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Wine not: why not invest in wine Credit: Fernand Ivaldi

There’s more to wine collecting than Bordeaux

We are a nation obsessed with antiques and auctions. From the family heirlooms on the Antiques Roadshow to the boom in contemporary art and classic cars, it would seem that everyone loves a good auction.

Leland Little of the eponymous American auction house reckons that his most exciting growth area is not art but fine wine. His customers, he says, are: “People who like the finer things in life. They might come in to buy a painting but then buy some wine as well.” Last year Christie’s sold over £48 million worth of wine internationally.

The majority of that would have been Bordeaux. Mark Solomon, head of wine at Leland Little, says: “It has been volatile recently, but the interest is always there, especially in the first-growths such as Lafite.

Over in London, Jamie Hutchinson, co-owner of The Sampler fine wine shop, is a little more sceptical. “There’s an awful lot of Bordeaux out there,” he says, “and most of it is overpriced. Burgundy, however, is made in such small quantities that it’s of less interest to funds but also less likely to lose its value.”

He suggests buying “village wines from second-tier producers such as JF Mugnier, Denis Bachelet or Jean Grivot.” These are wines from a named village such as Chambolle-Musigny but not a named vineyard. If you are intent on Bordeaux, he advises that you “buy from an underpriced vintage such as 2004.”

Burgundy isn't the only area that is attracting collectors put off by the volatility of Bordeaux. Italian wines such as Barolo, Barbaresco or Brunello are starting to appear at UK auctions.

American collectors have been into Italian wine since the early 90s. Sergio Eposito of Italian Wine Merchants in New York has declared: “Buying into Barolo today may be the best investment opportunity in the wine market.”

If you are considering investing in wine, it’s worth doing your research. Wine is a perishable product so before bidding it’s important to check how it has been stored. Extremes of temperature and bright light will damage wine. Hutchinson explains: “A good way to check that it has been properly stored is by looking at the level in the bottle. For a 30-year-old wine such as an ’82 Bordeaux, don’t buy if the wine level is below the top of the shoulder.”

Unlike a Ferrari, you cannot restore a Mouton-Rothschild 1945 once it has been damaged.

“Whisky in comparison is a safe logical investment. In a sealed bottle, it’s virtually indestructible,” says Stephen McGinty from McTear’s auctioneers, adding that the market in rare whisky is currently enjoying “significant and sensible growth”. The most collectable are “single cask whiskies in numbered bottles or bottling from defunct distilleries”, he says. McGinty recently sold a numbered Macallan 50 year old for £18,000.

For Ian Buxton, author of 101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die, the dream find would be “something like Dalintober, which stopped distilling in the 1920s. With good provenance, it could go for five or six figures.”

The key word is provenance for both wine and whiskies. “Forgeries are a huge problem: Macallan bought a collection from Italy, paid a lot of money, and it turned out to be fake,” Buxton adds. Mark Solomon says: “As an auction house you have to do due diligence. If you don’t, it will hurt your reputation.”

Jamie Hutchinson’s advice is simple. “Don't go into an auction without doing lots of research,” he says. “Taste and learn about wine.”

Follow this advice and you should have a sound investment – or at least something good to drink.

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