John Gilman is one of the people who I have enjoyed getting to know in 2008. He started his career in wine retail, later worked as a sommelier with a soft spot for Burgundy, and now has embarked on the foolhardy notion of writing a bi-monthly wine newsletter, A View from the Cellar. Except maybe he’s not so foolhardy since, unlike a blog, he actually charges for his newsletter! Started in 2006, John has quickly won the respect of collectors and the people in the trade. He’s often provocative and not afraid to call things as he sees them; one of my favorite parts of his newsletter is the “roadkill” section where he discusses bottles he’s tried recently that were over the hill, mostly prematurely since they were made to attract attention in their youths but have failed to mature.
To give you a flavor of his preferences and picks, I asked him several questions via email. I broke it up in to two postings. In this first posting, John discusses what would be in his cellar if he were starting collecting today, what he drinks at home on a Tuesday night, the most underrated wines for aging, where Lafite 2005 will be in five years, and what would be his “desert island wine.” Onward!
If you had no collection and were going to put $1,000 into, say, at least two cases of wines available now for drinking 10+ years from now, what wines would you include? Read more…
“I guarantee you all these prices will be significantly higher this time next year,” John Kapon, president and auctioneer at Acker, Merrall is reported to have said between bids at an auction last December. The buyers who paid $8,000 for six bottles of the ’61 Dom Perignon and $22,000 of for eight bottles of the ’66 Cristal might be wondering if that was a money-back guarantee.
Prices of all kinds of assets have declined precipitously since last December. Wine appeared somewhat immune as recently as September but evidence is now emerging that prices for collectible wines are entering a correction after many years of strong growth. The Liv-ex 100 Fine Wine Index fell 12.4 percent in October.
A close observer of auctions told me yesterday that two recent sales only sold 35 and 43 percent of lots. And some lots are going for well below the low price estimate. At another auction, someone else told me that a case of 1998 Grand Cru Chablis sold for $60. Even though there’s a risk of premature oxidation with that wine, $5 a bottle certainly seems like it’s worth a flier. Such a low selling price indicates that there was no reserve.
While many shops may have locked in higher costs, making them unwilling or unable to discount, some specialty shops do broker private collections too and can have faster turnarounds than auction houses. Provenance is always an issue with mature wine, so feel free to ask where the wines came from.
But some sellers at auction may be eager to liquidate making the secondary market may be the best place for wine deals this fall. Of course, if the global economic malaise continues into next year or beyond, declines in fine wine prices could continue. So you may not want to step in and catch too many falling magnums.
Some upcoming auctions: Zachys, Nov 6-8; Acker, Merrall Nov 7; Christie’s Nov 17 and 21; Sotheby’s Nov 22; Hart Davis Hart Dec 5.
Master of Wine Charles Curtis joined Christie’s auction house this summer as head of the Wine Department in North America. Trained as a chef, he entered the wine trade in 1994 and most recently was with LVMH. I caught up with him via email.
Christie’s Wine Department had $71 million in sales worldwide last year, the bulk coming in Europe. On November 29, they will resume live auctions in Hong Kong. For the complete calendar, see the Christie’s Wine Department web site.
1. How is the financial turmoil affecting the fine wine market?
Like all industry leaders, Christie’s is watchful of the unfolding situation in the financial markets, Read more…
Researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory have taken a break from their usual physics research and turned their attention to combating wine fraud.
Roger Johnston and Jon Warner in Argonne ‘s Vulnerability Assessment Team have developed a cap that can be put in place at the winery to track if the bottle has ever been opened or tampered with.
However, if you thought resistance to screwcaps was high in the realm of fine wine, get a load of this Lojac meets Denver Boot meets car alarm thingy. And just look how it makes your laptop bug out when you connect the two! Full details on the story in their press release. (hat tip: Andrew)
In other wine and technology news circulating today, the e-tongue has resurfaced. But we’ve already wagged our tongues at that one!
In 1985 at Christie’s auction house in London, Kip Forbes–dispatched by his father Malcolm to bring home a bottle of 1787 Bordeaux on the Forbes private jet–finds surprising competition from a then-upstart publisher: Marvin Shanken of the fledgling Wine Spectator. A spectacular bidding war ensues over the bottle that may have belonged to Thomas Jefferson and one of them takes the bottle back to New York in an extra seat on the plane, strapped to a mattress (read the book to discover which one) after winning it for $156,000.
Such is a great scene near the beginning of the fantastic book Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine. Released last month, this page-turning book that reads like fiction has already reached the extended NYT bestseller’s list. It’s a wine book that has a lot of appeal beyond simply wine geeks since the book’s verve derives not from tasting notes but a mystery over whether the bottle that Shanken and Forbes bid on was real or fake. Read more…
A special section on Wine Investment hits newsstands in today’s Financial Times and the enlightened folks on the other side of the pond have put the full contents online. Huzzah!
Even if you aren’t that into wine as an investment, the section offers a lot of bang for the free buck. The lead article by Jancis Robinson is about Hong Kong as an emerging center for wine (as we discussed here with a focus on riesling) and I’d like to return later to some of the other issues raised in other pieces. For now, I thought the round-table with three American collectors, including the “Big Boy,” Rob Rosania (his Salon 1996 strategy we also already discussed), provided a quick observation worth noting.
Older vintages are woefully undervalued is one sentiment that the collectors bring up. I have felt the same way since I bought a beautifully mature 1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo last year for $300, which is a mere fraction of other collectible wines upon release today.
Raymund Tuppatcsh, one of the collectors in the roundtable, says that’s going to change soon. “I think you are going to see a correction to the upside like you’ve never seen – a tripling or quadrupling of prices over the next 18-24 months.” Yikes. Time to buy more wines from our birth years now?
Rob Rosania, a 38 year-old collector aka “Big Boy,” sold off around $5 million of his champagne and still wines at auction a couple of weeks ago. And yet he still remains one of the biggest collectors of champagne around.
This factoid from a recent Bloomberg article piqued my interest: Rosania owns 400 cases of the excellent champagne Salon 1996 (minus the five he sold at auction) out of a total of 5,000 produced. Poking around on the web revealed other sources saying that there were 8,000 cases produced. And these are six-bottle cases that we’re talking about. The champagne retails for $250 – $300 (search for the Salon 1996).
It’s a fascinating strategy for investing in wine. Rosania has somewhere between five and eight percent of this blue chip wine outstanding–and that percentage rises every time a cork of it is popped elsewhere. That’s probably a good percentage of the production to have to really benefit from a future price move yet not control the market entirely. It would be hard to take an equivalent percentage of a first growth Bordeaux wine since the production volumes are higher. All it takes is a big cellar and a cool $700k or so.
Even if the economy stagnates, wine such as this will probably always have buyers. Could it double in value in ten years? Even if it doesn’t Rosania can always have fun popping open the bottles of this fine wine with his saber.
I’ve tried a tasting-sized-pour of the 96 Salon and it is a brilliant champagne. In a wine investing video game, I might be tempted to adopt a similar strategy. If, in some fantasy world, you were going to take ten percent of a wine, which would it be?
Robert Parker goes to China. It doesn’t quite have the same geopolitical impact as Nixon goes to China, but the magnitude for the wine world may be similar as Parker heads there later this month for the first time. Jancis Robinson stopped by earlier this year too. And two big auction houses have resumed wine auctions in Hong Kong this spring after a seven year drought. The removal of the wine tax in Hong Kong has driven a “thirst for top-level wines” in the city “is growing at an exponential rate,” according an auctioneer quoted in Bloomberg.
Apparently Asian buyers are getting much more wine savvy. It wasn’t long ago that they only bought wines with 100 point Parker scores, perhaps a sign of slavish following more than connoisseurship.
But now I am wondering if the locals are waking up to the joys of pairing Riesling with the cuisine. And the quality of German Riesling just keeps getting better and better. Perhaps they now have confidence to venture away from Bordeaux and cult Cali cabs.
Actually, since I am really getting into the sublime pleasure of German Riesling, dry and off-dry, young and mature, the thought of demand from Asia is something of a doomsday scenario for me. The last thing I need is to have investors pile in and run up the price in yet another category of wine!