What has hints of red fruits, leather, tobacco, and tulips? Why, the wine investment market!
Elin McCoy reports from Hong Kong that a fund there will lend up to $641,000 (USD) for investing in wine–providing the investments are in the bank’s select list of 50 top names. She also reports that a new fund at Pacific Asset Management seeks to invest over $150 million in wine (it’s raising $30 million initially). There’s talk there of other funds diversifying into wine; some European wine investment funds have opened offices.
More money, chasing wines and returns while dodging counterfeits, smacks of tulip mania and the greater fool theory. When will some financial wizard develop a way to short wine?
One aspect of the wine market that defies tulip mania is the fact that even as more money appears to be rolling in, top Bordeaux prices are falling: the Liv-Ex Fine Wine 50 Index that tracks the last ten vintages of physical (not en primeur) Bordeaux first growths is down 18% in the past quarter. Interest in red Burgundy is up, as is interest in non-first growth Bordeaux. Breadth of wines is probably healthier than all the money funneling into a small group of wines and a broader index of wines is up 13% over the past year, but with declines in the past quarter. And a recent Hong Kong sale saw only 84% of lots sold. So maybe there is some sanity.
Hopefully, if it crashes, whoever is left holding the proverbial bag will have a corkscrew. And real, not counterfeit, wines.
A convenience store in the Bordeaux region was found to have sold 170 tons of sugar in a two-year period. Why?
The store manager says that the locals told her they were making jam. However, a court found otherwise, levying a $6,700 “suspended” fine for selling sugar to wine producers without recording their names as law requires.
Wine producers in certain zones of Northern Europe are allowed to add sugar to the grape juice (aka must) before or during fermentation, a process called chaptalization. The goal is not to have residual sugar in the wine, which would make it sweet. Rather, it is to boost the level of alcohol. Producers must declare the amount used and pay a tax of $17.50 per 220 lb of sugar added. The general impression has been that global warming has diminished the need for chaptalization as rising temperatures boost the natural sugar in grapes. During fermentation, yeasts chomp sugars to ferment into alcohol (and CO2). But one of the years in question was 2007, a cooler and rainer year than usual for the region.
Even though the authorities collect the taxes for chaptalization and other forms of enrichment, they are reluctant to divulge the figues to offer a window onto how widespread the practice is. Dismayed by the lack of official statistics, Benjamin Lewin estimates that 17 to 33% of French wine is chaptalized, depending on the heat of each vintage.
On his bulletin board, Robert Parker calls a “courageous visionary” who will say “enough is enough” and drop Bordeaux prices 20% for the 2010 vintage from the previous year. He later shrugged off any personal responsibility in the rise.
Chateau Pontent-Canet released their price for 2010 (about $140 a bottle at US stores) and it was up 39% over 2009 and 113% over 2005. Jancis Robinson tweeted: “Dio mio – crazeee. Those horses can’t be that expensive to feed?”
SWITCHED: How to get a $3,000 bottle of Petrus for just $3? Why, swap the price tags! #duh [decanter.com]
SIPPED: judging wine by its label
Grub Street has a lengthy breakdown on how mileage picking wine based on label designs will get you. My take: not much.
SPIT: glug glug
Minimum prices for box wine the land of plenty? A 300% tax increase in box wine Down Under might cut down on women glowing and men plundering (or, at least, chundering). #menatwork [smh.com.au]
Wegmans pulls the plug on wine kiosks in Pennsylvania citing problems and consumer complaints. Is the sun already setting on this PLCB experiment? [Forbes]
Apparently the latest issue of Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate came out yesterday with Parker’s reviews for the 2010 barrel samples and in-bottle tastings of 2008s. I say apparently because it is behind the eRobertParker.com paywall and there’s nary a mention of it on wine discussion boards. (Pin. Drop.) But Parker has given the general comment that 2010 ranks as one of “the three greatest Bordeaux vintages I have tasted in my career” alongside 2009 and 2005. The Liv-Ex blog provides his top scored wines. It will be interesting (at least in a detached, voyeuristic way) to see how some chateaux will price their 2010 wines in the event they received lower scores than in 2009 (and the weak dollar won’t exactly drive prices lower here in the US).
Liv-Ex also remarks on his downgrades of the 2008s:
Following the en primeur tastings two years ago, the general feeling amongst the trade and the critics was that the 2008 vintage was solid, if unspectacular. Against this backdrop then, it’s no surprise that the release of Parker’s generous ’08 scores met with a sizeable dose of cynicism. A couple of years on and it seems that Parker’s enthusaism for the vintage has dwindled significantly.
With all the hype about the Bordeaux campaign to pre-selling their 2010 wines, it made me think: surely there are more affordable, just as age-worthy alternatives out there. Here are five current releases I would cellar for 15 years that will bring a whole lot of bang for much less buck:
Domaine Baudry, La Croix Boisée, 2008. Cabernet franc grown on limestone from a top grower in Chinon. And around $30 a bottle? I would sign up for a case faster than I would a 375ml of 2010 Lafite–and I’d probably save money if I did.
Clos de la Roilette, cuvée tardive, 2009: Granted, this wine is mighty hard to find now, but it is worth seeking out. A Fleurie from the edge of Moulin-a-Vent, this is more pinot-like than gamay, structure and elegance over fruit and ebullience. I have a case and plan to age at least half of it for a decade.
Napanook 2007 cabernet sauvignon: This wine’s list price is about $50 but I’ve seen it online as low as $35. Even though it is the “second” wine from the Dominus estate, it has the seductiveness of good cabernet. And the fact that it comes from the Napanook estate under the hand of Christian Moueix gives it a track record of success.
Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco, 2006: This excellent nebbiolo can age (the 1978 is drinking well today, apparently). It sells for under $30.
Isole e Olena, Cepparello 2006, about $60: I had the chance to try this wine at a tasting last year and thought it was terrific. I don’t have a lot of experience with aging sangiovese, but if I were going to, this is where I’d start.
And, of course, for the prices Bordeaux futures are fetching, you could get plenty of Bordeaux with a decade or two of cellar age on them. There’s slightly more risk with the provenance, but the rewards come a lot sooner than pre-release Bordeaux since the pleasures of older wines can be had immediately. Or, as we recently discussed, there’s always Lopez de Heredia.
I was discussing this topic on email with a site reader who is a Spanish wine buff. He offers his suggestions from Spain after the jump. What are your suggestions for age-worthy alternatives ?
SIPPED: the zany
Hardy Wallace (above) dropped in on the en primeurs tastings and handed out his scores ranging from 101.00 to 102.36 points in .17 point increments. He gets the award for best T-shirt! [Dirty South Wine]
SIPPED: three cask monte
Jancis Robinson provides a primer in the various ways that samples at the en primeurs tastings can be manipulated to show their best.
Wendell Lee, general counsel at the Wine Institute, provides a further look into insidious nature of the apparent simplicity of HR 1161, a bill that would drastically affect wine shipping by reverting to regulations that pre-date Prohibition and supersede the Commerce Clause. [ShipComliant]
The Food Network releases their own branded wine. Only question: do you drink it with food, or with TV (if at all)? [Eater]
Serbs and Croats beat their swords in to pruning shears at a winery project in Bosnia. “Working in a vineyard is like therapy, it helps a lot (to forget about the war).” [Reuters]
Jacques Meganote, a researcher at INRA in Bordeaux, has collected samples from the tendrils the vines in the region have shot out already this year. Using a complex blend of mass spectronomy, DNA analysis, carbon dating, and weather history, he is able to forecast the quality of the vintage that has yet to be harvested–in fact, the vintage that has yet to grow a grape. The program is called “Bordeaux shoots and scores.”
“We are certain to 99% level that our forecast is accurate,” Meganote said. “We have been collecting it privately for five years now and this is the first time we have released the data.”
After two vintages widely praised, the Bordeaux wine trade will doubtless like his forecast for Bordeaux 2011.
“The concentration in the berries will be superb. This looks like a vintage that possesses both power and elegance. It will be a vintage of the century. Truly, a 99 point vintage.”
The next step in the program will be to pre-score individual wines.
Jancis Robinson floated a novel idea on her website last week: what if critics, who descend on Bordeaux shortly to taste 2010 barrel samples, withheld their scores until the Bordeaux trade had finished their pre-sale campaign (known as en primeur)? The logic is that high scores for what is already an extremely hyped vintage would only drive prices higher.
Predictably, Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate and Tom Matthews of Wine Spectator poured cold water on the idea, as republished on Jancis’ site. Given that this is a classic prisoner’s dilemma, if Jancis admirably remains silent while other critics publish, it only hurts her since she loses influence. The embargo would only work if all critics agree to remain silent, which is not tenable in the real world, where there’s an incentive for each critic to publish first, getting his or her views circulating, and driving the discussion. Suckling often did that when he was at Wine Spectator getting in to tastings before the crowds of the en primeurs tastings and publishing his report more or less immediately (Parker’s report usually comes out after en primeurs, at the end of April).
Although it’s unworkable, would an embargo from critics serve to bring en primeur prices down? Perhaps, especially in less anticipated vintages such as 2008, which was also being pre-sold during an economic meltdown. Although still an important part of the Bordeaux sales machine, critics’ scores may not as important as brands themselves as this Liv-Ex analysis shows.