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Italian Wine Futures?

Posted: May 30, 2007 11:53am ET

A couple of weeks ago, a Milan-based company called WineTip put together a tasting of 2006 barrel samples from a handful of producers in Italy in hopes of promoting the idea of selling wines en primeur, or wine futures.

The wines in the tasting included those from the following wineries: Altesino, Bruno Rocca, Conti Costanti, Grattamacco, Le Macchiole, Luce della Vite, Marchesi Mazzei, Michele Satta, Paradiso di Frassina, Planeta, Querciabella, Sottimano, Tasca d'Almerita, Tenimenti d’Alessandro, Tenuta di Serramarrocco, Tenuta Podernovo and Tenuta Sette Ponti.

I was keen to taste the wines and report on this tasting, but in the end I decided against it, because WineTip had not organized any way to buy the wines outside of Italy, and even sales in Italy were questionable. Yet, I think the idea of buying top Italian wines as futures or prearrival is a very good one.

Think about it. You could buy 2006 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino or Le Macchiole Messorio right now and assure that you get the quantity and bottle sizes you want. I am not sure it would be a lot less expensive than what you would pay when the wines finally come out in bottle, but at least you would be assure to get some.

Many top Italian wines, particularly small production Barolos and Barbarescos and Tuscan cult wines, are very difficult to find these days. For example, the annual production of the pure Merlot from Le Macchiole Messorio, only equals about 250 cases, and about 50 of those are shipped to the United States.

I don’t know if futures sales of Italian wines could ever become as big a business as Bordeaux. It would probably be more like Burgundy, whereby American consumers buy wines from key US retailers a year or so before the wines are delivered in bottle.

Maybe US importers and distributors aren’t even interested in the idea? They make so much money anyway, why would they bother? Just the other day, a Brunello producer told me that he sells his Brunello to a US importer for $15 a bottle and by the time it goes through all the distributors including agents, wholesalers and retailers it sells for about $80 a bottle. They all make more than the wine producer himself!

Regardless, what do you think about the sales of futures or pre-arrivals of Italian wines?

Guus Hateboer
Netherlands —  May 30, 2007 3:38pm ET
As long as someone like you (or any other respected wine critic) taste them before they are offered as futures, it's fine with me. If I do not have a reference tasting note, I would not buy. But if tasting notes are available in time, I would be happy to consider buying. Likewise, I'm a happy Bordeaux future buyer.
Rodger Callo
May 30, 2007 4:14pm ET
I don't like it, as I feel this will only serve to push prices higher. The best prices now are on quasi futures through the grey market which would most likely dry up with an en primeur system in place. For example I just purchased some 2005 Tua Rita wines from Premier Cru for well under what the release prices are sure to be. If the winery can pre-sell at full price those kind of deals will dry up. As an aside James, how was 2005 on the Tuscan coast?
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  May 30, 2007 5:23pm ET
James , other aside, what about the piastraia or the cavalliere from satta? I love those wines and i was guessing how they perform in 05? regards, ludovic
Tony Wood
Brighton U.K. —  May 30, 2007 6:01pm ET
If the-organizers-could not arrange the wines to be purchasedoutside of Italy, and sales within Italy were questionable, I feelone does not need to ponder on the longevity of this project.If,like me, readers are regular buyers of Italian wines I amsure with funds and conviction purchases are there to be made -IN NORMAL HOURS .
Fred Taleghani
Palo Alto, CA —  May 30, 2007 10:43pm ET
You do make a good point about getting a bottle(s) that you want. Price may or may not be better, but at least you can get first crack at large format bottles that may never see the light of retail here in the states.
Albert Jochems
The Netherlands —  May 31, 2007 1:44pm ET
Be¿ a tast-before-buy buyer I would find it difficult to buy futures. Perhaps I could get used to it.....
Just wondering, is there any evidence on what the introduction of futures has done to Bordeaux pricing?
Jennifer Min
Florence/New York —  July 10, 2007 11:57am ET
Dear Mr. Robert Suckling, I am an Undergrad student at NYU Stern working on a project to create an event that will promote an Italian wine association from the Tuscany Coast (Anteprima della Costa Toscana) in New York for an Italian Marketing Company in Florence. I am very excited about this event because this event intends to bring more Italian wines to the States and to make buying variations of Italian wines more accessible. Keeping your blog in mind, I will make sure to organize a way for the wines to be bought effeciently and without a hassle. It is very disappointing, yet very exciting to see this hasn't been done before. I hope to bring a new chapter of Italian wines to the States. Mr. Suckling, once these wines finally do become accessible, would there be any way you can comment on them? Thank you for taking the time to read this and for everyone who is reading this, there is hope!

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