Wine trading used to be a genteel pastime. Those in the know would buy two cases of a great claret and cellar them carefully in London. Some years later, one case would be sold at auction at a comfortable margin (double) and the second case would be imbibed for free. How times have changed. 'Wine is a globally traded commodity that has outperformed many indices in the last 15 years,' reports Nick Pegna, managing director of Berry Bros & Rudd. 'Ten years ago, buying wines en primeur [from the barrel rather than bottled] was only done by people in the know. Now we have 45,000 customers from around the world all chasing the same stock.' These investors typically start with a minimum budget of HK$100,000, with some sitting on collections worth more than HK$20 million. Wines that are traded form a tight group and, because production rarely increases, a static group, too. It consists of the top 20 or so classed-growth Bordeaux, the top five Burgundies, some vintage champagnes, some vintage ports, the Super Tuscans, single-vineyard wines from Guigal and top vintages from Vega Sicilia and Grange. Is wine speculation unjust, with rising prices putting leading labels beyond the reach of 'normal' wine lovers? This question was put to Prince Robert of Luxembourg, owner of first-growth Chateau Haut-Brion, before a dinner he recently hosted at Gaddi's at The Peninsula. 'We are not trying to be exclusive but that is the reality. Prices will continue to rise because of lack of supply, and will go through the roof in great vintages,' he says, adding that it is only in the past 45 years that even the top chateaux have begun to make a profit. The former Hollywood screenwriter likens wine to caviar and truffles. One doesn't necessarily like to pay through the nose for a shaving of white truffle, he says, but sometimes one makes the decision to do so. Former private banker and now independent wine consultant Pascal Kuzniewski foresees that the group of wines currently speculated on will broaden to include selected Bordeaux second-growths and rising stars in Burgundy. 'Even though I am French and may be a bit chauvinist, you can't get away from Bordeaux and Burgundy,' Kuzniewski says. Such a shift would be slight and attempts to broaden the group further have failed. Jo Purcell, managing director of Farr Vintners (Asia), cites a wine fund established for Australian boutique wines that recently went bankrupt. 'The most important thing not to forget is that wine investment has to be considered as a diversification,' says Kuzniewski. 'Then, you must weigh up your global assets and avoid any unbalanced situation.' While he says investment can bring financial return in the medium- to long-term, he thinks the pleasure and conviviality (and prestige) of maintaining a wine collection cannot be overlooked. 'I am glad to see a lot of empty bottles of top-notch wines in my customers' cellars. A famous saying is, 'We are richer with the bottles we have drunk than with all those located in our cellars.''