herald

Saturday 21 July 2018

Keep your liquid assets bottled

The dinner party talk turned to where you should park whatever savings you have left. One of our number opined that the stock market is the place "as long as you know what you're doing" -- advice akin to saying "Don't try crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope if you have a perforated eardrum". Eventually someone asked "Are you buying any wine, Ernie?" The query comes with a loaded subtext: "What can I buy that I can sell in a few years and make shed loads of money?"

"Not a lot," is the answer.

I bought a little wine recently but not for investment, simply picking out a few bottles that (a) I like, and (b) have certain and defined keeping quality, and (c) have been 'on special' somewhere. These I have squirreled away for drinking over the next two or three years.

Shiraz from the Barossa and MacLaren Vale; Syrah from the less feted regions of the Northern Rhone; Riesling from Clare Valley and Alsace. Splashing out on wine made a refreshing change from figuring out where to put my paltry few bob.

I don't buy wine for investment. I dabbled in vintage port in my youth and got my fingers burnt. But this much I know: the underlying principles are all about the laws of supply and demand. There are probably only 70 wine labels worldwide that could be considered investment worthy. There are a varying number of individuals seeking to own and/or drink these wines. When the number swells, prices escalate. When fine wines mature, they become more desirable and as they are drunk they become rarer. Of course, when supply exceeds demand, prices fall. Wine investment has outperformed the FTSE 100 over the past 25 years, though.



vintage

What to buy? The accepted wisdom is 'Bordeaux, Bordeaux and Bordeaux': the classics, from good or great vintages; first growths or top-rated seconds from the Medoc; plus the top dogs from the Right Bank -- think Cheval Blanc, Petrus, Le Pin, Ausone.

Certain less exalted wines, such as the Irish favourite, Lynch-Bages have established a good track record. Prestige cuvee Champagnes are also worth considering, especially Krug, Crystal and Dom Perignon. Port, Super-Tuscans and cult Californians, on the other hand, seem to have lost their former allure.

If you do decide to dabble there is plenty of advice to be had but beware -- auction houses, wine brokers and merchants are not necessarily investment specialists nor portfolio managers.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc continues to charm the Irish palate, though it's far from trendy these days. At this time of year merchants are seeking to shift stock to make room for the new vintage, in NZSB's case 2011.

There are bargains to be had -- with my usual caveat that a 2008 or 2009 may turn out to be a bit of a dull dog. I'd make an exception in the case of Ara 2008 (on offer in August from O'Briens at €8.99, above), which still has plenty of zippy clean fruit and enough acidity to keep it food-friendly.

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