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A Costly Cellar

Investing in wine is serious business. A look at some of the rare and expensive labels in the world
Priya Kumari Rana | Print Edition: November 15, 2020
A Costly Cellar

Wine can fetch its buyers more money than gold, art, or vintage cars. They offer stable returns year-on-year and rarely go down in value. At the recent Christie's July 28 sale for the Finest and Rarest Wines and Spirits in London, a cache of some of the world's most delectable red Burgundies was the biggest highlight, along with of course the top Bordeaux and champagnes.

The Burgundy Brigade: The lot that has fetched the highest bid during the July sale in London - Euro 183,750 - is a case of six magnums (a 1.5-litre bottle) of Henri Jayer's Cros Parantoux 1996. Henri Jayer, a revered French winemaker who passed away in 2006 (and whose name is on par with the likes of the legendary monk Dom Perignon), started producing wines (made from the pinot noir grape) in the Bourgogne region of France - what we now call Burgundy. The vineyard used to produce his Cros Parantoux Premier Cru was tiny, but the result is among the best in the world. The bottles are now a rarity.

Burgundy wines are mostly influenced by their terroir, or a sense of place. Tasting Burgundies is like "tasting the place". Also, winemakers from this region have been perfecting their grapes for centuries. The quality of grapes and their propensity to ripen even in the most difficult vintages - the wine made in a particular year - add to the price. "The six magnums of the Henri Jayer, Cros Parantoux 1996 were fun to auction," says Charles Foley, Wine Specialist and Auctioneer at Christie's. "Bids from across the world prove the massive interest for the rarest Burgundies."

French winery Domaine Armand Rousseau produces Burgundy wines that are "sleek, attractive, and evocative", according to Foley. This is no surprise, considering Armand Rousseau has occupied the number one slot in the 2019 British wine exchange Liv-Ex's Power 100 list (the Liv-ex 100 Fine Wine Index gives the prices of 100 of the most in-demand wines that will find a secondary market). What collectors have gone for are the Grand Cru (the highest level of classification of Appelation d'Origine Controllee from Burgundy, and seven of Armand Rousseau's 11 wines qualify as Grand Cru) and Premier Cru, and vintages (a vintage is the year in which the grapes are harvested) from 2005 and 2009. (The vintages of Armand Rousseau's Chambertin - 2001-2016 -that have been in the market for two years, have fetched 25 per cent annual returns.) Even Armand Rousseau's lesser-known Cru such as Mazis-Chambertin (around Euro 1,175 for three bottles) and Lavaux Saint-Jacques are also among the most sought after.

No mention of Burgundy would be complete without its top seller, and probably the most expensive wine in the world - the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, vineyards near the French village of Vosne-Romanee. "It's the most sought-after producer at our auctions," says Foley. (For example, a set of six bottles of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti 1999 sold for Euro 120,000 in 2019.) "Top producers with the Grand Cru and Premier Cru parcels are the wines to look out for - just make sure the bottles have good fill levels and solid corks."

Other Grand Cru Burgundies that cause a stir are the Domaine Leroy, which has had an exciting season. (In 2017, 12 bottles of Domaine Leroy, Richebourg, 1995 sold for Euro 36,000.) And this year, three bottles of the 2005 Musigny, a vintage from the seven hectares of Grand Cru by the Domaine-Comte Georges de Vogue, fetched an incredible Euro 73,500. "Dujac, Vogue, Roumier, Liger-Belair, Mortet, and Mugnier are the Burgundy producers to look out for," says Foley.

Bordeaux Is Forever: A favourite that never goes out of style is the omnipotent Bordeaux, which normally makes up around 60 per cent of Christie's sales. "Bordeaux has always represented the majority of our sales since Michael Broadbent, Master of Wine, began the wine department in 1966 (he passed away in March this year)," says Foley. "This is simply because production levels are higher in Bordeaux and the En Primeur (newly produced and made available) system of sales means there is a more ready supply of cases in quantity around the world." The first growth wines are "always in demand, in particular Mouton-Rothschild" famed for its quality winemaking and collectible art labels. "In London this year we sold many cases of the 1982 Mouton-Rothschild for Euro 11,637 a dozen," he says of the seminal vintage year - 1982 - in Bordeaux. Other top Bordeaux vintages to look out for are: 2016, 2015, 2010, 2009, 2005, 2003, 2001, 1996, 1995, 1990, 1989, and 1988. "In good condition, the 1961, 1959, and 1945 are exciting finds!" says Foley. Another surefire winner in red wine is the Chateau Latour, which is known to make very few cases a year - just around 20,000. "Latour makes exceptional Bordeaux, polished, vibrant and rich," says Foley. "The Grand Vin (made from very old vines) and Les Forts de Latour always do well in Christie's auctions and buyers love to find older vintages in our catalogues, which they can then compare with the more recent vintage releases from the Chateau."

The Best In One's Cellar

As a discerning collector, what should be the top 10 wines in one's cellar? "I would want Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, Chianti, German Riesling, cult Napa Cab (Cabernet Sauvignon), Sauternes, Rioja, South African Chenin, and the Penfolds range of wines and champagnes!" says Foley. Say you're a fan of California's Napa Valley wines - if the trend of Bordeaux producers buying parcels of land in Napa Valley at the same price of land in Bordeaux, France is anything to go by - Foley suggests top producers like Screaming Eagle (celebrated wine critic Robert Parker gave the 1997 vintage of this 'cult', low-production winery a 100 out of 100 on his now famous Robert Parker wine score), Harlan Estate, Sine Qua Non, Robert Mondavi, Stag's Leap, and Ridge Vineyards, which have frequently appeared in lots during his years at the auction house.

"Also, it's common to see interest in back vintages of wines from winemakers who have passed away, such as Henri Jayer, Henri-Frederic Roch, Auguste Clape, and Anne-Claude Leflaive," says Foley.

And if it's champagne that your heart desires, the Grande Marque (the most elite champagne maisons in the Champagne region of France) such as Dom Perignon, Krug, and Bollinger are likely to be close to your heart. "The special cuvees from these Grande Marque champagnes, such as Krug Clos du Mesnil (a Chardonnay produced from a single, walled plot from a single year) and Bollinger Vielles Vignes Francaises, achieve super prices," says Foley.

The author is a Delhi-based writer

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