I was fortunate to be able to acquire a few cases of the 82s, including the First Growths. Château Latour 1982 was £250/- a case en primeur! I quickly snapped up a couple of cases, similarly with the rest of the Firsts and as many of the Seconds and Thirds as came my way via faxes and long-distance phone calls. Today, with Internet communication available, it is very different. One keeps on receiving offers via the Internet all the time.
The buying strategy I found very useful was to establish early in one’s buying method: record your name into the shortlists of wine merchants, buying not only as many Firsts as possible but also the top Seconds, Thirds, Fourth and Fifths. This persuades them that you are not casual but someone who knows his wines! It is even more helpful if one can establish the same kind of contact with Bordeaux wine merchants, the ones who supply the fine wine merchants in London. Buying direct from these Bordeaux merchants cuts out one link in the supply chain which results in the saving of one “mark-up” in the pricing game. This year the 2015 en primeur opened in June 2016 and as expected the wines flew out the door!
Prices were high, as expected. Some examples (prices in euros): Angelus 252, Cheval Blanc 530, Margaux 384, Palmer 210, Lafleur 550, Pichon Baron 96, etc. Latour was not releasing en primeur as of 2015 vintage. Current prices: Cheval Blanc 610, Angelus 545, Margaux 640, Palmer 425, etc. These can be expected to further increase down the road. The savings even at this point in time, six months after the en primeur, are not inconsiderable and with the further passage of time can be expected to be even greater. My own experience has shown that the increase in prices of past en primeur purchases was 15 per cent year on year, much better than the interest on any savings account.
As my en primeur purchases were for personal use, this activity was not converted into any form of business! But it did indicate that over the course of time, one’s en primeur activities translated into the accumulation of Bordeaux stocks which could be used as the basis for a reasonably profitable business.
There is one other incidental gain and that is a long-term one. Years down the road, you could acquire a reasonably-sized collection which could form the basis of a reasonably profitable auction, through one or the other of the major auction houses, for example Christie’s or Sotheby’s.
But I am digressing. Starting in mid-1983, quite apart from the Bordeaux en primeurs, one was looking for collectibles from past vintages. The benchmarks at the time in 1983 were Bordeaux 1928, 1929, 1945, 1953, 1959 and 1961; iconic wines Cheval Blanc 1947, Latour 1961, Lafite 1928, 1961, etc. These meant scouring the catalogues of UK’s wine merchants! Not much to be found by then, except a few bottles here and there. Apart from Bordeaux there were of course Burgundies, much much harder to locate, for example Romanee-Conti 1971, La Tache 1971; legendary Sauternes Yquem 1945, Yquem 1967, and such rarities as Jaboulet’s Hermitage La Chapelle 1961.
Another source was the auction houses, Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Here, one had to be careful. Here, it was most helpful to be able to contact the auction house directly to ask about specific wines on their current catalogues. Frank and fully informative replies were the norm.
Early on in my search, I was also advised to avoid wines which had US strip labels pasted on their labels, meaning they had been shipped back to Europe from the US. These may have had the advantage of attracting lower bids, but their condition was likely to be suspect. This was because they had travelled across the Atlantic to the US and BACK to Europe. And if one recalls that in those days they would hardly have travelled in refrigerated containers across the Atlantic TWICE! To and from the US in ordinary containers. Furthermore, once landed in New York on their outward bound journey, they could have been shipped by rail all over continental United States!
One thing I was very grateful for was the advice and help from the UK wine merchants, both in London and the provinces. Very reliable, very knowledgeable. And UK included Edinburgh where I found a most helpful and reliable wine merchant, owned and run by an Indian! Raeburn Wine Cellars, owned and run by Zubair, now a good friend.
Burgundies were much more difficult to acquire. For the most part one had to rely on the auction houses. Direct access to wine merchants in Beaune was not as readily available in those early years. You could not buy from negociants in Burgundy as you could in Bordeaux. Nor could you buy direct from the Domaines. That holds even to this day. There are a few, very few, wine merchants locally and even in the UK who hold good stocks of older Burgundies. But prices are at a premium! What is the answer for the thirsty Burgundy aficionado? Local wine merchants, or from the local distributors of Burgundy Domaines. At least that is an advance on the old days, when I had to call London to buy a bottle or two of Romanee-Conti!
This story first appeared in The Business Times.