Our first Master Class, focusing exclusively on Tuscan wines, was held at AWC Wine Academy recently and it was a tasting I had been looking forward to for quite some time. Clearly I was not the only one, as all of the tickets were sold out well in advance of the event. The heavy demand resulted in an extensive waitlist, so we have now scheduled an additional session for anyone unable to make the first one. Given the popularity, I recommend your register for it promptly. Understandably, with the range of impressive Tuscan wines we planned to show, there was a palpable excitement leading up to this event. Italian wines in general and Tuscan wines specifically are hot topics these days, with demand for top wines from these regions continually on the rise.Additionally, we were delighted to welcome our expert speaker for the evening, Master of Wine Michael Palij. Michael is, without question, one of the world’s leading specialists on Italian wines. In addition to writing for Decanter Magazine, he also writes all of the course material related to Italy for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust.Along with his academic credentials, Michael is an engaging and charismatic presenter. He is able to add colourful insight to his lectures due to his very personal knowledge of and experience with the wines, estates and people of Tuscany. Michael was certainly able to call upon his expertise for this Master Class, conducting an extremely interactive session, which was a joy to attend.
Forty years ago, ‘great’ was not a word that was generally associated with Tuscan wines. At the time, the category of very fine wine barely even existed in the region. So what has changed? According to Michael, many of the advances can be traced back to the dramatic establishment of the Super Tuscan movement. Led by the likes of Piero Antinori and Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta, these Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines were controversial, glamorous and most importantly, different. Crucially, they were also of an extraordinarily high quality. These wines helped establish Tuscany’s fine wine credentials at a time when they were sadly lacking. Interestingly and perhaps more significantly, the Super Tuscan movement also spurred a revivalist ‘Risorgimento’ with Tuscany’s native Sangiovese, which Michael described as, “an underrated but truly world-class grape variety.” “The key to the success of Sangiovese comes down to where and how high it is planted. While the French have terroir and attitude,” Michael told us, “Tuscany’s secret is that they have terroir and altitude. In Tuscany, how high up you plant is often the critical factor.”“You also have to remember that Italian wines are primarily meant to be enjoyed with food. Sangiovese is no exception,” he added. “As a variety, it has a lot of tannin and quite a kick of natural acidity. These wines have a real heft to them. They will certainly age and improve, but ultimately they are meant for the dining table.”
Above: Master of Wine Michael Palij lectures on the finer points of fine Tuscan wines.
We began our tour of Tuscany’s greatest wines in the southerly coastal region of Morellino di Scansano. Morellino became a DOC in 1979 and a DOCG as recently as 2009, largely because of the pioneering work done by Elisabetta Gepetti at Fattoria Le Pupille. The wine we started with was her single vineyard, Poggio Valente from the 2005 vintage. This is a Riserva which is only made in great vintages. According to Michael it is also, “without doubt, the top wine of Morellino.”The Poggio Valente is a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Alicante, a variety which adds more depth of colour. At seven years of age, this was showing lovely black fruits and a touch of earthy tomato leaf. There’s plenty of grip, weight and acidity, with excellent integration and balance. “This is what Morellino should be all about,” Michael pointed out. “This is not a vin de garde though, it is really a wine for early or medium term drinking. This is probably at its best now and will be for the next five years.”
Above: Account Manager Annabel Dent takes careful tasting notes.
The next wine was one of Michael’s professed favourites, Fontodi’s 2006 Vigna del Sorbo, a Chianti Classico Riserva from Panzano. At 500m in elevation, Panzano is right in the heart of Chianti Classico, often making it too cold to completely ripen Sangiovese. However, in exceptional years such as 2006, it matures to perfection. Giovanni Manetti’s magnificent wine proved a prime example.A blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, there were more red fruit expressions in this wine than in the previous, including raspberries and redcurrants, on both the nose and palate. It had a lovely elegance and lift to it as well, with more refined, silky tannins and an abundance of refreshing acidity. Michael informed us that he had actually tasted the 1990 Vigna del Sorbo the day before and thought that this wine would age just as well, if not better. “This is brilliant today, but you should really wait another 20 years before you open this wine.”
If we wanted certain proof of Tuscany’s ability to age, we got it with our next wine, the 1995 Vigneta Bellavista from Castello di Ama. Owner Marco Pallanti was one of the pioneers of the single vineyard, ‘cru’ concept in Tuscany back in 1978. This 22 hectare vineyard now produces one of his finest wines. Selection is extremely strict and Pallanti only makes Bellavista in the best vintages.
Above: Account Manager Lucy McMillan quizzes a taster on his thoughts.
Beautifully constructed, this wine had great finesse, complexity and elegance. The primary fruit was still there but is now giving way to tertiary, bottle age flavours of sous bois and minerals. Also interesting to note was the alcohol level. As Michael pointed out, this bottle was 12.5%. “Now, ten years later on and with global warming, the current release is listed at more like 14.5%.”
The fourth wine was the 2005 Brunello di Montalcino from La Fiorita, owned and run by one of Italy’s best known ‘flying winemakers’, Roberto Cipresso. Heading over to Montalcino and moving forward a decade, we were now seeing a completely different style and expression of pure Sangiovese. This was a big wine at 14.5%, but it holds it together very nicely. Quite modern in style, with a bold, rich and forward expression, this wine had spice, intense black cherry flavours, firm tannins and superb acidity. Ultimately, this was a beautifully balanced and utterly beguiling example of Brunello di Montalcino.I have to confess that I did struggle slightly with the tannic structure of the next wine, Soldera’s 1999 Case Basse. This was also a Brunello di Montalcino, but it is produced in the southwest of the region. Michael has visited this estate many times and regaled us with stories about the beauty of the gardens and vineyards. The property owner, Gianfranco Soldera, is something of a legend in Tuscany. His interests are not geared towards chasing ratings or critical acclaim. “He just makes wines that he personally likes to drink,” Michael told us. Though this wasn’t my personal favourite of the night, many, including Michael, absolutely raved about it, describing it as, “one of the greatest Brunellos ever made.”
Fortunately, nearly everyone in attendance agreed on the next wine, Piero Antinori’s 2004 Tignanello. This is, of course, the original Super Tuscan and the wine which caused all the fuss and brouhaha back in the 1970s. It was the first Sangiovese to be aged in small oak barrels and also the first wine in modern times to use Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. Today, the blend is roughly 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet.This was a huge pleasure to drink. It is wonderfully lush, plump, and fleshy and it is absolutely brimming with creamy, plum fruit flavours and baking spices. As Michael noted, “it is a very generous, ‘come hither’ sort of wine, largely because it gets a complete, new oak treatment. Significantly, Antinori only utilizes 50% new oak with [neighbouring property] Solaia, but Tignanello gets a full 100%.”Following the Tignanello, we tasted the current latest release of Ornellaia, another Super Tuscan legend, which was founded by Piero Antinori’s brother, Lodovico. Michael explained that this estate was really born out of an internal family feud between Piero and Lodovico. However, this initial conflict was only the beginning of the drama that has befallen Ornellaia in recent years.
In 1999, the Mondavis of California became serious shareholders in the estate. When the Mondavi Company was subsequently taken over by Constellation Brands, the corporation felt that Ornellaia did not fit within their portfolio of global properties. In a subsequent, bizarre twist, Constellation then sold Ornellaia to the Antinori’s arch-enemies, the Frescobaldi family. It all sounds a bit like something out of an Italian opera performance. In spite of all the management changes though, the estate and the quality of its wines have remained very much intact.This particular Tignanello was the 2008, which is admittedly a bit too young to drink still, yet was fascinating to taste due to its ripe, modernist style. The mix is a classic Bordeaux blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon with the rest comprised of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a bit of Petit Verdot.
As is our tradition here at AWC Wine Academy, we always like to liven up our tastings at the finish to make them as interesting as possible. Therefore, the last three wines were all tasted blind. The first was definitely my wine of the night – an absolutely fabulous 1997 Solaia which was a complete tour de force. The wine showed extraordinary class, elegance, complexity and length. Michael agreed, pointing out that you could put this alongside a really good First Growth Bordeaux and it would not look out of place.
Just to prove the point, that is exactly what we did! The next wine was an equally superb 1996 Château Mouton Rothschild. Last, but by no means least, the third wine in the trio was Nicolo Incisa della Rochetta’s 1997 Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido in Bolgheri.
Personally, I felt that the Château Mouton Rothschild and the Solaia just edged the Sassicaia. Ultimately though, the line between these three extraordinary, Cabernet-based wines was incredibly thin. Interestingly, when Michael asked for a show of hands, almost everyone picked the Mouton as the mystery First Growth – an impressive feat. Yet, for the evening’s preferred wine, it was much more evenly spread out. Although the greatest number of people (11) voted for the Mouton Rothschild, both the Solaia and the Sassicaia were just behind it in the popularity poll. Indeed, talking to people after the event, it was clear that the Mouton Rothschild did stand out. This was not because it was necessarily better than the two Tuscans. Simply that it was noticeably different. In other words, the concept of terroir is alive and well, as is the future of great Tuscan wine. Below is the complete list of wines tasted on the evening. All wines are currently available on request from The Antique Wine Company and prices quoted are in bond.
To join us for a tasting or to reserve AWC Wine Academy for yourself, please visit - http://www.awcwineacademy.com - or contact Deborah Ives via email or on +44 (0) 20 3219 5560.
Tags: Mouton Rothschild, Wine Tasting, wine academy, wine education, wine school, poggio valente reserva, fattoria le pupille, vigna del sorbo, chianti classico, chianti classico riserva, michael palij, master of wine, vigneta bellavista, castello de ama, brunello di montalcino, la fiorita, case basse, soldera, tignanello, antinori, ornellaia, tenuta dell'ornellaia, solaia, sassicaia, tenuta san guido, tuscany, tuscan wine, italian wine
Education | Wine tasting
It’s been another enthralling week of fine wine tastings at AWC Wine Academy. On Tuesday, we enjoyed some breathtaking Grand Cru Burgundies. On Thursday, it was the very finest of Bordeaux, where we compared the likes of Pétrus, Latour, Haut-Brion and Cheval Blanc. As the saying goes, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!
Our primary interest was in conducting a head-to-head tasting of the best estates from the Left and Right Banks of Bordeaux. The plan was to do this with eight wines, in four vintage pairs, followed by a final mystery wine. For this event, we were delighted to welcome several of our top clients alongside a number of American Express International Currency Card and Centurion cardholders. The knowledge of the attendees and the quality of the wines being served promised to make this our most impressive tasting yet.
In addition, we were delighted to welcome back wine writer (and co-founder of the International Wine Challenge), Charles Metcalfe as our host. Charles had already proved his mettle by hosting our magnificent 1990 Bordeaux retrospective a few weeks prior. On this occasion however, Charles wasn’t the only wine writer in attendance. I was particularly pleased that Robert Parker’s UK colleague Neal Martin was also able to join us. I’m a great admirer of Neal’s writing and his palate is top notch. I’m certainly looking forward to reading his new book on Pomerol, which he has just completed, when it is published in September 2012.
Above: Journalist Neal Martin and Account Manger Lucy McMillan discuss the upcoming wines.
One of my definitions of truly fine wine is that it doesn’t just engage and intrigue our palates; it must also engage our intellect. This process of engagement is something we strive for at all Wine Academy tastings as we find it is integral to both understanding and enjoyment. It is important that wine tasting be both fun and interactive so that people leave with smiles on their faces, having been entertained just as much as they have been informed.
Our primary technique for getting people involved is to put them into teams and to encourage them to taste the wines blind. We taste wines blind for a number of reasons. First and foremost, not knowing what the wine is in advance removes any pre-existing prejudices that could easily influence the way we regard and rate particular wines. Additionally, because tasting wines blind is more challenging, it is also much more fun!
Above: Purchasing Manager Berenger Piras pours the wines.
Moreover, putting people into competitive teams adds immeasurably to the atmosphere of the evening and is something people invariably enjoy. This promotes inclusiveness and, as a result, tasters tend to ask more questions and become more involved. As a result, they often learn more too – almost without even realising they’re absorbing the information.
Charles began with a short, insider’s guide to the key differences between the Left and Right Banks and how those differences influence both the flavour and structure of the wines. On the Left Bank, the wines are generally dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, thanks to the prevalence of gravelly soils in the region which allow the variety to thrive. On the Right Bank however, Merlot is more common and it tends to do well on the heavier, clay-based soils.
However, as Charles pointed out – there are always exceptions. In Saint-Émilion for example, there is still quite a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in its cooler soils. Additionally, at the likes of Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc, significant quantities of Cabernet Franc make it into the final blend.
Above: Charles prepares for his lecture.
The first two wines set the standard for the evening. Wine one was a stellar 2004 Château Margaux from the Left Bank, which was both magnificent and completely true to its trademark, elegant style. As Charles pointed out, the First Growth was, “perfumed, graceful and classical; everything good Margaux should be all about.” I noted lovely cassis fruit, finely tuned acidity and supple tannins from this underrated vintage. 93 Points.
The Right Bank counterpart (wine number two in this pair) was the 2004 Château Angelus. Somewhat counter-intuitively, this was darker and deeper in colour than the Margaux, with more tannin and grip on the palate to match - which is perhaps why some tasters mistook this for the Left Bank wine of the pair. Whilst I enjoyed Hubert de Bouard’s 2004 Angelus and rated it 91 points, personally, I think it needs a bit more time in bottle.
I wasn’t the only one who preferred the Margaux over the Angelus. When we took a vote on which of these wines people preferred, Margaux was the favourite by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. In total, 19 tasters chose it versus just 10 for the Angelus. At this early stage of the competition, Team Latour (perhaps aided and abetted by Senior Client Relationship Manager, James Woodhead), had swept into an early lead by correctly identifying both the vintage and the respective origins of both wines.
The next pair presented a bit of conundrum. Wine three was revealed to be Gerard Perse’s 1998 Château Pavie, a Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. The estate is a favourite of Robert Parker and he rated this wine 95 points, while predicting that it will last for at least 50 years. High praise indeed, yet not without appropriate basis - you can see exactly where he’s coming from when you taste this wine. Again, much like the 2004 Angelus, this was deep, tannic and powerfully extracted, with fabulous flavours of black cherry fruit. 94 Points.
Of course, 1998 was correctly regarded as a great Right Bank vintage. Unfortunately, that means that many Left Bank wines from the year are regularly overlooked. The magisterial 1998 Château Latour, wine number four, ideally proved the point – these 1998 Left Bank wines are not to be missed! This Latour was commanding, powerful, beautifully delineated and exquisitely balanced, with lovely fruit, cedar, minerals and a terrific amount of length. 95 Points.
As many people pointed out, the Pavie improved considerably in the glass – it clearly has a long life ahead of it. However, the overriding consensus was in favour of the Latour. It just pipped the Pavie by 11 votes to eight with the remainder of tasters undecided.
By now, all the teams were warming to their tasks as the competition heated up and the quality of the wines was increasing in kind. The next pair was simply stunning and it began with a 1996 Château Pétrus. This was a gem of a wine, with poise, power, brooding black fruit, lovely sweetness and that tell-tale spiciness that so often characterises great Pétrus. I rated it 97 points. Paired with it was the 1996 Château Haut-Brion which was a lovely contrast. The Haut-Brion was more evolved and had more smokey and savoury notes. It was also lighter in body, with finer grained tannins and flavours of liquorice root, cigar box and creamy cassis. 95 Points.
It was a tough call between these two wines. The Pétrus was just slightly preferred and it won-out with 11 votes against 10 for the Haut-Brion. Significantly, put perhaps not surprisingly, it was also voted the wine of the night, just edging out the Haut-Brion which came in second overall. Meanwhile, in the team competition, the Lafite table was challenging Latour as they correctly nailed both the vintage and the respective region of origin.
The last pair of wines hailed from the 1995 vintage and did nothing to tarnish the extraordinary levels of quality tasted thus far. First up was Pierre Lurton’s stunning Château Cheval Blanc. Beautifully crafted, with an almost unimaginable purity of fruit, this was benchmark Cheval Blanc at its elegant best. While drinking beautifully now, this will also age and improve for many years to come. 98 Points.
Paired against it was a much more intense Château Mouton Rothschild which was both rich and powerful. It brought an interesting sensation of total completeness with it. The firm and beguiling structure had notes of cured meat, Morello cherry, dark soy and black olives set atop the tannic framework. 94 Points.
So, which wine went down as the best from this final Left versus Right pair? The answer from the very enthusiastic and increasingly competitive audience was the Cheval Blanc, by a hair – just 10 votes to 9. Meanwhile, the team competition was also down to the wire and was only decided in the final round, with Team Latour sealing an impressive victory over Team Lafite.
However, neither the evening’s wines nor the competitive elements were quite done and dusted. What remained was an individual, blind tasting round of the ‘Wine Options’ game. The wine in question was revealed to be an older vintage of Château d’Yquem…but which vintage?
By process of elimination, the triumphant taster eventually emerged, to great applause from the attendees, and was rewarded with a half bottle of the wine in question - a sumptuous, honeyed, marmalade-laden, richly-textured 1983 d’Yquem which I rated 97 points.
Above: A taster admires the evening's wines.
Once again, it was quite a night at AWC Wine Academy. Great wines, great people and great fun. What more could you possibly want?
At the end of this remarkable evening we took a vote on which were the top wines of the night. Here are the results: [Please note that all of these wines are available on request from The Antique Wine Company]
- 1st Place -1996 Château Pétrus – Enquire for pricing- 2nd Place -1996 Château Haut-Brion - Enquire for pricing- 3rd Place -1995 Château Cheval Blanc - Enquire for pricing- 4th Place -1998 Château Latour - Enquire for pricing
For each paring, here is how the voting tallied up:Pair 1 – 2004 Château Margaux: 19, 2004 Château Angelus (Enquire for pricing): 10
Pair 2 - 1998 Château Pavie (Enquire for pricing): 8, 1998 Château Latour: 11, Undecided: 8
Pair 3 - 1996 Château Haut-Brion: 10, 1996 Château Pétrus: 11, Undecided: 8
Pair 4 - 1995 Château Cheval Blanc: 10, 1995 Château Mouton Rothschild (Enquire for pricing): 9, Undecided: 10
We look forward to welcoming you into the Wine Academy in the coming months, whether for another exceptional night of Bordeaux, for your own private tasting or for one of the other exciting events we have planned.
To join us for a tasting or to reserve the Wine Academy for yourself, please visit - http://www.awcwineacademy.com - or contact Deborah Ives on +44 (0) 20 3219 5560. To purchase any of the wines which were covered in this particular tasting, please contact one of our staff wine experts.
Tags: wine school, wine tasting, yquem, wine academy, vintage, The Antique Wine Company, Stephen Williams, Pierre Lurton, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Grand Cru, d'Yquem, Fine Wine, Cheval Blanc, Chateau Petrus, Chateau Pavie, Chateau d'Yquem, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Mouton, Chateau Cheval Blanc
The Event -
This report follows a fascinating evening of tasting and analysis which covered recent Top Investment Wines and was held in Monte-Carlo, the tax-advantageous wealth haven on the Cote d’Azur.
The thirty-two attendees were comprised of clients of Monaco Asset Management and local clients of The Antique Wine Company.
The purpose of the tasting was to study the investment performance of wine as a commodity, while simultaneously offering an opportunity to taste some fantastic wines. At The Antique Wine Company it remains our view that whilst fine wine represents an impressive investment vehicle, ultimately, great wines deliver pleasurable experiences. It is those experiences with family and friends which are often just as important as a wine’s ability to provide financial gain. What better place to enjoy some fine wine and discuss its investment potential than in a wealth management environment?
The line-up included four of the five First Growths (Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Mouton) along with the world’s finest white wine (Chateau d’Yquem), an exceptional example of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Echezeaux and Chateau Cheval Blanc. Additional wines included Carruades de Lafite, Chateau La Mission Haut Brion, and a 100 point rated vintage of Chateau Pavie. Bordeaux vintages included 2000, 2005 and the recently released 2008.
Tasting Format -
Our head of purchasing, Berenger Piras, acted as sommelier for the evening and prepared the wines approximately 2.5 hours before the event. With the exception of the Domaine de la Romanee Conti Echezeaux, all the wines were double decanted in advance. The Echezeaux was tasted but not decanted in order to avoid any excess exposure to air. The wines were presented by Stephen Williams, our Managing Director.
The Rules of Engagement -
The wines were tasted in pairs. After delivering a short presentation on The Antique Wine Company and our Fine Wine Investment Services the ‘rules of engagement’ were explained. In this competitive tasting format, tasters could earn points for guessing (or calculating) the correct Return on Investment which would have been generated had the wine been purchased en primeur and then sold on the market today.
To enhance the competition, a bottle of 2005 Chateau Margaux was put on the line for the winner!
Guests tasted their way through the pairs, with some tasting notes, the opening en primeur price, and information on the various estates and vintages being provided. A few subtle clues here and there aided with the calculations. After the final wine was tasted we revealed the answers and guests marked their sheets accordingly. The winner scored an impressive 40 points!
Guests were then asked to vote on their favourite ‘palate’ wine (the wine they enjoyed drinking the most), which also revealed some surprising results...
Votes and Answers –
Please click here to enquire about the availability of these wines or to request additional information.
Surprising Conclusions -
The favourite wines of the night (by taste) were the 2002 DRC Echezeaux followed by the 2000 La Mission Haut Brion and 2003 Cheval Blanc in a tie for second place.
The 2002 Lafite Rothschild was the best performing investment wine with an increase of 1106% since release.
Correlation between taste and investment performance -
The tasting showed that there was very little correlation between the ROI and the Parker scores for this sample set. Two of the three 100 point wines actually ended up at the bottom half of the results sheet in terms of ROI (the Pavie at 203% return and the d’Yquem at 186% return). Interestingly, the two highest performing wines in terms of ROI, Lafite Rothschild (1106%) and Carruades de Lafite (712%) were scored modestly on the Parker scale at 94 points and 91-93
points respectively. This is no doubt due to the distortion caused by the Chinese market for Lafite.
The standout wine of the tasting was clearly the 100 point rated 2000 La Mission Haut Brion. In terms of ROI it came in third place (at 564%) and it was tied for the second most popular wine of the evening by taste. Our view is that La Mission continues to challenge the First Growths year after year in terms of quality. Be this as it may, it is still often overlooked by investors who are only focused on the ‘First Five’. This tasting really highlighted the investment potential of this wine, particularly given that it currently sits at an undervalued position in the marketplace. Fortunately, for savvy investors who are interested in the potentially 100 point La Mission 2009, we still have this wine available for acquisition in small quantities.
What did we learn? -
All of the wines at the tasting performed well from an investment perspective. Mouton Rothschild was the ‘poorest’ performer and it still showed 99% ROI over a four year period! Selecting blue chip wines and carefully analysing the market for undervalued options is the most lucrative route to ensuring solid financial returns.
The corollary between taste, critical acclaim and investment performance is clearly not direct. This shows the diversity of individual preferences, style and quality. These complexities are what continue to make the world of wine so intriguing.
To discuss or purchase wines from this tasting, or if you have questions about other fine wine investment opportunities, I can be reached at our London offices via email or phone +44 (0) 20 7359 1109.
Will Buckland, Wine Investment AnalystThe Antique Wine Company
Tags: The Antique Wine Company, Wine Investment, Wine Tasting, DRC Echezeaux, La Mission Haut Brion, Cheval Blanc, Chateau Pavie, Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Latour, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Latour, Carruades de Lafite, Monaco, Monaco Wine Tasting, d'Yquem, Chateau d'Yquem, Stephen Williams, Will Buckland
Investment | Wine tasting
It’s likely that those who have invested in fine wine over the past few years were able to enjoy some great bottles during the holiday season; 2010 was another boom year for wine investors.
Economic circumstances over the past several years have had relatively little impact on the overall value of upper-echelon fine wine. This is because during times of prosperity demand for fine wine is driven by consumption. However, during more economically adverse periods, fine wine may also be considered a safe haven thereby resulting in an inflow of capital from investors as they switch to tangible asset classes. As a commodity, fine wine is rather unique. There is only a finite amount produced by each chateau in each vintage and great vintages get better with the passage of time. Yet, because the product is consumable, while the quality is improving the volume is simultaneously decreasing.
Over a reasonable timeframe this situation can be capitalized on as portfolios can either be partially or fully liquidated and returns are paid out. Additionally, the returns generated may be re-invested into younger vintages, with a few cases skimmed off and consumed for free, having been funded by the profits.Fine wine investment indices have steadily outperformed the FTSE 100 over the last five years and should therefore be a leading candidate for inclusion in any portfolio as an additional investment class.
2010 Retrospective -Two topics dominated the fine wine investment conversation over the past year - the much anticipated 2009 en primeur campaign and the effect Asia is continuing to have on fine wine prices.To say the en primeur campaign was eagerly awaited would be an understatement. Traders, investors, collectors and drinkers alike all held their breath in anticipation. With reports declaring unprecedented quality across the board the big question was going to be what quantities would be available and at what price. Unsurprisingly, the prices were unanimously high and the first growth wines lead the charge. Price levels of the very top wines inevitably spooked many prospective investors. This forced those individuals to look elsewhere, often by seeking value lower down the hierarchy of quality. The high scoring ‘Super Seconds’ and the St Emilion Grand Cru Classe wines became areas of heavy investment activity.
One of the unexpected side effects of last year’s campaign was that back vintages of first growths suddenly started to become relatively good values, creating a situation where the en primeur campaign had the effect of pulling up the prices of older vintages. Ultimately, the market illustrated that it was still willing to absorb the high 2009 prices. The question now is, in the short term, whether the wines leading the price charge can keep up the current rate of growth and, if so, will they continue to drag the rest of the market up with them?As predicted, the Asian market grew considerably over the last 12 months. The only aspect of the market to disappoint traders, to an extent, was the limited appetite of Asian buyers for the 2009 campaign. On the growth side, the demand for all things Chateau Lafite Rothschild has been unprecedented. This trend was illuminated by the many Hong Kong auctions that brought in stunning sales numbers. The resulting movement in this market sector has had a hugely positive effect on portfolios which include any vintage of Lafite Rothschild or Carruades de Lafite.
Investment Pick of 2010 – Chateau Lafite Rothschild, 2008 – The steady increase in value of this wine over the last 24 months highlights how comparatively undervalued the wine was at release. This growth was only bolstered by the craze created when it was announced that the Chinese symbol for the number ‘8’ would appear on the bottle. The graph below shows the performance of Lafite Rothschild 2008 vs the FTSE over the last two years.
Looking forward to 2011 -
It is hard to imagine any circumstances that would cause consumers in the emerging ‘BRIC’ economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China to reverse their burgeoning interest in historically Western lifestyle products and symbols, including fine wine. The biggest of these economies is certainly China. Whilst we currently see China as an abnormal sales market due to the complete fascination with Chateau Lafite Rothschild, we also observe an enormous appetite to learn about wine. As educational programs and opportunities expand there is no doubt that Chinese consumers will begin to appreciate other high-end wines as well.
Which top-tier wines the Chinese market eventually pursues may seem to have a somewhat random nature to Westerner observers. Partly these choices are driven by the translation of the brands into Mandarin and the symbolism of the labels. In this brand driven environment, it is likely that some of the up and coming wines are going to be estates like Chateau Leoville Las Cases (which translates to “wine of the lion”), Chateau Angelus (“golden bell”), or Chateau Beychevelle (which has a ship on the label not dissimilar to a Chinese dragon boat).
It is also interesting to note that current per capita wine consumption in China is half a litre per person per year. This compares to 55 litres in France and 18 litres in the US. In the event that Chinese consumption increases to just half of US per capita levels then the whole wine business, on a global scale, will change dramatically.As we move fully into 2011, it appears that the popularity of Lafite Rothschild in Asia will continue unabated. Be this as it may, I predict that the other first growths will start to enjoy some of the same popularity over the coming months. Following on Lafite’s tip of the hat to the Chinese market with their 2008 bottle, Mouton made a similar move by offering their 2008 label design to Chinese artist Xu Lei. This acknowledgement of the importance of Chinese consumers will go a long way towards fostering goodwill in the marketplace and increasing demand. At this stage Mouton is still looking undervalued compared to the other first growth estates, creating an investment opportunity which could prove to be a shrewd long-term move. Having spent considerable time with Chateau owners and winemakers in Bordeaux over the past 6 months, the word at some properties is that 2010 is reckoned to be an even better vintage than 2009. Yet, given the successes of 2009, are 100 Parker Points going to be enough to sell through the available stock of the 2010 campaign? At this point we have yet to taste the wines or get a solid feel as to whether the market still has deep enough pockets to absorb another top vintage. Although, if the rumours are true, we could be looking at another pair of successes along the lines of the famed fin de siècle vintages of 1899/1900, which would offer investors further opportunities to enhance their portfolios. To all of our fine wine investors in 2011, here’s raising a glass to a successful coming year and many great returns.
Tags: Wine Investment, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Leoville Las Cases, Angelus, FTSE100, Liv-ex, Beychevelle, fine wine, fine wine market conditions
En primeur | General | Investment
Stephen Williams, Founder and CEO
Stephen Williams began trading as a wine merchant in 1982 and wishes he had stocked his cellar with Château Pétrus on day one. Since founding The Antique Wine Company, Stephen has built The Antique Wine Group into an organisation with clients in 63 countries and a global network of offices, representatives and business groups. Regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in fine and rare wines, he has created some of the greatest wine cellars and collections in existence – in châteaux, palaces, wineries, hotels and private residences across Europe, Asia and North America. As a popular commentator on the wine industry, fine wine investment and the global wine market, Stephen is frequently quoted by both the UK and international press corps. Along with his regular lectures at AWC Wine Academy, this blog offers a behind-the-scenes view into the world of fine wine.
Get notified when a new post is published.