If your passion revolves around, say, Burgundy, getting your hands on the finest examples from a widely admired producer can feel a bit like winning the lottery.
But unlike the lottery, it requires more work than luck. Earning the right to an allocation to the finest Burgundy is often the fruit of several years of building up a balanced purchase history with a merchant.
So if you want a case of Anne Gros’ Richebourg Grand Cru, you’d better be prepared to buy her village wines, too.
Not all wine works this way, but in theory it does prevent those with the fattest wallets jumping to the front of the queue. That said, you’ll need a pretty chunky wallet either way to afford the best of Bordeaux, Burgundy and beyond.
Comparisons with other high-end collectibles
Buying a case of the most collectible wine for your cellar is perhaps the vinous equivalent of adding a pristine Porsche 356 or Ferrari 250 GTO to your stable of classic cars, or hanging a Picasso in your house.
Prices can rise over time in some cases. For instance, in August 2018, RM Sotheby’s sold a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO for a world-record $48,405,000, smashing the previous record, which was also set by a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO in 2014.
Later that year, auction house Sotheby’s said a bottle of Romanée-Conti 1945 had become the most expensive wine sold at auction after it fetched $558,000 during a New York sale.
But, as with all investments, it’s a case of ‘buyer beware’ when it comes to expecting collectible wines to rise in value.
The fine wine market bubble burst back in mid-2011. By January 2012, first-growth Château Lafite Rothschild 2008 was valued at just 45% of its peak a year earlier, for example.
The market has since recovered from the lows of 2011 and 2012, although few wines have reached the same values seen at the height of the bubble.
What makes a wine collectible?
Like most other collectibles, the market dynamics are complex. But it’s useful to start with ‘the three Ps‘:
- Production volumes – There are finite supplies of wines from the top estates from particular years, and this ‘rarity’ value can increase as a vintage ages. Also, one reason why top Burgundy commands such high prices is the small production volumes, even when compared to top-end Bordeaux.
- Producer reputation – Wines from producers with the best reputations tend to be the most desirable, but reputations can be built and lost, of course.
- Provenance – Even the best wine in the world will lose its appeal if the case has been opened, or if it has been stored under the stairs for 20 years instead of, say, in the producer’s own cellar.
In addition to the above, the following factors also have a major part to play in how desirable a wine may be to collectors:
- Appellation – Think Musigny rather than Mâcon.
- Vintage – The best rated vintages will command a big premium.
- Limited edition – An extension of vintage and appellation, to some extent, but consider the gold labelling of Angélus 2012 – to celebrate the estate’s promotion in St-Emilion – or the ‘millennium effect’ of Bordeaux 2000.
Before the fine wine market nosedived back in 2011, the most tradeable wines were almost all from Bordeaux. The region accounted for 95% of trades on Liv-Ex.
By 2018, the market had become far more diverse. Bordeaux accounted for around 60% of trades on Liv-ex, while wines from Burgundy, Tuscany, Piedmont, Champagne and the Rhône had all gained bigger slices of the pie.
How do I get into collecting wine?
Collecting wine – particularly if you’re looking for a financial return – is far more nuanced that what we’ve outlined above.
Research is important, as is finding a trusted supplier, and even then you have to be prepared to drink your assets; a reasonable consolation as long as you haven’t bet the house on your cellar’s value.
Patience is a key part of success, and you’ll need to consider storage of your valuable wines.
When we talk about ‘wines for your cellar’, we don’t necessarily mean the cellar in your house. Since modern houses tend to lack cellars, it’s far more common these days for collectors to keep their fine wines ‘in-bond’.
This refers to the professional storage facilities overseen by HMRC in the UK. In return for a small fee per case per annum, the wines are cellared in perfect, constantly monitored, highly secure conditions. Similar facilities are also available in the US, France and elsewhere.
If you remove a case from one of these UK facilities, you will need to pay duty and VAT. UK excise duty currently stands at £26.76 per case of 12, and VAT is payable on the duty plus the original purchase price.
Most reputable wine merchants use these bonded facilities for their own stocks as well as customer reserves and will happily set you up with an account.
You don’t need to spend thousands to get started, either. A minimum spend of around £500 in-bond on a case of 12 bottles (£41.66 per bottle) should get you access to some great producers, although you’ll likely have to pay a lot more for producers’ top bottlings.
One piece of good news, as we approach the third decade of the 21st century, is that there are more world-class wines out there than in the past. See some of our favourite ‘money-no-object’ wines from top producers below.
A selection of the most collectible wines tasted by our experts:
Arranged by region. Please note these wines have been selected due to their collectibility based on the factors outlined above, and not on any form of price metric.