En Primeur or 'Wine Futures', is a method of purchasing wine while a vintage is still in the barrel, offering the customer the opportunity to invest in a particular wine before it is bottled. Payment can be made a year or 18 months prior to the official release of the vintage.
An advantage of buying wines 'en primeur' is that the wines can be considerably cheaper than they will be once bottled and released. However, this is not guaranteed and some wines may lose value over time. Wine experts, recommend buying 'en primeur' for wines with very limited quantities and will most likely sell out instantly on released. The wines most commonly offered 'en primeur' are from Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône Valley and Port, although other regions are adopting the practice.
In the following spring after the harvest, merchants will taste barrel samples of wine that are often only 6-8 months old. In the case of Bordeaux, where the final wine is often a blend of several grape varieties, the winemaker will try to craft an approximate blend to sample. The composition of the final wine may differ from the sample depending on how each barrel matures during aging. Based on the initial sample, the wines will be giving an initial 'score' or rating based on the expected quality of the wine once it is bottled, released and has had time to mature.
Wine bought 'en primeur' is often directly placed into custom-free storage holding, 'in bond'. Known as a delicate method of investment, a purchase may ultimately be deemed a loss, or there may be considerable profit. E.g. the 1982 vintage of Château Latour, was sold at $630 a case 'en primeur' in 1983, and then valued in 2007 at $22,770.
This concept has existed in Bordeaux for centuries and has only occasionally been used in other wine areas such as Burgundy, Piedmont, Tuscany, Ribera del Duero and in Rioja. In Italy some work is being done to promote the development of an Italian 'en primeur' wine market. This is definitely something to think about when you are next looking to buy some fine wines from a winery with a quality history.