What is En Primeur Wine - And How To Buy It

What does en primeur mean?

En primeur describes wine that is bought by the customer while it is still being aged in its barrel in the winery, rather than bottled and on the shelf ready to drink. It literally translates as 'first', and practically translates as you claiming that wine, while still in barrel, as yours. Why would someone buy wine like this? There are two reasons - firstly, it's cheaper buying it this way, and secondly, it secures hard-to-come-by and exclusive wines that would otherwise never make it to the shelf.

Why is it cheaper?

Mostly it works as most 'futures' do ie. it secures cash flow for the winery, who receive the money far in advance of the wine leaving their barrels. However, although the advertised price is often very attractive, don't forget that because you're buying it before it's been through any sort of customs and excise process, you will be charged duty (variable depending on what the current chancellor of the exchequer decides, and will be levied at the rate of the time the wine enters the country, not the time you buy it en primeur - ie it could go up or down) and then VAT on the wine's price and the duty combined (that's right, you get taxed on tax!). Plus some merchants will charge delivery and of course there's storage costs if you're not home-cellaring.

Why would these wines 'never make it to the shelf'?

OK, so that was slight hyperbole, but it is true in some cases. For most wines sold en primeur, be they Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone or from anywhere, it secures the wine for the customer, at an opportune price, before the wine is released to the open retail market.

An example of how en primeur works

Let's use a lesser-known Bordeaux for our example, and let's say Château Beaumont has been released at £120 per twelve bottle case en primeur (meaning it's still in barrel in the winery). £10 a bottle - bargain!

You would be invoiced for £120 now which would be payable immediately. Until you pay, the wine is still available to other buyers. As this is Bordeaux, the wine will be shipped in the spring/summer up to THREE years after purchase, at which point very roughly speaking the duty will be £48 on 12 bottles (the exact duty figure will undoubtedly change by the time it is shipped) and assuming VAT stays at 20% that would be £33.60 (20% of £168).

So, your bill would be roughly £120 now, then £81.60 in taxes when it arrives, meaning you end up paying around £16.80 per bottle in total. Still a bargain when you realise that wine from the 2018 vintage sold at £29.99 on our shop shelf. 

Obviously when the wine arrives it will need a couple more years before it is drinking at its best. Even if you allowed two or three pounds for case storage with us it is still a considerable saving per bottle. 

How does en primeur work at Taurus Wines?

Good question. We tend to work in a slightly different way to some of the larger London merchants, but we feel it's a more customer-friendly way. Traditionally, offers would be released by the wineries (for Bordeaux it's often in the late spring after a raft of journalists and wine experts have been to exclusive tastings) and merchants will receive these offers and send them out on a first-come-first-served basis to their clients, without knowing if they will be able to honour the sales. This creates a rush, much like the bidding we had to do to secure 2012 London Olympics tickets. As a customer you'd have to request multiple wines, hoping you'd get an allocation of a few - or possibly all - or none - and you might have to go through multiple merchants if there's a wine you really want.

At Taurus we prefer to secure our allocations of the wines, paying the wineries ourselves, before offering them to our clients. It's still on a first-come-first-served basis (and some of the allocations will be literally one case), but at least we know we've secured what we're offering. Any wine we don't sell en primeur we'll keep and store in our temperature and humidity controlled warehouse and sell on the shelf when it's ready to drink.

Selling your en primeur wine

The old adage was that if you bought en primeur you could 'drink for free' as it roughly doubles in price between buying it and it being ready to drink. Therefore, you could buy two cases en primeur, keep one for drinking and then sell the other, which would in effect pay for the bottles you're drinking.

However, this assumes fine wine always doubles in price (and like any investment, you have to be prepared for it to go down as well as up) and that you are storing under bond.

Storing 'under bond' means that technically, as far as the tax man is concerned, the wine hasn't 'entered' the country, but is stored in a bonded warehouse, meaning the duty (and therefore the VAT too) is yet to be paid on it. Essentially, it is on British soil, but it's yet to go through the customs process.

Wines kept 'under bond' maintain a perfect provenance, and it's this provenance which is essential if you want to sell them (still under bond) at the optimum price.

Therefore it's worth knowing that if you buy en primeur through us, we do not keep the wines under bond and we not only need the duty and VAT paid on arrival but it also means that your wines, though wonderful investments, are not then geared up for prime reselling at a later date. We offer en primeur for wine lovers, not investors or traders.

Having said that, if you'd like to store your wine in our non-bonded warehouse, we can vouch for the fact that it's been stored correctly and at perfect temperature etc, which can help maintain its price. However, it can't be re-entered into the under-bond market and traded on a spreadsheet as those wines so often are.

If you have any questions about en primeur at all, please don't hesitate to email us on grapes@tauruswines.co.uk or call us on 01483 548484. You can also ask to be added to our en primeur mailing list and be made aware of the wines we have available with tasting notes, buying guides and drinking dates.

If you'd like to know more about storing wines at Taurus Wines, click here.