HIT THE BOTTLE
France, with its clement climes, may have mastered the process of turning grapes into wine, but the British soon cottoned on to the fact that they too could make a few bob investing in it. For centuries London has been a wine trading hub, with canny collectors buying up excess cases of Bordeaux’s finest to sell at a later date. It was, for the most part, a pursuit for wine aficionados rather than serious traders; the proceeds were generally re-invested in younger wines, thus continuing the cycle.
That was until the late 1990s, when global demand – particularly from Asia – rocketed. And despite some serious competition from the US and Hong Kong, London continues to be a key player in the market for the world’s finest wines. Like the international market for the real estate of Knightsbridge and Chelsea, the world’s financial elite – many of whom live right here in the capital – are consuming fine wine brands without even bothering to examine the price tag. Just ask Evgeny Chichvarkin, the Russian mobile phone tycoon who opened Hedonism wines, the local off-licence for hedge fund managers, in 2012 to cater for this lucrative demand. A bottle of 1982 Lafite can be yours for just under £5,000.
Things have come a long way since the days of tunnel vision toward the Bordeaux region. London’s oldest merchant, Berry Bros & Rudd, says that in 2013, barely a quarter of its turnover was from Bordeaux. “Twenty years ago that would have been unthinkable,” says the firm’s fine wine buying director Max Lalondrelle. Our tastes have diversified – top Burgundy, Californian and Italian wines now fetch impressive prices, and the Bordeaux establishment is having to fight harder for its share of the cake.
Simply put, there has never been a more exciting time to start investing in wine. Here are a few City A.M. bespoke recommendations, broken down by region.
Bordeaux wine investments are usually made in a fairly narrow spectrum: properties that are (almost) certain to increase in value due to their global renown, and consistently high scores from Robert Parker, the world’s most important wine critic. Chateau Angelus in St-Emilion is one such estate that has garnered attention from Parker of late; he rated the 2010 vintage 98 out of 100, calling it an “absolutely spectacular wine”. Daniel Craig agrees: he drank a bottle of 1982 Angelus as James Bond in Casino Royale. The estate’s owner, Hubert de Bouard, has courted celebrities to great effect, helping to make the wine a top choice for both the glitterati and collectors.
Chateau Potent Canet in Pauillac is another favourite of Parker’s. It was brought in 1975 by Guy Tesseron, a Cognac merchant who continues to impress visitors with his £3,000 plus black cognac. It’s his wine, though, that collectors and critics swoon over; a rich, intense mouthful of blackcurrant that Parker rated 100 points in 2010. Prices have risen steadily since the 2003 vintage and the wine is one of the strongest performers on Liv-Ex, a benchmark index for fine wine prices.
The final choice for a trio of bordeaux wines would be Chateau Palmer, darling of critics and investors for many decades. It was purchased by an English General in 1814 and hasn’t looked back since, consistently matching the more famous Chateau Margaux, a favourite of the Queen Mum. Such is the demand for the wine in China that fakes were becoming rife, forcing the Chateau to secure its bottles with “prooftag” seals; a wine you can truly buy with confidence, then.
WHERE TO BUY:
• 2009 Chateau Angelus, £360 a bottle from Berry Bros & Rudd (www.bbr.com)
• 2009 Pontet Canet, £188.00 a bottle from BBR
• 2010 Chateau Palmer, £1,390 for a case of six from BBR
Thirty-eight years ago, renowned wine critic Stephen Spurrier organised a competition: a selection of Californian reds were pitted against the equivalent bordeauxs. Nine (French) wine experts were astonished, and very annoyed, by their conclusions – the Californian ones were the equal of, and sometimes surpassed, their French cousins. Oh merde! The Napa Valley region has enjoyed success ever since – many top estates now fetch prices at auction equal to Bordeaux’s best. So which ones are worthy of your attention? Well, if Napa has an equivalent to Chateau Latour, it’s undoubtedly Harlan Estate in the subregion of Oakville. Founded by William Harlan in 1984, this small estate is dedicated solely to super-premium Bordeaux-style reds. A bottle can easily cost $700 in a top vintage, and Harlan always does well on the auction circuit.
Colgin Cellars, which entered the market in 1992, is another strong contender for Napa’s finest winemaker. Started by a Christie’s auctioneer with a degree in art history, the estate produces three super-premium bottlings; two varietal Cabernet-based wines and an exquisitely refined Bordeaux blend. Parker rated all of their 2010 releases with a 100 point score, a rarity even among Napa’s prestigious estates, ensuring prices continue to rise. Their Bordeaux imitation red is one of the world’s greatest wines and an extremely safe bet for fun or investment.
If you seek finer fare, then search out wines from the boutique Bryant Family property founded in the late 1980s. Only 1,000 cases of the Bryant Cabernet are produced annually; delectable wines that quickly sell out.
WHERE TO BUY:
• 2009 Harlan Estate Napa Red, £4,400 per case from BBR
• 2009 Colgin Cellars IX Estate Red, £298 per bottle from BBR
• 2009 Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon, £4,114 per case from Fine and Rare
The wine world has long adored burgundy, which, in complete contrast to bordeaux, is often released in minute quantities. China in particular has gone crazy for the stuff over the past five years – a case of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (DRC) sold for $38,081 in Hong Kong in January; a good time to be buying into red Burgundy, whose dazzling perfume is delivered solely by the pinot noir grape. The cult surrounding DRC is unparallelled, so much so that an undisclosed party attempted to blackmail the owners in 2011, threatening to poison its precious vineyards unless a €1m ransom was paid. Thankfully nothing came of the threat, and wine lovers can rest assured that investing in a younger vintage of DRC is bound to reap rewards, both for drinking and making a healthy profit in years to come.
Moving into more affordable territory, the wines of Domaine Rossignol-Trapet have really come into their own in recent years, although thankfully the market has failed to take notice and prices are still reasonable. It owns vineyards in one of red burgundy’s most celebrated vineyards, Le Chambertin, which has been described as home to “The region’s most imperious wine; dense, sumptuous and long-lived.” Its wines, now in increasing demand, are due for another price rise soon, so buy them while they are still (relatively) accessible.
While the fine wine world is predominately obsessed with the colour red, the Chardonnay vineyards of Le Montrachet are virtually priceless and in massive demand. Domaine Faiveley, a historic family name established in 1825, produces a superb white from the neighbouring Batard-Montrachet vineyard. At its best, it’s on another level – strong, perfumed, intense, luscious and moreish; a wine that gives immediate pleasure but will also reap financial rewards, if you can bear to cellar it for seven to 10 years.
WHERE TO BUY:
• 2006 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache, £11,000 per case of six from BBR
• 2010 Domaine Rossignol-Trapet Chambertin (Grand Cru), £1,500 per case of six from BBR
• 2011 Domaine Faiveley Batard-Montrachet, £235 per bottle from BBR
In the 1970s, Tuscany’s leading producers rejected time-old traditions concerning grape varieties and winemaking styles, which they felt needed radical overhauling. The result: Tuscany has become Italy’s most dynamic and prosperous fine wine region, and now brims with expensive, so-called super-Tuscan wines that collectors and connoisseurs positively salivate over. This can be most obviously seen at London’s auction houses, where a case of the renowned brand Ornellaia fetched over £1,500 at Bonhams last year.
Sassicaia can lay claim to being Italy’s first super-Tuscan, established in the 1960s by Marchese Incisa della Rocchetta on the beautiful Tuscan coast. The 2009 vintage was described by American critic James Suckling as “insanely complex yet subtle with so much going on, with a beautiful balance and tension.” Top vintages tend to sell well, due to their investment vehicle potential.
Its nearest competitor is Ornellaia. Like Sassicaia, this estate follows the Bordeaux mould, using the same grapes to spectacular effect to craft opulent, powerful wine that ages well for decades. Recent vintages have garnered much praise from critics: “The 2009 Ornellaia caresses the palate with layers of seamless, radiant fruit. Sweet red berries, mocha, flowers, new leather and spices are some of the many notes that are layered in this sumptuous, totally beautiful wine,” gushes writer Antonio Galloni. However, unlike the Bordeaux super-stars, it is relatively affordable at under £150 a bottle.
We finish with Solaia, the flagship wine of the legendary Antinori family who are the true Godfathers of the super-Tuscan style. Patriarch Piero Antinori established this superlative wine in 1978 and Solaia rapidly became a critical and consumer success, today fetching sky-high prices at auction. The 2010 vintage was lauded as “one of the great all-time vintages in Tuscany,” and would be an intelligent buy for collectors. Expect: “Blackberry jam, graphite, tar, espresso, violets, crushed rocks and spices,” according to Galloni.
WHERE TO BUY:
• 2009 Solaia, £173 per bottle from BBR
• 2009 Sassicaia, £145 per bottle from Oddbins
• 2010 Ornellaia, £160 per bottle from BBR