrong.