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Lauded sommeliers Jean-Michel Deluc and Edmond Gasser give us the low-down

Traders, buyers and avid wine tasters come together every year to mingle in the vineyards of Bordeaux for the Primeurs events that take place at the start of spring. But why does this campaign, which took place last week, get so much attention from the wine world? And what is it for?

Jean-Michel Deluc, master sommelier for (wine subscription service) Le Petit Ballon, and Edmond Gasser, head sommelier of the Anne-Sophie Pic restaurant at the Beau-Rivage Palace, in Lausanne, Switzerland tell us what we need to know in six questions.

What are the Primeurs?
Edmond Gasser (EG)
Wine experts from France and other parts of the world are invited by the main Bordeaux chateaux to come and taste the first wines of the latest vintage, from the harvests that took place in September the previous year. These wines have already been blended and put into barrels and thus only lack some barrel ageing. As this is a projection tasting, caution is required as the wine is extremely young and is still a ‘work in progress'. The primeurs process allows tasters to get an idea of the vintage's concentration, the tannins, if they are firm or rounded and so forth. 

What do professionals attending the Primeurs aim to get out of it?
Jean-Michel Deluc (JMD) It's about buying Bordeaux wines that are still maturing in order to obtain the best prices compared to the prices they will be sold at retail in the next two years. By doing this we can save around 10 to 30 per cent and in some instances where 'rare' wines are concerned, even more.

Which wines are tasted?
While the famous castles of the Gironde vineyards are historically responsible for the legend of the Primeurs, they are not the only samples that make up the Primeurs campaign. Bourgeois crus and more modest wines can also be tasted, not only wines from classified vineyards. Restaurants and wine cellars organise their schedule for the Primeurs by making appointments with estates they appreciate in priority. I taste about 400 wines from Bordeaux, from generic appellations to classified grands crus. The Petit Ballon will highlight around 140 wines, the grands crus but also potential new favourites that steal your heart. In terms of colour, reds represent the majority of the wines tasted. But some whites from Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes also reveal their early charms during this period.

Do vineyards other than Bordeaux organise similar campaigns?
Bordeaux started this type of sale in the 19th century and due to the huge success, other major vineyards in Burgundy and the Rhone Valley, have followed suit. It can represent a significant cash advance for the winemakers

Why does this event get so much attention?
JMD The Primeurs allow both journalists and professionals to judge the quality of the previous year's wine before deciding whether to buy or not. The rating of wine taster and wine guide Robert Parker really encouraged demand in the 1980s and '90s.

Why should amateur consumers be interested if they are not invited?
Oenophiles have the opportunity to get wines at a lower price by essentially betting on their potential. Once bottled, the wines become more expensive and are harder to find on the market.

JMD The interest is clearly financial, even speculative. One could even use this occasion to reserve a wine to celebrate a birth, a wedding or just for one's personal pleasure. That said, the analyses that result are very specific, and can be used by consumers to bring them more pleasure in their tastings.

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