There's been a lot of talk in fine wine circles of late regarding the Bordeaux 2016s. The general consensus of opinion seems to be that the wines are, in some cases, outstanding which has led some to hail it as the vintage of the century. Here at Wine Pro we've learnt to take such declarations with a pinch of salt. Since 2000 there have been no fewer than 10 so-called vintages of the century ranging from the wonderful 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010 to the subsequently downgraded 2003s and 2008s.
Now don't get us wrong; from what we've seen the wines from 2016 can be excellent, but as with all Bordeaux vintages we'd urge caution before diving in - especially when buying en-primeur. So, before the offers start coming out, we'd suggest all buyers consider the following on Bordeaux 2016:
• Value – en-primeur is meant to be your chance to buy at the best price, but anyone who invested in 2003, 2006, 2008 or 2009 can testify to the fact that the wines are often cheaper after the wines are released.
• Prices – this is the one thing everyone seems agreed on: Bordeaux 2016s will not be cheap. Since the last truly great Bordeaux vintage – 2010 – the market has been down and is now well on the way back up. The Bordelaise will seize on this and prices will be high. First Growths could well be over £10,000 a case and the superstars of Pomerol such as Petrus over £20,000 for the first time.
• Do your research – great as 2016 is in places, it shares some of 2015's characteristics in that not every property excelled so choice of château will be key. Unlike some other great Bordeaux vintages – one thinks of 2000, 2005 or 2010 – this is not a vintage of almost universal brilliance and, as we saw in years such as 1982 and 2005, sometimes even superstars fail to shine.
• Be choosy who you buy from – the golden rule when buying en-primeur has always been to buy from a reputable merchant, but in recent years as prices have gone higher so this rule has become even more important. A cursory glance through the trade press or a look at Jim Budd's wine investment site, reveals how many conmen are out there so it really is a case of buyer beware…
• Consider proven wines – the premise behind en-primeur buying was to enable buyers and investors to get the best wines at the best prices. Over time this model has broken. Between prominent château withdrawing from the process – most notably Château Latour – critics re-evaluating wines post bottling and delivering less impressive scores – think 2008 – and market and real world fluctuations in currencies as happened in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and the en-primeur system can actually be an expensive way of buying. Proven, bottled and shipped wines can offer real value against en-primeur offers. For example, if, as many believe, the First Growths do hit £10,000 a case this year, then they will be more expensive than acknowledged classics such as the 100-point Mouton Rothschild 1982. You pay your money, you make your choice…
En-primeur buying is exciting and can be a good way to buy wines so long as you recognise the risks and only ever buy from a source that has a good reputation. However, time and an increasingly manic market have muddied the en-primeur market's waters significantly. Here at Wine Pro we'll be watching the releases and scores carefully and if, as we hope, the traditionally good value wines such Château Talbot, Gruaud Larose, Lafon Rochet, Lynch Bages etc. are sensibly priced, we may well buy. As for the First Growths and Parker-favourites such as Pavie, we'll leave those to the money-no-object brigade.