01 Aug Quick-fire wine lovers guide to buying Bordeaux
In the second of our fine wine series of articles, Stuart Young of Four Corners Wine attempts to demystify the classic French region of Bordeaux.
Back in 1976, one of the wine world’s greatest protagonists, Stephen Spurrier, organised a tasting that became known as the Judgement of Paris. The event pitted California’s Cabernet Sauvignon wines against those of Bordeaux, which was then universally regarded as the foremost producer of the world’s finest wines. In a surprise result a Californian wine – Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 – topped the list and the repercussions of this reverberated around the world.
Whilst California made its point and remains one of the most innovative and thrilling wine regions, it cannot be said that Bordeaux has ever lost its lustre. France’s “capital” of wine reputedly grew vines back in the 1st Century. By the 8th Century it was a flourishing trading centre and in the 17th Century the marshlands of the Médoc were drained leading to expansive planting of vines. Today Bordeaux is home to the leading oenological university, the iconic wine museum LeCité du Vin whilst surrounding it are some of the world’s most revered chateaux -Angelus, Cheval Blanc, Haut-Brion, Latour, Lafleur, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, Palmer…the list goes on. It is also one of the most complex for even knowledgeable wine lovers to comprehend thanks to the 1855 classification, a ranking system put in place by Napoleon III that remains in place today.
Bordeaux’s history and reputation for producing consistently high-quality wine that increases in value over time has made it one of the most popular “alternative assets”. Over 70% of wine bought for investment annually is from Bordeaux. Yet it remains a bewildering region with its right and left banks, more than 30 regions, 60 appellations and 3,000 châteaux, of which around 50 are considered world class.
For a quick-fire wine lovers guide to buying Bordeaux, here are my top tips:
- Region First consider your preferred regions and appellations: the regions of the Médoc and Graves are located on the left bank of the Gironde Estuary, famous for many prestigious châteaux. Their legendary appellations include Margaux, Pauillac, Pessac-Leognon, St-Estèphe and St-Julien where the gravelly, mineral-rich soil or “terroir” creates structured, powerful wines that age beautifully. Over on the right bank lies the region of Libournais, home to the appellations of Pomerol and St Émilion and a softer, fruitier style of wine made famous by châteaux Pétrus, Le Pin and Ausone. Further south lie the vineyards of Sauternes, producing the world’s finest sweet white wines thanks to a humid climate that naturally generates high residual sugar.
- Producer The châteaux classified in 1855 as “First-Growth” have rich histories and reputations and rightfully command the highest prices. More interesting can be the best “Second-Growth” producers, which are more reasonably priced and accessible yet make sound investments for cellaring. First-Growth wines have become global luxury brands in their own right – it’s no coincidence that the international conglomerate, LVMH, owns both Cheval Blanc and Château d’Yquem.
- Vintage Wine experts assess the quality of the harvest during the “En-Primeur” tastings, when prices are set by “Négociants” (middle men to you and I). For clients that want a cellar of great wines for drinking, I often encourage the purchase of Second-Growth wines in good years and First-Growth wines in poorer years, with the aim of building a balanced cellar of great wines at sensible prices that can be enjoyed or sold on the secondary market.
- Provenance With prices for the top wines showing no signs of abating, sadly the wine world has become a target for fraudsters. Buying En-Primeur from a reputable merchant is by far the safest option. Whilst buying older vintages may be tempting, the adage “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. Enlisting the help of an expert who knows his or her stuffis a sensible option, but new tech platforms are emerging to help collectors manage their cellars such as CellarTracker, which features over 10 million tasting notes drawn from both professionals and its community.
Wine investment is very different to that of commodities or currency. First and foremost it is pleasurable, sometimes starting as a hobby, often becoming an obsession. Our clients relish this experience,and their appreciation of their wines grows alongside their knowledge. That said, the wines of Bordeaux are of such complexity one can spend a lifetime learning about them. For those with a love of wine and study, Bordeaux is a great place to start. As Jane Anson puts it in her definitive tome Inside Bordeaux, the region “…is a place that brings together geography, history, economics, politics, egos and the sheer glory of taste.” Surely an investor’s dream?
For more information on alternate investments, contact the team at Huriya today.