Most wine drinkers, even real enthusiasts, will never buy wine futures–but, some of us of even modest means will splurge. So what exactly is a “wine future?”
Well for starters, it’s just what it says: wine that will be available down the road. Also known as “en primeur,” French for “in their prime,” at this point the wine is resting comfortably, still in the barrel, aging and (sometimes) softening and getting more complex. If you want a future, you contact a wholesaler or importer who deals in futures, select your wine(s), and pay for them, upfront. As in now. With some dealers you have to set up an account and deposit funds that will then be used for your purchases sometime in the near future. Other dealers allow you to select your wines and pay immediately, typically with a credit card, which is how I’ve done it in the past.
UPDATE: This week, I bought some 2020 futures from ZACHYS in New York City: Chateau Lynch-Bages 2020 from Pauillac, Malescot St. Exupery 2020 from Margaux, and Chateau Gazin 2020 from Pomerol. I tried to buy just one bottle of Chateau Angelus 2020 from St. Emilion–it’s my most favorite wine–and even though it put the bottle in my shopping cart, when I tried to check out it said “choose a lower quantity.” Well the only thing lower than one is zero. So I called the store in Manhattan, and got Ricardo from “customer service.” He was both unhelpful and unfriendly, saying that ZACHYS was sold out, despite what their website indicated when I put a bottle in my cart, and it wouldn’t get any more. Angelus is amazing wine and I was disappointed, but in any event I recommend you grab what you want as soon as possible, from wherever you get it. There are a lot of other stores carrying futures…just Google for one near you. But act quickly, it’s going fast!
So to continue. The 2020 futures, meaning the wine from the 2020 harvest which took place in the summer and fall of last year, won’t be available for at least another year, possibly 18 months, depending on the producer or chateau, the wine’s characteristics, and the timetable provided by the dealer. So, who does the buying and how, before they’re offered for sale to normal folk? Well, since for me futures means Bordeaux, the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) holds a futures tasting every year, attracting dealers and critics (tasters, really) from around the world. This is a good thing, because often some lesser-known producers will have a chance to shine, and buyers will have the opportunity to identify these unsung heroes so that consumers can snatch them up, often at relatively modest prices. However, the very top houses will often hold private tastings, by appointment only, and only for established buyers or critics. And Burgundy, with (in my view) the world’s greatest Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, has its own futures market separate and apart from Bordeaux’s. As it should.
For the highest rated wines, futures can be awfully expensive–hundreds of dollars or even a thousand dollars or more per bottle. It’s a bit of a gamble, really more of a speculation, and many who buy futures do it as an investment, given that these wines can appreciate over the following years and reach truly stratospheric prices. For folks like me, who can afford only a case of two (or less), it’s just because we love these wines and we buy them to drink them when it’s time, and a lot of these wines will actually be drinkable fairly soon, even if they’re not expected to mature to their fullest potential for years, or even decades.
If you’re an “ordinary” consumer like me but (also like me) you really love French wine in particular, it’s easy enough to find a futures dealer by, what else, Googling it. For example, in the New York City area, Zachys came up first in my search, with futures as inexpensive as $16.99 a bottle for Chateau Puygueraud, to Chateau Cheval Blanc, for $569.99. Yes, a bottle. But I’ve also bought futures in the past from a much smaller operation, 56 Degree Wine in Bernardsville, NJ, and was very happy with the wine (it was Chateau Gazin in Pomerol) and the process.
If you want to get in on this, you can read more at The Wine Enthusiast (a couple years old but a good basic guide), and from Decanter, some notes on specific Bordeaux 2020 futures and prices as well as from Wine Spectator.