Bordeaux Futures So Bright...
Inside information makes you feel good.
The sexily-named practice of Futures Buying is about placing bets, which is what all investing ultimately is. And as is the case in most other investment decisions, wine futures buyers are betting that their asset (the wine) will become more valuable over time.
Buying wine futures simply means purchasing wine from the previous year’s harvest while it is still in barrel, before it’s bottled or released, in hopes that the price will rise after the wine is bottled and reviewed. Buyers in this scenario are almost certain to get a lower price per bottle than buyers of the finished wine, however these buyers assume more risk than end-buyers and their wine isn’t delivered until later. Much later, in fact.
The timeline is as follows: professional traders and critics begin tasting the April after the previous year’s harvest. Early notes and scores are published in trade journals in May, and the first stages of futures pricing begins. Pricing will be done in tranches after this point, as the wine will be revisited after being bottled to receive bottle scores. In June of that same year, professional buyers begin placing orders, and 18 to 24 months later, the wine is delivered.
Risks associated with buying such young wine so far in advance involve supply chain disruption, nondelivery, flat prices, and non evolution of quality, among others.
A lot of the wine traded at this level is pretty rare and very expensive, and involves big names that are not easily unaccessible anyway: Petrus and Le Pin in Pomerol and the First Growths - Chx Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, and Haut Brion - would be examples. But lesser known chateaux sell this way, too.
So since insider information is so much fun to have, how exactly does a non high-level wine buyer go about getting it, aside from relying on trade publications?
Enter the Union des Grands Crus des Bordeaux (UGC), a consortium of 133 chateaux that tour the globe each year, presenting second-through-fifth growth* wines from the Medoc, Graves, and St. Emilion at public trade shows. The point of UGC is to expand the definition of Bordeaux past those its most prestigious names and to showcase affordable, approachable luxury.
UGC came to Philadelphia for a second time on Jan 20, 2019 to pour the 2016 vintage. The first time UGC visited was in January of 2017 when ambassadors were pouring the 2015 vintage. The tasting was hosted at the Rittenhouse Hotel and sponsored by Philadelphia Magazine and billed as ‘a futures’ tasting. (Since many of these wines were bottled but not on shelves, it was actually a ‘pre-arrival’ tasting. But ‘Futures’ sounds better.)
We tasted through a lot of wine that day, and here are our top five recommendations from the show! Prices are as stated by PLCB in Jan 2019.
Five recommendations from the show —
Chateau Bouscat Blanc 2016 : 50% Semillon / 50% Sauvignon Blanc
Style: A white Grand Cru Classé from Pessac-Leognan
Notes: Lush, with green apple, tangy lemon pith, green chamomile, mineral and smooth barrel notes. This was the first white I tried at the UGC and I was pumped, thinking it was setting the tone for the whites that would follow. However, Bouscat turned out to be superior to each of its successors because of its depth of flavor. I really liked the green chamomile note, which I haven’t heard anyone else mention, possibly because it so quickly transitioned to undeniable minerality, or possibly because it wasn’t there and I’m a crazy person for finding it. The wine is gorgeously well done in that the semillon is finessed rather than being oily or heavy and is set off beautifully by the sauvignon blanc, which is expressed in a much more restrained way than in a New Zealand style. This will age for several years but you can also drink it now. I recommend multiple bottles for that purpose.
$44.99 futures pricing through PLCB
Chateau Cantermerle 2016 : 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot
Style: Grand Cru Classé from Haut-Médoc
Notes: Rich and bright with concentrated blackberry notes and noticeable but integrated tannins. Chateau Cantermerle is particularly proud of its house style which appeals to those who appreciate fresh, young, very present tannins as well as to those who allow their wine to age, over which time it can improve. Either way, the power and concentration are preserved, the wine just becomes more elegant. This was a standout among wines that had many similar notes, and I think it’s because the cabernet sauvignon was just dominant at 60%. The merlot, cab franc, and petit verdot lifted and brightened the linearity and graphite that I sometimes find to be overwhelming in Bordeaux. I love seeing such a small percentage of a grape in wine sometimes, and discussed this with the ambassador, as this final touch really does complete the package. That last berry note from the petit verdot brings a brightness that stands alongside the obvious tannin. This is an excellent selection, with early reviews coming out as very positive.
$49.99 futures pricing through PLCB
Chateau Gazin: 100% Merlot
Style: Grand Cru Classé from Pomerol
Notes: Deep and bright with blackberry, plum, and cedar box notes alongside fine tannins. Ch Gazin got my attention at the 2017 UGC tasting (which featured the 2015s), and I was thrilled to see it was still one of my favorites at this year’s show too. While wines from Pomerol often contain some percentage of cabernet franc, this one is 100% merlot. The flavor was rich and fruit forward, but what got my attention was the silky smooth texture that only enhanced the fruit. The 2015 had notes of cedar box as well, but also hazelnut and tea leaf. I think those will be present as the 2016 matures. Not that this wine needs to be aged. This appellation is one that can be enjoyed sooner rather that later.
$89.99 futures pricing through PLCB
Ch Beycheville 2016 : 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot
Style: Classified growth from Saint Julien
Notes: Deep, intense, and complex. This powerful and deep wine is what we should have ordered at Barclay Prime that night instead of that Southern Rhone that ended up being a little too weak for its own good.
$119.00 futures pricing through PLCB
Château Balestard La Tonnelle 2016 : 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
Style: Full bodied and elegant
Notes: Raspberries, black cherries, herby bramble (one reviewer found Indian spices!!), and sweet baking spices
$64.99 through PLCB
’Classified’ and ‘growth’ refer to the 1855 Classification of Bordeaux, a ranking system of qualified chateaux that is still in place today. There are five first growths (listed above), 14 seconds, 14 thirds, 10 fourths, and 18 fifths. Generally speaking, they all make very good to excellent wine.