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Liquid Assets – The B Beyond Cellar

Wine investment has become one of the most significant alternative markets and now millions are spent annually securing allocations of the most rare and rated Chateaux. Bordeaux dominates the Fine Wine market (85% of top London merchant Berry Bros & Rudd’s £250million turnover in 2011), its longevity in good vintages, the quantities available and its unrivalled Blue Chip status ensuring its no. 1 position for investors. Brokers turn up to boardrooms with the same old chart in their presentation to potential clients – showing, over a 10 year period, the FTSE looking forlorn, Gold steady but not spectacular, and the price of Bordeaux rocketing skyward like a Champagne cork. A closer look at the indices should indicate this refers specifically to the ’82 vintage with 1990 being used as a slightly less dramatic second example. Interestingly the vintages ’81, ’84, ’87 and ’91 – uniformly poor years are never used as would paint a very different picture.

Although traditionally the preserve of a cadre of European and American connoisseurs, increasing interest from Eastern collectors over the last decade has meant that the Asian market is now the most significant for Bordeaux. A less solid bet for investors (given its relative fragility and more esoteric nature) and thus traditionally the preserve of specialist collectors only, Burgundy is now catching the eye of the Orient. As Bordeaux previously, this interest will cause a rise in prices, even more marked because of the considerably smaller quantities of top wines produced from the premium domaines. This may usher in a more widespread change to the landscape of wines in the East as the softer tannins of Pinot Noir are a much more sensible match to a number of South East Asian cuisines. Indeed – a Chinese client of mine always has Domaine Romanee Conti La Tache with Peking Duck on his birthday, claiming it is the perfect food and wine pairing. The Rhone may well be next (the esteem in which the iconic wines from Chapoutier, Chave and Guigal are held by pre-eminent critic Robert Parker, giving them ready appeal) and already some are turning to Italy – to the wines of Barolo, Montalcino and Bolgheri.

The conclusion therefore is that being able to afford these exclusive top wines will soon no longer be enough to ensure an allocation. The ever- increasing interest of the global elite in wine, whether for investment, prestige, entertaining, genuine passion or a combination of all factors, means the always limited availability of these finite commodities is a bigger impediment to ownership than price. Opportunities to put together a cellar of the world’s greatest wines are diminishing so to give B Beyond readers a head start, below are the must have wines of the last century. I have concentrated unapologetically on the great reds of France and used as a guide the ratings of the influential Wine Advocate and Fine Wine to help compile them (all scored 98+ out of 100). I have largely excluded boutique wineries from California and Australia because, however impressive they may be, at a dinner party, it’s unlikely more than one other person will have heard of them and part of the pleasure in drinking and sharing fine wine is ensuring everyone appreciates the privilege of doing so.

This first selection picks the best wines from 1811-1989 and only includes those that have still been pleasurable to tasters within the last five years. Wines become increasingly fragile with age and there are never guarantees that all will be in condition still, hence the adage – with old wines there is no such thing as a good vintage, just good bottles. In the next edition I will cover the vintages of the 90’s and also suggest some smaller producers worth considering and in the last B Beyond of 2012 the top wines from the previous decade will be listed. However for those who cannot wait so long – WineChap’s Premier Crew, our invitation only private wine concierge service, may be able to provide further information and assistance.

Tom Harrow

Full article and wines selection published in the Spring 2012 edition of B Beyond magazine.

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