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.
Futures trading dates back to the 17th century and success, as measured both by the buyer and seller, of a given year depends heavily on vintage conditions, reputation of the chateau selling the wine, and economic conditions. Bordeaux is possibly the most famous of the wine futures markets.
Futures buying simply means purchasing wine from the previous year’s harvest while it is still in barrel, before it’s bottled or released, with the point being that the price will likely rise after the wine is bottled and made available to the public. Wine buyers are almost certain to get a discount on the final per bottle price, especially when there’s excitement surrounding a certain release. The drawback is that the wine isn’t delivered until later. Much later, in fact.
The timeline is as follows: professional traders and critics begin initial tastings in April following the previous year’s harvest. Early notes and scores are published in trade journals in May, and the first stages of pricing begin. Pricing will be done in tranches after this point and the wine will be revisited upon being bottled to receive its bottle scores. In June, professional buyers begin placing orders, and 18 to 24 months later, the wine is delivered to the buyer.
Risks associated with buying such young wine so far in advance of its delivery date involve supply chain disruption, nondelivery, flat prices, and non evolution of quality, among many others.
Many wines traded at this level are usually pretty rare and very expensive, and involve big names that are not easily unaccessible to the everyday buyer 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. It is in my opinion, bringing Bordeaux to the people is a wonderful thing!
UGC came to Philadelphia for a second time on Jan 20, 2019. The first time was in January of 2017 when ambassadors were pouring the 2015 vintage - and the 70 or so different houses were pouring the 2016s. The tasting was hosted at the Rittenhouse Hotel and sponsored by Philadelphia Magazine and billed as ‘a futures’ tasting, but since many of these wines are actually bottled, and just not actually on shelves, it was actually ‘pre-arrival’ buying, which is a step further along in this futures process, but as mentioned in the opening, ‘futures’ sounds better.
The PLCB (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which is endlessly uncool) was also there, and announced that they will provide an online platform for futures/prearrival buying in the spring or summer of 2019, and order forms were also in place that day, along with bottles from past vintages of each of the houses represented. I chatted with ambassadors, took pictures, posted on instagram, ran into friends and colleagues, and felt a tiny bit like a celeb that day. But most importanltly, I tasted through a lot of the wines to select those for recommendation. The full list will be available to premium members, but here are five great ones to get you started.
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.