The Wine Guy

These days expensive wines are sold for investment, not consumption – and that’s a shame, writes Guy Chatfield

THE Bordeaux region’s seemingly invincible status as top dog in the investment and auction side of the wine world is apparently now on the slide.

It was reported last week in the wine press that the famed auction house, Sotheby’s, saw that the thirst for the critically acclaimed 2009 and 2010 vintages was not quite as unquenchable as in previous years.
The punters who go in for this level of wine have not been quick to splash the cash for a couple of years now – since the economic downturn began in 2008 – but last week saw nearly 20% of the lots up for grabs remain in the possession of the vendor.
There were some stand-out performers; names and vintages that continue to woo the oligarchs and billionaires – two dozen-bottle hauls of Chateau Petrus 1982, fetching £44,650 each, for example. To paraphrase Mark Twain, ‘reports of (silly priced wine at auction)’s death are greatly exaggerated’.
Having said that, the appetite for this kind of kit remains, at least on this side of the Atlantic, on the wane.
An auction in the New York hall of the same firm, however, saw 98% of the lots sold and this apparently was driven by the Far East.
Asian-based buyers were particularly prominent at the top end of the auction, taking seven of the top ten lots by value where trophy wines still seem to be all the rage – a super-rare three-litre Jeroboam of Hermitage La Chapelle 1978 from the Rhone valley sold for £8460.
In reality these wines will probably go into a bonded warehouse somewhere and continue to be traded without ever being poured into a glass, such is the current psychology of those who have the money to buy at this level.
The reason that I bring this to your attention is the sadness that the thrill of collecting these gems now seems to outweigh the desire to drink them; see Sir Alex Ferguson selling the 5000 bottles he has assembled (with a pre-sale estimated value of £3 million) go under the hammer later this month as an example of this.
Not like the old days, I hasten to add, where I have it on good authority (when I met one of them recently!) that the rock and roll gentry were quite happy to have tucked into crazy-expensive vintages of the top chateaux. In the mid-eighties, the Bordeaux 1961s and top cuvee Champagnes were drunk like water.
Oh I wish I’d been at one of those parties!