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Bordeaux's last chance to transform "out of touch" en primeur system says Tim Atkin

Published:  06 March, 2015

Leading UK wine critic and Harpers columnist, Tim Atkin MW, has fired a warning shot across the bows of Bordeaux and warned its producers and chateaux that they need to listen to the international critricism of its en primeur system and make serious changes or risk looking "ridiculous" in the eyes of the wine world.

In a hard hitting column in the March issue of Harpers and here on, Atkin claims the en primeur model is becoming dangerously "out of touch".

He writes: "The show will go on, at least for another year, in its current form, but it's starting to look more than a little ridiculous. For 18-inch fibreglass stones read samples of six-month-old claret, rushed through malolactic fermentation and "prepared" to look as attractive as possible at this unfeasibly young age.

"The wines may be representative of what a château has in its cellar in April - although only someone trying to commit financial suicide would show their most tannic or backward barrels to the trade and the press - but they have way less to do with how the wine will taste in bottle, let alone in 10 years' time. Many people haven't added press wine at this stage or finalised their blends. The American journalists who jump the gun on en primeur week, attempting to gain a measure of competitive advantage, are tasting even rawer samples.

While he expects the 2014 vintage and en primeur campaign to "be better than the three that preceded it" he believes "the wines should be presented to the market in five years' time, when they have come together in bottle, not now".

He cites the example of Château Latour which withdrew from the en primeur system in 2012, and has just released its 2003 grand vin and 2008 Les Forts de Latour. "That seems to make a lot more sense to me," adds Atkin.

He stresses that it is not just frustrated UK wine critics who are calling for changes to the en primeur system but "almost everyone who writes about or sells Bordeaux".

"The system isn't working, except for a handful of châteaux. Even some proprietors will admit, off the record of course, that en primeur is struggling as a way of selling wine. It's outmoded, outdated and out of touch with modern consumers."

Subscribers can read the full column in the Opinion section of Harpers.