Published in Kerry Properties’ The Dress Circle May 2006
“He, who aspires to be a serious wine drinker, must drink Claret.”
Such was the influence that Bordeaux wines exerted on the discerning English palate that Samuel Johnson, England’s great 18th century wit and prose stylist extraordinaire, was moved to utter those words.
Red Bordeaux, traditionally called Claret in the UK, rapidly became the drink of choice for the English upper classes when Henri II Plantagenet first brought it to British shores from his wife’s Aquitaine province in south-west France.The Bordeaux region in France, with five premier cru (Class A) status red wines classified by the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, has been producing some of the most esteemed and highly sought after wines in the world: both reds and sweet whites.
Four of the premier cru are from the Medoc sub-region: Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Margaux. Chateau Latour, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild which was promoted in 1973 after decades of intense lobbying by its powerful owner, and the fifth is Chateau Haut Brion from the Graves sub-region.
Another sub-region, St-Emilion, was classified in 1955, adding another two premier cru – the Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc. While the sub-region of Pomerol has never been officially classified, the Chateau Petrus is always in high demand and able to command lofty prices for it’s newly released vintages. Where Bordeaux whites are concerned, the Sauternes sub-region is renowned for its intensely sweet dessert wines like Chateau d’Yquem.
Wine is truly a drink for all occasions; in fact, wine is also enormously agreeable when there is no occasion. It can be the perfect accompaniment to dinners and also to long, languorous lunches on the weekends. It is drunk for the sake of itself and the act of drinking; the ultimate indulgence and the perfect adjunct to company. And it is for this precise reason of pleasure that many New World wines from America, South Africa and Australasia, with their consistent taste and their marketing chutzpah, are giving the French vintages a serious run for their money.
When it comes to enjoyment, Lau Chi Sun, Editor and founder of Hong Kong-based wine publication, Wine Now Monthly, advises wine lovers to “go for anything.” Besides conducting training at Shangri-la’s Training Centre in Beijing, Lau, a wine connoisseur of 30 years, organises wine tasting dinners and trains top sommeliers for various food and beverage outlets in Hong Kong.
However, continues Lau, when it comes to investing in wine and wine futures, nothing beats the Old World produce, specifically Bordeaux wines. “No other wine can command the futures market except Bordeaux,” he states flatly. “From the point of view of investment, it is better to concentrate on Bordeaux wine. It has a big second-hand market; it is very liquid,” Lau explains. He adds that the market for other wines is not as big, nor as liquid.
Every year around April the wine world congregates in Bordeaux for the en primeur or first release tasting of the previous year’s vintage. This is when the experts – the wine trade, critics and journalists – rate the new wine and the en primeur prices are announced. Buying at en primeur prices means purchasing the wine futures where the wine will not be bottled or deliverable for the next two years. These first release prices are, however, the lowest at which one could hope to buy the wine.
Just like any other investment vehicle, Bordeaux wines too have their booms and busts. Certain vintages have had bull runs while others have slumped. A sensible approach, recommends Lau, would be to buy two to three cases from each of the top chateaus in Bordeaux every year. This way the risk is spread and sufficient return is guaranteed so that after ten years, one would be able to keep buying the same two to three cases from every top chateau using the proceeds from realised profit. All told, the appreciation in value starts to pay for future purchases after ten years.
Still the upside of investing in wine is that, even a poor vintage, if kept long enough, will mature and be delightful to drink and it will also appreciate in value. And, of course, if a wine does not perform up to expectations in the marketplace, one can always fall back on plan B, which is to savour it and delight in its aroma and experience.