Written By Mark DeWolf, With Zest
Great wine is something to appreciate, but it’s also a luxury that can appreciate in value. The wine world isn’t that dissimilar to the stock market. There are your blue chips, speculative wines and the penny (in wine terms, less than $15) wines. In the case of wine investment, you can count on Bordeaux’s Grand Cru Classé to appreciate in value, but the gold standards like Château Margaux, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion require major cash in for a moderate, but bankable, return on investment.
While top Bordeaux continues to represent a large percentage of investment wine, more recently the big money has been made on Burgundy. Unlike Bordeaux, where the great estates produce a lot of wine, Burgundy’s top wines are of extremely limited quantity. Consider less than 500 cases a year are produced of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti ‘Romanée-Conti’ Grand Cru. Supply and demand economics are at play here, leading to speculation and hedging. A little more challenging in Burgundy, where the more natural methods (i.e. they live and die by nature) provide terroir-driven wines, but can also lead to more vintage variation. Bordeaux’s great estates, on the other hand, are driven by technology. Some vineyards famously fly helicopters over the vineyard if wet weather hits during the harvest.
My money is placed in Italy, where the best wines command top dollar, but are comparatively accessible in relation to Bordeaux and Burgundy. Barolo and Barbaresco, the ethereal nebbiolo-based red wines of Piedmont, can be expensive, but rarely reach the same stratosphere as Bordeaux and Burgundy. With a movement to more single vineyard styles in the Burgundian tradition, there will be a time when the likes of Brunate, Monprivato and Rabajà (all acclaimed vineyards) could be spoken about in the same reverence as Romanée-Conti or Le Montrachet. While Tuscany’s Brunello di Montalcino isn’t as terroir focused (yet) as Barolo or Barbaresco, it does offer an incredible quality for the price. I can’t think of many wines that provide as much sheer pleasure for the dollar than these powerful yet savoury Sangiovese-based wines.
The Iberian Peninsula is also a place where I’d put my investment dollars. As Port producers react to the dwindling demand for their fortified wines, they are transitioning to dry table wine production. The steep, granitic slopes of the Douro produce grapes of immense concentration. At times, I am almost embarrassed by the quality of table wines to be had here for a fraction of the price of Bordeaux’s top estates. Across the border in Spain, Ribera del Duero — outside of Pingus and Vega Sicilia — provides immense speculative value. The richness and structure of the wines from this region can be mind blowing. For the pure pleasure value, I’ll happily drop a couple green notes on a Ribera del Duero. Whether or not I get a monetary return on investment, my palate is sure to be rewarded handsomely for it.
Mark’s top five investment picks
1. Single vineyard Barolo and Barbaresco
At the very top end, the single vineyards of Conterno, such as their Monfortino, are still significantly less than $1,000 a bottle. Bartolo Mascarello Monprivato is a steal for its sub $250 price point.
Investment tip: Seek out classic producers’ top single vineyards. You’ll be rewarded in all ways in a decade or more. For a steal of a deal, look for the wines of Produttori del Barbaresco.
2. Brunello di Montalcino
I am a bit biased, as I have spent an inordinate amount of time in this legendary wine town. If you want wines to age and appreciate, seek out classic producers such as Soldera and Biondi Santi.
Investment tip: Seek out top Riservas from great producers such as Biondi Santi, Casanova di Neri, Valdicava and others. A personal favourite is La Casa Brunello di Montalcino Riserva from Caparzo, as we stay on the vineyard on many of our tours of Tuscany.
3. Douro reds
Hands down some of the best value-priced red wines in the world.
Investment tip: While the Douro has a handful of wines priced in the hundreds of dollars, I would willingly roll the dice here on lesser-known wines in the $25 to $40 range. I am rarely disappointed.
4. Ribera del Duero
The Tempranillo dominant wines of Vega Sicilia and Pingus command hundreds and even thousands of dollars a bottle, but there are a lot of great wines to be had here at a fraction of the price. Neighbouring properties to these legends often sell for less than $50 a bottle.
Investment tip: My all-time favourite and completely bankable Ribera del Duero wine is Casajus Antiguos Vinedos (thecaseforwine.com (Ontario), bishopscellar.com (Nova Scotia)). At about $40, this is a steal. The winery had no reputation a decade ago, but now regularly receives top critic scores in the mid-90s. Buy!
5. Northern Rhone
Guigal’s “la las” along with Jaboulet and Chave’s Hermitage offerings command top dollar, but still are a good deal compared to the best of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Seek top wines outside the most well-known for a good investment, such as cool kid favourite Joseph Jamet’s incredible Cote-Rotie.