Used to be, 15 percent of all Bordeaux wine was sold as "futures." That is, bought and paid for sight-unseen, unsniffed, unswirled and untasted, purely on the reputation of the producing estate and (maybe) a tasting note from a critic who'd been given access to early barrel samples. The idea was that savvy collectors would get in ahead of the crowd, before the wine hit retail shelves and prices skyrocketed.
Today, that figure is down to two percent. But futures, also known as "en primeur" wines, remain a significant market force.
"Wine is a $304 billion a year market globally," according to Liv-Ex, a tracking service and de-facto "stock market" for fine wine. The futures market, says Liv-Ex, is disproportionately driven by Bordeaux, "which has consistently produced the world's best wines on its 250,000 acres (more than 850 million bottles each year)."
The most influential palate behind this market was once Robert Parker, Jr., an American lawyer and wine critic whose "Wine Advocate" newsletter was highly prized by wine collectors. Parker sold the newsletter to a Singapore investor in 2013 and passed the editorial torch to his disciple Antonio Galloni, but Galloni struck out on his own with a website called vinous.com.
Over the past four years Galloni's reputation has climbed steadily. Once known primarily for his familiarity with northern Italian wines, he has added Bordeaux, Burgundy and California to his portfolio. His tasting notes on the 2016 Bordeaux vintage will be released next week.
The prospect of a "legendary 2016 yield" has collectors and investors salivating. Liv-Ex reports an "unprecedented" 15 consecutive months of growth in its futures market for this vintage and has issued press releases touting Galloni's ability to move markets. "This is not only an opportunity for savvy wine collectors and large entity traders to get their hands on a once in a lifetime wine en primeur-based on futures."
There are some very real reasons to believe the hype, that this is a "huge moment" for US wine buyers. For one, the dollar is stronger than it has been in years. Second, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit has British buyers--long the most loyal to Bordeaux--no longer on the front lines. Third, the rumors, that the 2016 vintage really is legendary.
On the other hand, no one has tasted the stuff yet. Galloni's tasting notes will be published on Tuesday, April 25th.
Photo: barrel cellar at Chateau Margaux.