Sir Lunchalot: what is en primeur?


"It's not ready to drink yet - it's en primeur." Cartoon: Jonathan Pugh, whose work features each day in The Daily Mail
Cartoon: Jonathan Pugh, whose work features each day in The Daily Mail
Our Agony Uncle is back from a particularly long lunch. In his latest missive, he comes to the rescue of a dinner party guest finding himself lost when talk turns to “en primeur”

Dear Sir Lunchalot,

I have a rather intimate question. You see, I keep hearing my friends at dinner parties talking about en primeur when the conversation meanders around to wine. I was rather dense at school and I did dreadfully in my French O-level. I was wondering if you had a moment to translate for me?

Yours sincerely,

Martin Platt,

West Kingsdown

Dear Mr Platt,

Not to worry, old chap, I did terribly in all my O-levels. A few summers picking grapes in Bordeaux quickly whipped my French into shape. En primeur refers to the process of buying wine before it is put into the bottle, straight from the barrel you could say. This is common practice in great, traditional regions, such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône – and other regions have followed their lead.

The main benefit to buying these phantom bottles is you will almost always get a better price than what you would pay for the mature wine. You must remember, though, that the en primeur price is exclusive of duty and VAT as the wines are shipped under-bond to our Hampshire cellars (ok, fine then – Basingstoke warehouses). The taxes are only due when you want to get your hands on the bottles.

What can be a bit tricky to wrap your head around are the release dates for the different regions, as they are all different, and highly awaited annually. Burgundy releases the second January after the vintage, while the Rhône is divided – some release in the autumn following the vintage, some in the early spring of the following year. Bordeaux en primeur takes place between April and June/July the year after the vintage. To add to the confusion, in Bordeaux each producer releases its wine at different times, so you have to have your ear to the ground for any new releases. Typical of the French, if you ask me, but hey-ho.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Lunchalot

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