by Tim Atkin

Drinkers versus investors

Listening to people discussing their claret portfolios has become as boring as the house price conversations we Brits used to have to endure in the 1990s. For “I bought this rundown semi in an up and coming area and it’s doubled in price” read “Jee, am I happy I bought three cases of 2009 Pontet-Canet”.

The housing market may have taken a long, icy bath, but out there in claret land, the market is still hot. Well, patches of it are: largely those that have received high Parker scores or are considered “collectible” by people who frequently wouldn’t know a Margaux from a Madiran.

In the UK, wine merchants used to differentiate between vintages that were good for laying down and those that would make good “luncheon clarets”. The latter included some pretty dire harvests, it must be said, but the wines were often light, refreshing and comparatively forward. Nowadays the distinction is increasingly between harvests that are good investments and those that aren’t.

The last decade has seen examples of both. Years that have attracted people looking to turn a fast pound, buck or increasingly Hong Kong dollar are 2000, 2005, 2009, 2010 and (at a pinch) 2003, while those that haven’t are 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008. The brand effect has pumped up the prices of some châteaux’s wines in lesser years, but the divide is still there.

As the prices of the best wines in the best years has increased, so the gulf between bottles that ordinary punters can afford to drink and those that are “investment vehicles” (the term is odious, is it not?) has widened and deepened. I’ve nothing against great vintages, but the hype surrounding them does more for château owners, wine merchants and investors than it does for those of us who buy wine to pull corks.

Tomorrow I will post my tasting notes and findings on a 10 year retrospective of the 2002 Bordeaux vintage, hosted by Bordeaux Index, on my site.

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