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Wine Appreciation (August 25, 2010)

If you had bought a case of Château Latour 1966, a First Growth red Bordeaux, in November 2006 it would have cost about $6,000. In November 2008 that case was valued at $8,500. Not all wines appreciate as handsomely as this, but investment in wine can be as good as gold – or better.

There is a subtle distinction between collecting wine and investing in wine. The two pursuits need not be mutually exclusive (you can sell off a case or two you've held for a few years and realize a healthy profit in order to buy more, thereby subsidizing your wine drinking). Collectors will usually have their wine in their own home or within easy access, while investors may never see their wine at all. They will have it stored off-site under secure ideal conditions and trade it like a commodity when the time is right.

Investing in fine wine has proven, over the last 20 years, to provide better returns than most equity and fixed income indices, including the TSX. If you hold a well-chosen wine portfolio for ten years or more you are likely to see a growth of 10–12% per annum. Even in the short term you can reap rich rewards if you choose wisely.

With an Eye on Profit

You can follow the wine market just as you can the stock market, by tracking the London-based Live-Ex Fine Wine Index ( which follows the price movement of "100 of the most sought-after wines for which there is a strong secondary market." This is an electronic exchange serviced by more than 200 wine merchants and professional traders. The wines they quote are mainly Bordeaux reds (which makes up over 90% of the wine market) but the index also follows wines from Burgundy, the Rhône, Champagne and Italy. At the time of writing the year-to-date change was 9.54 percent, a much healthier return than the stock market.

For serious returns choose only blue chip wines in great vintages that other collectors want. There is only a limited supply of these wines and the number of bottles available decreases with each passing year. American wine writer Robert Parker's numbers predict a good buy. A Parker 100-point rating is guaranteed to send the price sky-rocketing.

These best investment bets, if well cellared, are:

First Growth Bordeaux

Château d'Yquem

Grands Crus Burgundies (red and white)

Barolos and Barbarescos from top producers

Spain's Vega Sicilia

Super Tuscans (e.g., Sassicaia, Solaia, Tignanello)

California superstars (Screaming Eagle, Colgin Cellars, Harlan Estate)

Vintage Port

German Riesling Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese

Australia's Grange

But for the dedicated wine enthusiast, wine is not only a commodity but also a hedonistic pleasure and there is a special reward for nurturing a fine red wine from infancy to its point of maturity. And the fact that that $50 bottle you chose so carefully and laid down seven years ago is now worth $350 is an added bonus.

What, then, do you look for in terms of wines that will age gracefully? The secret is high-tannin wines. The major tannic varieties are:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon (especially from cooler regions like Bordeaux)
  • Cabernet-Merlot blends (Meritage)
  • Nebbiolo-based wines (Barolo/Barbaresco)
  • Pinot Noir (Red Burgundy)
  • Sangiovese (Italy)
  • Syrah/Shiraz (Rhône, Australia)
  • Tempranillo (Spain)

Cabernet Sauvignon is king when it comes to tannins, because of its small berry size. This means that the ratio of skin to pulp is high, and since tannins are concentrated in the skins as well as the pits and stalks, the resulting wine will be higher in tannin than, say, Merlot, which has a larger berry size.

While some white wines can benefit from cellaring for up to a decade, most should be consumed within a year of their vintage date. The exceptions are domaine-bottled white Burgundy (never inexpensive); Chenin Blanc from the Loire; Rieslings from cool-climate regions such as Germany, Austria and Ontario; some Rioja whites and sweet dessert wines (sugar is a great preservative) with good acidity (for example, Sauternes, Tokaji, Icewine); and vintage-dated champagne.

Fortified wines such as port, sherry, Madeira and Marsala are the "no-brainer" cellar choices. They have inherent longevity because of their higher alcohol content (20 to 22 percent by volume), which acts as a preservative along with the residual sugar and acidity.        

If I were beginning a collection of red wines to drink in ten to fifteen years time my top dozen choices would include some of these producers (avoiding the really expensive First Growths, Romanée-Conti, Penfolds Grange, etc., unless you're investing):

  • Red Bordeaux – Lynch-Bages, Léoville-Las-Cases, Cos d'Estournel, Pichon-Longueville Lalande
  • Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – Caymus, Mayacamas, Heitz, Stag's Leap Cellars
  • Red Burgundy – Nicolas Potel, Leroy, Armand Rousseau, Comte de Vogüé
  • Rhône – Chave, Chapoutier, Guigal, Domaine de Beaucastel
  • Super Tuscans – Sassicaia, Solaia, Ornellaia, Massetto
  • Barolo – Ceretto, Giacomo Conterno, Bruno Giacosa, Domenico Clerico
  • Spanish reds - Alvaro Palacio, Muga, Marques de Murrieta, Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia
  • Portuguese reds - Alves de Sousa, Barca Velha, Neipoort, Quinta do Vale Meão
  • Australian reds –Vasse Felix, Henschke, Jim Barry, Peter Lehmann
  • New Zealand reds – Felton Road, Ata Rangi, Craggy Range, Church Road
  • South African reds – Kanonkop, Vergelegen, Thelema, Meerlust
  • Chile – Seña, Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta, Almaviva, Casa Silva




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