Class of 2009
Last week, I wrote about the best wines from the 2009 vintage that I sampled at the Bordeaux en primeur (wine futures) tastings, which took place earlier this month. This annual event sees buyers from all around the world descend on Bordeaux in France to taste the new vintage, whose grapes were picked, pressed and fermented only months before, and which are still ageing in their barrels.
It takes some skill to taste these wines and predict what they'll be like in a year or two, after they've been bottled and released. But it gives buyers the opportunity to secure an allotment for some wines with large demand but limited supply.
Not everyone buys these wines solely for quality - some people see them as an investment. Bordeaux prices are usually at their lowest when purchased en primeur; the price goes up once the wines are bottled, and if you buy a top vintage (as this 2009 seems to be), the wines can fetch top dollar many years down the line. The en primeur release price of the 2008 vintage of first growth Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild has already risen by close to 80 per cent, and these wines won't be bottled for another year.
The wines I'm recommending for investment purposes are a mix of the recognisable, big names (which always sell well), and up-and-coming chateaux. In this second category, the 2008 en primeur prices show zero or little increase on their prices now, but are likely to sell for more when bottled next year.
Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac (first growth)
This wine has more than proved its worth as an investment over the past few years - even during the financial collapse of September 2008, its dip was more shallow and its rise faster than any other wine. According to trading company Liv-ex, the average rise of Lafite for all vintages from 2000, measured by the difference between the initial price and then three years later, stands at 54 per cent. The 'second wine' (using grapes considered not perfect enough for the main wine) from the same property, Carruades de Lafite, has proved even more successful (a staggering 133 per cent rise over three years), and the 2009 is likely to be no different.
2008 release price (all prices refer to a case of 12) GBP3,590 (HK$42,700), now GBP6,000
Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac (first growth)
Rumours suggest that Mouton Rothschild is due to follow Lafite in terms of price rises. The average rise over three years since the 2000 vintage has been 17.9 per cent, but this is relatively modest and offers plenty of room for development. Mouton shares the Rothschild name (the two properties are owned by cousins, but have no direct connection), which is now an international symbol of luxury. A Chinese artist is reportedly due to create the 2008 label (the identity of the artist will only be revealed when it is bottled next year).
2008 release price GBP1,790, now GBP3,200
Chateau Haut Brion, Pessac Leognan (first growth)
Haut Brion is the most difficult of the first growths to taste en primeur, as the wine can be notoriously subtle at this stage. Perhaps this is why its price rises have been slower on the secondary market (17.7 per cent average over three years). But this could be good news for the 2009 vintage, Nick Pegna, director of Berry Bros & Rudd Hong Kong, thinks. 'New investors tend to follow the crowd, but the more savvy and seasoned, of which there are plenty in Hong Kong, look at other things such as pricing and performance over a number of years. On that scale, Haut Brion starts to look substantially undervalued.'
2008 release price GBP1,860, now GBP2,500
Chateau Petrus, Pomerol
Now vinified by Olivier Berrouet, who has taken over from his father, Jean-Claude, this 100 per cent merlot has amazing exuberance in 2009, but all tightly controlled, with pure fruit and softly worked tannins. Always one of the most sought-after wines in Bordeaux, and priced accordingly. Investment potential certainly, but only for the lucky few.
2008 release price GBP15,000, now GBP20,000
Chateau Cos d'Estournel, St Estephe
This wine, from director Jean-Guillaume Prats, has been subject to serious investment over recent years, and now boasts a spectacular steel-and-glass winery. Its style was divisive at the 2009 en primeurs, with some critics claiming it was too modern. But division creates interest, so you can expect it to start making waves on the auction circuit.
2008 release price GBP765, now GBP765
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac Leognan
A wine that is making an increasing impact on the Chinese market, owned by Daniel and Florence Cathiard. Overall, the Pessac Leognan wines performed very strongly in 2009 (this is the same appellation as first growth Haut Brion, so in theory should offer investors plenty of potential). This might be the year that they really come into their own.
2008 release price GBP350, now GBP360
Chateau Palmer, Margaux
Merlot grapes have been planted on gravelly (typically used for cabernet sauvignon) terroir at this Margaux chateau since before the second world war, which goes a long way to explaining the balance of elegance and delicacy with power and exotic sumptuousness. Palmer has long had a loyal, smart following, and is a safe investment. A great year for the second wine Alter Ego, also.
2008 release price GBP999, now GBP1,176
Chateau Angelus, St Emilion
Another wine that has captured the imagination of the Chinese market in recent years, and with good reason - it has plenty of personality, with its high percentage (47 per cent) of the cabernet franc grape. It is also visually very striking (its distinctive label graced the James Bond film, Casino Royale) and owners Jean Bernard Grenie and Hubert de Bouard are regular visitors to Asia.
2008 release price GBP720, now GBP720
Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac
Lynch Bages has a huge following in Asia, and continues to be interesting for investors. The 2009 is a supremely confident wine that will need time to develop - perfect for cellaring. The average rise of this chateau for vintages from 2000, measured again from the initial price and three years on, is a healthy 23.7 per cent.
2008 release price GBP360, now GBP465
Chateau Beychevelle, St Julien
The St Julien appellation was probably the most consistent across Bordeaux in the 2009 vintage. Beychevelle has developed a steady reputation, and this looks set to continue. It's not likely to offer spectacular rewards, but will certainly offer steady ones, and it's a safe bet (average of 17 per cent returns over three years). 2008 release price GBP264, now GBP270
Jane Anson is the Bordeaux correspondent for Decanter magazine, and author of the Bordeaux chapters of Opus Vino (to be published in October 2010, Dorling Kindersley)