Critics’ descriptions of ‘en primeur’ wines will keep you entertained – even if you can’t afford to buy them

Anyone who is in the market for fine en primeur wine shouldn’t be only relying on columns like this for information.

En primeur wines are bottles you buy before they’re delivered to the UK, putting money up front in the hope of acquiring wine which sells out before it reaches the normal retail market or which should increase substantially in value, making them an investment.

If you’re new to en primeur, go to a reputable merchant (beware the dishonest opportunists who cold call or offer extraordinary returns), ask lots of questions and follow expert advice. And remember that, even though you pay for the wine when you order, there will still be a bill for duty and VAT once it’s ready for delivery.

If you already stock your cellar in this way, you don’t need my input, especially as I don’t get involved in the annual circus at the biggest en primeur destination of all, Bordeaux. There, in early spring, the chateaux show off the not-yet-finished wine of the past year’s vintage to posses of visitors from all over the world. Only the most skilled tasters can judge the new offerings’ merits, but we can all delight in how those tasters describe the wines.

I’ve just received the 2010 Bordeaux en primeur list from Richard Kihl, a shipper and broker in Suffolk, which brings together some of the most eminent wine critics’ opinions and makes entertaining – and sometimes challenging – reading. I’ve given the Kihl prices for each wine, 12 bottles in bond.

Sometimes, you wonder if the critics have tasted the same wine. Here’s how the world’s most influential taster, Robert Parker, describes Ch�teau Haut Brion (�7,950): “A gorgeous perfume of scorched earth/burning embers, blueberries, black currant liqueur and crushed rocks.” Yet the US site finds “layers of kirsch, melted licorice snap, anise and black tea”.

And how does the mere drinker interpret such descriptions as “unbelievable skyscraper-like texture”, “very primal”, “like drinking crushed limestone/chalk”, “a notion of graphite”, even “insane”? See the website for more.

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I know I’m being cruel, taking phrases out of longer descriptions but it does go rather over the top. On the other hand, anyone tasting wine at any level should make notes, even if they’re as succinct as James Suckling’s comment on 2010 Margaux (�8,950): “I put my nose in the glass and I knew it was perfection.” Notes are a valuable means of condensing opinions and providing comparisons if you’re tasting more than a handful of bottles. But most aren’t intended for public consumption, simply personal guidance.

To move from the sublime but difficult to acquire to wines which should be ridiculously easy to buy. At this summer’s round of tastings, I largely ignored Bordeaux, as I think of it more as a winter wine. So here are some other European classics, available on supermarket shelves without the need to take out a second mortgage. Prices are a guide rather than precise, as I haven’t caught up with any recent adjustments.

Sainsbury’s comes up trumps with two fine Loire whites, Sancerre Roc de l’Abbaye 2010 and Jean-Paul Mollet Pouilly-Fum� Antique 2010 (both �16), the delectable off-dry Leitz Rheingau riesling sp�tlese 2009 (�13), two impressive Rh�ne reds by Chapoutier from great 2009 vintage, Les Meysonniers Crozes-Hermitage (�15) and Les Arenas Cornas (�26), and the perfect partner for magret, Torre de Mastion Amarone Classico 2007 (�22).

At Waitrose, there’s another smart riesling, Dr Loosen Urziger W�rzgarten 2010 (�14), an appealing Loire red, Domaine de la Croix de Chaintres Saumur-Champigny 2009 (�11), and excellent 2008 Chianti from Querciabella (�20).