We wine lovers generally think about how to turn our money into wine. But apparently there are those who think that wine can turn into money.
The Wall Street Journal had a big story on page B1 over the weekend about the new phenomenon of wine investing (no free link to the story, “Fine Wines No Longer Just Tempt Collectors”). In London, the Fine Wine Fund has been set up with the goal of investing in wine. They charge fees similar to a regular fund for alternate investments with a two percent annual management fee and 15 percent of the profits.
Is making money out of wine a panacea? Post your thoughts in the comments! One thing is for sure: while the story doesn’t mention the size of the Fine Wine Fund, if a lot of money sloshes into the relatively small market for investment-grade wine, prices will likely go to even more eye-popping levels. Let’s just hope that some corks get popped along the way too.
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Steve Bachmann was quoted in the story talking about inefficiencies in the wine market. You can check out his thoughts on how to value wines on his blog, The Wine Collector. He’s also the CEO of Vinfolio, a fine wine retailer.
A) A teetotaler puts his name and image on a wine label
B) That teetotaler would give said wine to his underlings on his birthday
C) A 1943 “schwarzer tafelwein” could be sold at auction last week
D) That bottle sold for almost $8,000
In case none stood out and you answered all of the above, then you’re right! The bottle of 1943 Fuhrerwein bearing the image of known teetotaler Adolf Hitler was originally given to Nazi officers on the occasion of the dictator’s birthday. It was sold at Plymouth Auction Rooms in England last week for £3,995 (including the auctioneer’s commission). No word on who was the buyer.
With incredible speed, Peter Meltzer, author of Keys to the Cellar: Strategies and Secrets of Wine Collecting replies to your questions. His answers follow in italics:
At 1:33 PM, January 29, 2007, Anonymous said…
Just this weekend I opened the first bottle of ’90 Figeac purchased at an HDH auction last year. It was flawed. It tasted more cooked than corked. What, if any, are my chances of recourse from HDH, and should I try to return the rest of the lot? I have purchased from HDH both at auction and at retail and this is the first flawed bottle from them.
At auction, in most instances you are buying “as is,” and if the wine is off, you’re stuck. However, it sounds as if you have a pre-existing relationship with HDH, so why not contact them and dispatch an “offending” bottle of the ’90 Figeac for them to sample. Auction houses are not generally in the business of making enemies, so HDH might make an exception. In the future, however, don’t wait a year before sampling your purchases. Try a bottle right away so that you can detect potential problems in a timely fashion.
At 2:15 PM, January 29, 2007, Anonymous said…
I’m just starting to think about collecting, and I don’t have a fancy cellar or anything in place yet, just a cool (but probably not constant-temperature) basement. Should I invest in a wine refrigerator before proceeding?
It all depends on your game plan. While a temperature and humidity-controlled storage unit is always preferable, if you plan to focus on wines for immediate consumption, you can probably get by with your existing basement space. (However, if you have any intention of selling your wines at auction, a climate-controlled facility is preferable to a passive one.) If you plan to lay down fine bottlings that require extended aging, you should definitely invest in a wine refrigerator. It’s always best to choose a unit with a capacity that exceeds your present stash so that you have room to expand. If you have a modest starter collection, however, you may want to consider a small unit like the Haier (whose 93-bottle unit costs about $1,000) for your better or best bottles.
At 2:16 PM, January 29, 2007, Kasie said…
How do I know when I wine has peaked? I have a ’94 that recently went up in value, but does that mean it’s time to drink it?
Price is really not an issue here, as many wines (including oldies like 1982 classified Bordeaux, and select California bottlings from 1985 and 1987) continue to escalate in value but are not yet past peak. Vintage charts and “drink” recommendations are always helpful in determining a wine’s shelf life. Ultimately, you and your palate are the best judge. Periodically open a bottle that you think might be approaching maturity. If the color has turned to mahogany and you detect an earthy aroma and sweetish taste, it’s time to drink up.
At 2:18 PM, January 29, 2007, Anonymous said…
Maybe I’m a cynic, but it seems that people can get really competitive at auctions, and rational pricing can sometimes go by the wayside. Is there any systematic way to get real values at auction?
Yes. Probably the best recourse is to place realistic absentee or “order” bids instead of attending the auction in person. That way, you don’t risk getting swept up by auction fever. In addition, consult the Wine Spectator auction index (available online to website subscribers) which contains thousands of prices for frequently traded wines. It’s a powerful tool to cross-reference estimates against recently realized prices.
At 4:21 PM, January 29, 2007, Bruce said…
What is the best single source for tracking the progress of specific vintages of specific wines (most importantly Bordeaux) so that I know when to pull them out of the cellar? (I know, I know, depends on storage conditions, etc., but let’s assume they are “perfect”)
At 2:28 PM, January 30, 2007, Mike said…
I’m curious if you have a rule of thumb as to when a pre-auction tasting is a good value? Or perhaps how to make the most of such a tasting?
A pre-auction tasting is a wonderful opportunity to sample wines from diverse regions and vintages, many of which may be unfamiliar. It gives you a heads up on wines you may contemplate acquiring, without having to go to the expense of buying a bottle before the sale. Most auction houses list the roster of wines to be presented at the tasting (either in the catalog or online) so if you see something interesting, don’t hesitate to attend.
At 5:34 PM, January 30, 2007, Ben said…
Does the auction site matter? E.g., do you get better values at Chicago auctions vs. New York auctions?
It’s difficult to generalize, as prices will vary from lot to lot and location to location. Overall, Zachys has a large number of high winning bids – but it also has quite a number of low ones. Prices at Bonhams & Butterfields (San Francisco) can be lower than the Manhattan competition, and Hart Davis Hart may offer great value. But when HDH auctions a 20 year vertical of Château Lafleur this weekend (estimate $300,000-$400,000), don’t expect any bargains.
I have a case of 1989 Mouton in my basement (cool but passive storage conditions). How can I check the value? And what is the best way to sell it?
According to the Wine Spectator second half 2006 auction index (printed bi-annually in the magazine and updated monthly for website subscribers) the average price for Mouton-Rothschild 1989 was $258 per bottle or $3,096 per case. Its high was $373 per bottle. At retail bottles range from $245-$489. If you have a friendly local wine merchant, see if he will make you an offer. Otherwise, contact one of the major commercial auction houses.
• Acker Merrall & Condit, (877) 225-3747
• Aulden Cellars-Sotheby’s (New York) , (212) 606-7050
• Bonhams & Butterfields, (415) 861-7500, ext. 307
• Edward Roberts International, (847) 295-8696
• Hart Davis Hart, (312) 482-9996
• Morrell & Co., (212) 307-4200
• NYWinesChristie’s (New York), (212) 463-8600
• Zachys (New York), (914) 448-3026
At 11:50 AM, January 31, 2007, Schliecker said…
I just bought a house and have a basement where the temp is between 60F and 65F with humitity between 30%-45% depending on the day. I have some wines I want to keep cellared for a while (not anything like an ‘82 Lafite mind you). What are your thoughts on those conditions. Good enough or would you go for a Vinotemp or something like it.
Thanks – Dave S. – Brooklyn, NY
These conditions are acceptable for short-term storage of good wines. However, have you any idea what the temperature rises to in the summer? The humidity level is on the low side.
(See second answer above for more details.)
Peter Meltzer, author of Keys to the Cellar: Strategies and Secrets of Wine Collecting, joins us this week for a Q&A about wine collecting. In Keys to the Cellar, Meltzer draws on his twenty years as Wine Auction Correspondent for Wine Spectator to craft a thorough book about the ins and outs of collecting, storage and investing.
Meltzer will respond to your questions just as the auction market heats up for 2007. After a record year of $167 million worth of wine auctions last year in the US, the auction market kicks into gear with a big auction at Hart Davis Hart in Chicago this weekend. Next weekend, Sotheby’s and Morrell have auctions in NYC. In fact, almost every auction house has one in the next month or so.
So post your questions on auction strategy, wine cellars, and general wine collecting here in the comments. I’ll close the comments at 3PM Eastern on Wednesday. Peter Meltzer will then reply here on this blog later in the week.
UPDATE: here’s the link to his replies
Buyers of cellars: BusinessWeek reviews home wine cellars. Cut straight to the photos.
Buyers and buyers: “Bidders shattered last year’s $12.2-million, single-day record when they hit lot No. 49, with 23 lots still to go.” Naples Winter Wine Festival brings in $16.5 million for charity through the sale of wine–and a Rolls Royce and trips on private jets [Naples News]
Buying more: Americans buy 300 million cases of wine in 2006, a new record. [Sonoma PD]
Sancerre, food pair [Mariani–Bloomberg]
The half-bottle may not be full enough: Landmarc, the very wine-friendly restaurant in Tribeca that has an extensive list of half bottles, moves uptown and upscale to the TimeWarner Center–but are they in over their heads? [NYM]
On a roll: Have you ever had a California roll? Or teriyaki chicken? You can now report it to Japanese sushi “police” who are on the prowl, seeking out fraud maki–outside of Japan! [Financial Times]
Some like it hot–spicy and circular: “The United Nations food and health agencies are to lay down international standards for how the poppadum can be manufactured.” [TimesOnline]
The next edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday will focus on New World syrah. Taste, then blog it on Feb 7! [WineCast]
Many sales are happening now–check your local wine shop and stock up!
“I drank a bottle of 1961 Chateau Petrus on my 36th birthday recently, and it was better than sex,” Wais Jalali of WDJ Capital Holdings was quoted in Bloomberg as saying. Jalali has a 30,000 bottle collection.
Elin McCoy’s thorough story reports on the rampant $167 million wine auction market in the US. It makes for fascinating reading for shock and awe: shock for all the great wines in single collections and awe at the prices paid for them.
The story points out that “blue chip” wines–Mouton, Petrus, Yquem, for example–fare the best as investment vehicles.
“It’s been a real insane year; a new level of pricing is being established,” Acker Merrall auction director John Kapon, 34, said in November. (Acker Merrall was the year’s world auction leader at $60.3 million.) “The question is how fast and how much prices will rise. The top 20 wines seem to be bulletproof.”
That’s sad news for wine drinkers since many of the top wines have been priced out of the realm of drinkability for most wine enthusiasts. Good for Wais Jalali who pulls some corks and enjoys the wines. But it’s going to take him a long time to get through those 30,000 bottles…
See the excellent story for a lot of practical information about the current auction market. [Bloomberg]
Chicago: Hart Davis Hart, Feb. 3.
New York: Acker Merrall & Condit, Jan. 27, Feb. 24, March 24.
Christie’s, March 24 (also in Los Angeles).
Morrell & Co., Feb. 10.
Sotheby’s, Feb. 10.
Zachys, Jan. 19-20, March 2-3.
San Francisco: Bonhams & Butterfields, Jan. 27, March 31 (also in Los Angeles).
Related: A century and a half of Yquem sold for $1.5 million in London. Includes nine empty bottles for vintages when the wine was not produced. [Decanter]
Well, the anonymous European buyer who just paid $1.05 million for 50 cases of 82 Mouton would no doubt disagree. I bet he would side with Robert Parker who called the wine “perfect” and scored it 100 points. Or he might not give a rip what it tastes like and could just think that in a decade, somebody will pay him $2.5 million for it.
According to a Bloomberg story, the cases were sold as one lot from Park B. Smith’s collection. Smith, a textile and fabric magnate who also co-owns the restaurant Veritas, saw rapid growth of the asset. He purchased the 50 cases of magnums and rare double magnums only in 1997 for $420,500. They have been sitting in the cellar of his weekend home ever since.
But he didn’t keep the profit. The $5 million proceeds from the auction of his wines (minus the auctioneer’s fees) went to his alma mater, Holy Cross. I’m sure they’ll drink to that.
The auction market remains hot, hot, hot! Six magnums of 1985 Romanée-Conti fetched $170,375 at NYWines/Christie’s on March 2nd in New York. That breaks down to…$561.18 an ounce!!
This lot still misses the record $6,400 an ounce that a 1787 Lafitte (sic) fetched in 1985, and the $3,600 an ounce that one bottle of 1787 Chateau d’Yquem got in a January auction. Not often discussed in auction results are charity auctions but it’s hard to forget the four 3-L bottles of Colgin that went for $650,000 at the Auction Napa Valley last year ($1,600 an ounce).
But this lot does beat a set of six DRC 1971 magnums that rolled in at $448 an ounce in January. Is 2006 the year of the wine auction? (yes, for sellers!)