Eyes on Italy: fine wine investment

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Antinori, Guado barells

Guado al Tasso, Marchesi Antinori

With interest in Italian wine peaking, Private Account Manager Chris Pollington looks at the wine-broking market and gives his thoughts on where it is wise to invest next

The vast majority of wines for investment continue to come from France, with Bordeaux still marking the backbone of that range, now increasingly supported by Champagne and Burgundy – as Bordeaux becomes more expensive and investors seek to diversify their portfolios. Further diversification, beyond France’s borders, is gaining in popularity and Italy is the country that the market is increasingly looking towards.

The first Italian wines that investors tend to look at are those wines which remind them most of France, namely, much-coveted, Cabernet-based Super Tuscans.

Of these, Sassicaia, the original Super Tuscan, first released with the 1968 vintage, from the coastal town of Bolgheri, is perhaps the wine with the best track-record for investment. Most vintages that are ten years old or older are selling for £900+ per case of six in-bond, while release prices still remain the right side of £600 per case of six in-bond, thanks to sensible pricing policies at the estate. Ornellaia – the second great Cabernet-based wine to be released from Bolgheri, some seventeen years later – also has a similar record, with older vintages going for circa £800 or higher per six-bottle case.

The biggest name in Chianti Classico – Antinori – is another one to watch. The Antinori family have been involved in the production of wine for over six centuries, consulted on the setting up of Sassicaia and launched their own ever-popular Tignanello in 1971. A blend of the Chianti native grape, Sangiovese, with 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, it is grown in a Chianti Classico vineyard. Tignanello was priced very reasonably for many years, but recent and indeed mature vintages have been creeping up in value and it is now also considered a worthy investment, as well as being a very popular wine with drinkers. Antinori’s Cabernet based-wine Solaia, from the same vineyard, made with the mirror blend of 80 percent Cabernet and 20 percent Sangiovese, commands a higher price both on release and on the market. It has done particularly well in the last few years on the secondary market.

Yet to take the market by storm is Antinori’s Bolgheri red – the Guado al Tasso, a Cabernet-based Bordeaux-style blend first produced in 2007. With consistently good notes and scores from the critics over the last few years, we watch eagerly, wondering if this could well be the next wine to become the darling of the market…

Further south, Brunello di Montalcino remains popular among both drinkers and collectors, with the likes of Biondi-Santi, Soldera and Cerbaiona all increasing in price exponentially.

Away from the Super Tuscans, the great names of Barolo and Barbaresco continue to do well, with the wines of Conterno, Gaja, Sandrone, Rinaldi and Bartolo Mascarello all looking favourable, especially, recently, the latter. A special mention too must go to the wines of the recently-deceased Italian winemaking legend, Bruno Giacosa, whose passing may well trigger even more interest in the great wines made under his name. He was part of a new wave of winemakers in the region –and was a perfectionist and an icon in many people’s eyes.

Looking to the future, it’s difficult to know where the interest of the investor will next fall. Surely the great Taurasi reds from the oft’ dubbed “Barolo of the South” Aglianico grape variety, in the southern region of Campania, must be due some recognition for their complexity and longevity. The great 1968 Taurasi Riserva, Mastroberardino, from my birth year, is reported to still be doing well at fifty. I hope I’m in as good shape when I reach that milestone, later this year.

You can find tailored advice on building your own collection of wine, investment, or selling with our Cellar Plan.

Category: Italian Wine

What were you doing in 1965?

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Le Haut Lieu 1965, Domaine Gaston Huet

Domaine Gaston Huet

Occasionally a bottle tasted takes on greater significance, becoming something much more than “just” a good drink. Here Tatiana Humphreys, from our London Shop team, recounts one such liquid encounter

Recently I participated in a special blind tasting. A group of us with two glasses, both filled with honey-coloured liquid, one a little clearer than the other. I could go on about the merits of both wines and wax lyrical on how the two contrasted and converged – but I won’t. I want to focus on just one of the wines, the one that piqued my interest.

The resounding aroma on the nose was mushroom – specifically, fresh cèpes foraged from a field. The nose was intensely savoury; any notes of fruit were overridden by umami. Although this was a dry wine, sticky honey swirled out of the glass. Quince and red apples dominated my first sip, the latter a flavour synonymous with Loire Chenin Blanc. But the fruits weren’t fresh, but almost slightly rotten.

Before you all turn away in disgust, this is not necessarily a negative perception – there is something oddly appealing about decaying fruit, a toxic sweetness that repulses and intrigues. We applaud Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit even though the fruit is infected with wormholes. What’s to say we can’t enjoy the rotting fruit flavour in wine? The bracing acidity, which separates Chenin Blanc from its compatriots, was still very much alive. This lifted the wine and I found myself thanking it for preserving such a magnificent thing.

As the acidity and apple signaled, this was Chenin Blanc from the Loire, Vouvray in fact. But it wasn’t just any Vouvray – it was Domaine Huet’s Le Haut-Lieu Sec from 1965.

Unlike the region and the domaine’s sweeter styles, this wine isn’t easygoing, and not one for the faint-hearted, but I doubt anyone could find it boring. It is interesting, memorable, undoubtedly impressive – and delicious.

I was overwhelmed by the age of the wine, by how much time had passed and I wanted to find out what was happening in the world in 1965, when this wine began its journey, as grapes in a single vineyard in rural Vouvray.

Le Haut Lieu 1965

Domaine Huet Vouvray, Le Haut Lieu Sec

January 1965 started with monumental mourning, as Winston Churchill passed away. His state funeral was one of the largest the world has seen. More deaths followed, as Malcolm X was assassinated in February. The Sound of Music was released to great acclaim and George Harrison had his tonsils removed. Jeff Bird took Clapton’s place in The Yardbirds, Satisfaction and Ticket to Ride were just a few of the hits to be released; mere pawns in the battle for chart domination between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

But these facts seem somewhat trivial beside the larger struggles that prevailed: the vintage saw the beginning of US escalation in Vietnam and the crescendo of civil unrest in the States. Martin Luther King Jr led the second march from Selma as US helicopters flew over Saigon. The violence and strife endured by members of the Civil Rights Movement finally resulted in the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. This was a year of protests, rebellion and war – but also freedom.

These are such monumental events that have changed the course of history, and how we live our lives now. Analysing this wine in its broader context gives the wine a background; for me, set in this wider, global scene, Le Haut-Lieu sings even louder. Tasting a bottle like this brings everything into focus. What a wine, and what a time!

Category: Miscellaneous

Faking it: the dark side of wine

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Bill Koch

Bill Koch

Our in-house authentication expert Philip Moulin examines the dark side of wine, digging up stories on first-class forgeries and exploring what makes wine an easy mark

Zhen Wang Huang is not a name, I suspect, that will mean much to readers of No.3. To his brash, wealthy, West Coast friends, he was sometimes known as Dr Conti, but – to the world at large – this young, mild-mannered, Indonesia-born wine collector went by the name of Rudy Kurniawan. You still may not have heard of him, but these days, to discover that you have a “Rudy bottle”, or worse a “Rudy case”, in your treasured cellar is enough to send most wine collectors into paroxysms of despair. If, at some stage in your wine buying life, you have unwittingly bought a Rudy bottle, you have almost certainly been sold a pup.

In December 2013, the staid, traditional foundations of the fine wine market were resoundingly shaken by the news that Rudy Kurniawan had been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment by a New York Court. His crime, according to the American legal system, was “mail and wire fraud”, but this doesn’t do justice to the scale of his wrongdoing. Experts are unsure of the exact value, but it is estimated that between 2002 and his eventual arrest in 2012, Rudy sold $100 million worth of fake wine.

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Category: Miscellaneous

Forward drinking: Chinese wine?

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Winemaker Lenz Moser at Château Changyu Moser XV, Ningxia, China

Winemaker Lenz Moser at Château Changyu Moser XV, Ningxia, China

With Chinese New Year fast approaching and celebrations for Year of the Dog imminent, we turn our heads to look at all things Chinese wine, and, as Britain’s oldest wine merchant, speak to Lenz Moser, winemaker at China’s oldest winery – someone who believes China will be the future main driver of global wine production.

In 2018, Chinese wine continues to gently entice and beguile wine lovers on a number of levels – from the distinct styles, grapes, provinces and winemakers who make them, the mystery that surrounds this area of the wine growing world continues to slowly unravel. Under the glamorous wine blanket that cloaks Spain and until recently, France and Italy, it may be surprising to note that China’s area under vine is now the second largest in the world. The country’s own shop shelves and restaurant cellars host leading brands like Great Wall, Dynasty and Changyu, often seamlessly served alongside the likes of Ch. Pétrus and Domaine de la Romanée Conti, and, as the number of vines planted and investment in the Chinese wine industry burgeons, their offerings are increasingly penetrating across the rest of the world.

Most winemaking regions in China are located North of the Yangtze River. Some of the very best examples of Chinese wine come from the inland region of Ningxia, likened by some to the Uco Valley in Argentina, for its dry desert-like climate and high altitude. The Helan Mountains in the west protect the vines from harsh desert winds, though the height at which the wine here is grown means that in the winter, when temperatures drop to as low as -20˚C, vines are buried beneath the soil to keep them warm. Star wineries in the Ningxia region include Silver Heights, whose winemaker Emma Gao has been much revered in the press. Original ‘demonstration’ winery Helan Quingxue, LVMH’s Domaine Chandon, and Legacy Peak are others also making headlines.

China has been growing grapes since 128BC, but it wasn’t until 1986 that the first international grapes were planted. Most of these are classic Bordeaux varieties but some wineries like Kanaaan (also in Ningxia) are producing Riesling, and the flourishing thirst for sparkling wine in China (hence Domaine Chandon’s interest) means that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are also growing in planting popularity. Cabernet Gernischt, found in many of the blends, is the local name given to what we would recognise elsewhere as Carmenère.

In 2011 a Chinese Cabernet blend from the Helan Qingxue winery won Decanter Magazine’s International Trophy for best Red Bordeaux Varietal over £10. In 2013, Berry Bros. & Rudd were the first major UK retailer to take on a permanent listing of Chinese wines – a range from Château Changyu Moser XV in Ningxia – whose owners, the Changyu Pioneer Wine Company, first founded the company in 1892. Why were they listed? “The usual strict criteria for selection were applied, and the wines were good enough.” For a traditional merchant “it showed that we were prepared to be proactive and creative in our wine selections” says Mark Pardoe MW, Berry Bros. & Rudd Wine Buying Director for the UK. The range includes a white wine made, unusually, from Cabernet Sauvignon.

Château Changyu Moser XV, Ningxia, China

Château Changyu Moser XV, Ningxia, China

The excitement for Chinese wine is no better echoed by Château Changyu Moser XV’s winemaker Lenz Moser, dubbed one of the country’s best, and whose eponymous Château for the Changyu group was opened in 2011. Moser, who has consulted for Changyu since 2005 started making wine here on a permanent basis in 2015 when he was given free reign by the owners to take on full responsibility of these wines right from the grape through to the end consumer. “China is the future” he says, it is “the single biggest market in the world, and the most dynamic environment I can think of.” He comments on the great potential as a wine making nation in the future, and his own role in guiding his particular Château to be China’s number one. Changyu has other wineries in the country, but this one in Ningxia is unique. We have “3,000 hours of sunshine, 1,110m of elevation – leading to warm days and cool nights” and a water supply coming from the Yellow River, notes Lenz. Add to that his own Austrian pedigree of expertise and the result is wine of top, international quality. Moser cites the region as close-knit, where an open minded climate exists between officials and other wineries, and where the door is open from them to learn from each other. Here, “there is a global spirit for promoting the wines of Ningxia.” He finishes by saying how he expects us to hear “a lot more” about this region in the near future. Perhaps, with the foundations that have already been laid here, and the new Year of the Dog symbolising luck, this might be the year for Chinese wine to really show us its shine.

A selection of Berry Bros. & Rudd’s Chinese wines will be on taste in the Enomatic machines at our London shop, 63 Pall Mall, throughout Chinese New Year, where you can also find 10% off Chinese Wine until Wednesday 28th February (in-store only). Happy New Year!

Category: Miscellaneous,New World