Time to buy Bordeaux, sell Burgundy (and drink the rest)

NEW YORK Tue Dec 18, 2012 7:53am EST

A guest inspects the colour and body of wine at the Chateau Malartic Lagraviere in Leognan, southwestern France, during the start of a week of wine tasting at the chateaux in the Bordeaux region April 4, 2011. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

A guest inspects the colour and body of wine at the Chateau Malartic Lagraviere in Leognan, southwestern France, during the start of a week of wine tasting at the chateaux in the Bordeaux region April 4, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Regis Duvignau

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Experts are advising collectors - and investors - to buy Bordeaux and sell Burgundies as yet another economic study finds that over the long run, wine tops equities when it comes to delivering high returns.

When collectors speak of investing in wine, they are usually referring to First Growth Bordeaux, a group of five top-ranked chateaux; the very best Burgundies, usually Domaine de la Romanee-Conti DRC.L; and then select wines from Italy, California and Australia.

Prices for the First Growth Bordeaux are down almost 35 percent from their highs a year ago. Liv-Ex, the fine wine index, reported that the last 10 vintages of First Growths were down an average of 33.9 percent. In November, prices for the famed '05 vintage were approaching five-year lows.

But Paul Hart of the Chicago-based auction house Hart Davis Hart sees prices for the top five Bordeaux - Haut-Brion, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, Latour and Lafite-Rothschild - turning around and beginning to rise.

Meanwhile Burgundies, especially DRC, were on fire this past season. Hart reported that his auction sold four bottles of the 1990 DRC for $53,775. Acker Merrall & Condit's John Kapon sold one lot consisting of eight cases of DRC for $353,231 at Saturday's Hong Kong auction.

Two weeks earlier on December 1 in New York, Sotheby's sold six bottles of 1995 DRC for $79,625.

"The bottom line - buy Bordeaux and sell Burgundy," said Charles Curtis, the former head of wine for Christie's in New York and Asia, who is now leading his own wine consultancy. "The former is at the same price it was five years ago and the latter has never been higher."

"My sense is that the top (Burgundy) wines might be at or just past their peak for this cycle, but only experience will prove me out on this one," he said. "Bordeaux prices are looking increasingly attractive and seem for their part to be headed back up."

Sotheby's Ritchie explained that while Bordeaux prices were certainly lower, "the general wine market is not...Burgundy is up, California is up and now it's gone back to having strong demand from the North American market."

But what about those higher returns? A new study by a Dutch economist that examined auction sales over a 17-year period found the returns on holding wine "are higher than equity," or stocks.

The working paper, "Chateau Migraine or Chateau Riche? An Empirical Study on Wine as a Financial Asset" appears on the American Association of Wine Economists website (www.wine-economics.org) and examined auction sales between 1996 and 2012.

"Burgundy wines, more scarce to due to lower production amounts, yield a higher return than wines from the equally famous Bordeaux regions," the study found. (Editing by Paul Casciato)

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