WineChap: Investing in pleasure is the new investing

Dream of starting your own cellar? Here’s how to do it

The City folk I meet at tastings often ask how wine consultancy works. If it’s as nebulous as other forms of consultancy. 

They are predictably interested in the investment side of wine too, an interest piqued by the graphs sharp wine brokers are wont to wave around that show ‘82 Bordeaux rocketing skywards against gold’s more leisurely ascent and the FTSE’s flat line.

How it begins…

Over a long lunch at The Ivy we devise a cellar plan for the next 5-10 years. Realistically, a starting commitment of £10,000 per annum is advisable, £5000 minimum but the more the merrier.

Nothing is ever bought in single cases: speculative cases x2; things you really like x3 or more, thus enabling you to sell stock that performs particularly well back on to the market to fund more purchases without feeling ashamed that you hocked your one case of Pontet Canet 09 without even trying a bottle. 

A buy three to keep two policy is common.

“A cellar is not just for expensive wines. That case of recently purchased £15 per bottle 2011 Chablis will taste better in 3-4 years”

Your cellar is likely to have Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Piedmont, Tuscany and perhaps Champagne in strength with Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Rheingau and other gems from Italy and Austria, The Loire and Alsace represented.

New world selections from Stellenbosch, Hunter Valley, Yarra, Barossa, Martinborough, Central Otago, Napa, Sonoma, Oregon, Mendoza and Colchagua will appear in varying degrees according to your personal interests and recent holidays, plus rarities and oddities from The Jura, Hungary, Turkey, Croatia, Greece, Portugal and the rest of Spain.

You’ll have some Port, Sherry, Madeira, Sauternes and Vin Santo to round things out.   

A cellar is not just for very expensive wines. That case of recently purchased £15 per bottle 2011 Chablis will taste better in 3-4 years, while the ‘06 you judiciously bought four years ago should now be drinking with a complexity worth the money you paid at the time.   

Down the line…

In 10 years time you’ll no longer be buying wine as the cellar is now paying for itself. For having ascertained your favourite producers, you will have multiple vintages of your favourite wines and be exchanging two cases of the 2012 for four of 2022 for the same price.

I won’t really sell you wine any more, I’ll just shuffle cases around – new in return for old, occasionally leaning on you to give me a case of the now absurdly overpriced 2015 Sassicaia, (Tuscany having overtaken Bordeaux as leading economy Brazil’s investment wine of choice) to flog to my latest plutocrat client.

Hopefully less occasionally you’ll invite me to dinner to enjoy the fruits of our labours, and I’ll get to tuck in to grand bottles I previously only tried at trade and press tastings with other paunchy, red-nosed merchants and nerdy wine bloggers.   

“In Bordeaux we divide years into keepers; 2005, 2009, 2010 and drinkers; 2002, 2007, 2011. The latter three are more dilute, lacking the former’s intensity, concentration and complexity”

Regarding your concern about understanding vintages, I’d say this: “Hugh Johnson famously wrote that vintage is not important any more as wine is always at least passable thanks to advances in wine-making BUT this is a good thing. Now we buy the vintages whose overall style and character we prefer. Burgundy is the best example – 2001 for terroir lovers, 2002 for Pinot lovers, 2003 for extreme ripeness, for example.  

In Bordeaux we divide years into keepers; 2005, 2009, 2010 and drinkers; 2002, 2007, 2011. The latter three are more dilute, lacking the former’s intensity, concentration and complexity and are considered lesser vintages lacking as they do the same potential for longevity and thus the ability to develop as complexly.

They will be cheaper but are categorically NOT bad vintages in the way that so much was from Bordeaux in the 1970s.

Other vintages; 2004, 2006, 2008, are somewhere in the middle. The best wines from these offer good investment returns also. They are not “great” vintages, so release prices are not as silly as the afore-mentioned 2009 and 2010, but they do still get good scores. So five years down the line – when prices have skyrocketed for the 2009/10 due to the boundless energy from emerging markets for the 100 point Parker wines as status symbols – they look like relative bargains at 60-70% the price, but with a 92 point rather than 94 point score.

Ultimately, the earlier you start building the cellar, the sooner it pays dividends. 

Buy your wine like art, with emotional engagement. If a future increase in price outweighs your appreciation, then cash in your chips and buy more or something else. If your wines don’t make quite the returns you hoped for, then your worst case scenario is having a cellar stocked full of great wines and eager and appreciative friends queueing up for dinner invites.

 

 

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