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- Bonneau du Martray
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Burgundy Fine Wine Overview
Burgundy by nature has always attracted keen interest and devotion from the world’s top wine collectors. The region’s idiosyncrasies and complexity have often left it second to Bordeaux in terms of the general investment market, but it has always offered specialist investors and collectors great enjoyment and financial reward. Since 2011 we have seen the burgeoning Far Eastern markets diversify their interests, familiarising themselves with Burgundy Wines and the guaranteed returns granted by their extreme scarcity. As a result, astounding auction results have become commonplace and prices have been on a stratospheric rise.
Burgundy is simplicity and diversity intertwined. There are just two primary grape varieties used in Burgundy; Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Producers here produce the most beautiful, pure expressions of both without the blending that is such an integral feature of Bordeaux. In this way, terroir becomes of the utmost importance. Whilst Bordeaux has long been in the thrall of big business, insurance companies and, increasingly, Asian millionaires buying up land, Burgundy retains more of the traditional, bucolic romance of winemaking and this is a key part of its appeal.
If Bordeaux wines are about power and concentration, it would not be unfair to say that Burgundy reply with sensuality and elegance, and possesses an altogether softer and more feminine character. There are of course exceptions because the defining characteristic of the region is its variety thanks to the acute effects of terroir. Burgundy is a richly varied tapestry of patchwork plots scattered along hillsides and ridges. The dogma of Napoleonic inheritance laws emerging in the post-revolutionary years dictated that parcels of land be split equally between all heirs, leading to the fragmented divisions of tiny parcels - sometimes just a row or two or vines – that we see today. This also means that a single vineyard can, and more often than not does, have a multitude of vignerons working from it producing a range of wines that differ wildly in quality. Most producers vinify and sell wine from a dozen or more appellations.
In the regions of France, Burgundy is notorious for its red wine and white wines. The much lower production on these wines and their iconic status make the bottles that remain in circulation a much sought after commodity and thus an incredible investment opportunity with prices increasing into the wines drinking window from their vintage year. Red Burgundy is the prominent colour in production in the region but do not dismiss the White Burgundy as the region produces some of the world’s best white wines also.
Burgundy is divided into several regions, of which the Côte d'Or is the most prestigious and important from a fine wine investment perspective. This ‘golden slope’ comprises some of the best wine-growing land in the world- south/east facing slopes and a warm, stable microclimate for optimum ripening. The wines from this heartland of Burgundy have overtaken the traditionally dominant Bordeaux in terms of auction performance. The Côte d'Or is split into the Côte-de-Nuits and Côte-de-Beaune of which Pinot Noir dominates the former, with Chardonnay more widespread in the latter.
The top-ranking Burgundy appellations, the grand crus, account for just 2% of Burgundy’s total wine-producing area and command the highest prices. Some of the most prominent grand crus include Romanee Conti, Musigny, Richebourg and Clos Vougeot- with the former grand cru a monopole of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti superbrand . Another 15% of land is formed of appellations of the next ranks - premier cru – some of the wines of which perform particularly strongly and may be considered investment grade, such as Henri Jayer Cros Parantoux. Finally there are the regional appellations, bourgognes and villages, making up the rest. Most of these are of little interest from a wine investment perspective, though many top producers from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti to Domaine Leroy also make fine wines within these classifications that should not be overlooked.
Whilst in Bordeaux, the scores and re-scores of American critic Robert Parker have a direct impact on market movements; the Parker effect has less criticality on Burgundy. Indeed, he ceased production of tasting notes for the region’s wines in 1993, though the reviews and tasting notes of Allen Meadows and his Burghound blog remain influential. Prices of Burgundy investment wine are driven first and foremost by the scarcity of wines, with many domaines producing just a few hundred cases of each wine per year. Overall, Burgundy only produces about a quarter as much wine as Bordeaux, and as we have seen, only about 2% of this is from grand crus. The other important factor is prestige, which this area has by the bucket load, as evidenced by the fact that among the top 50 most expensive wines in the world as of 2018, only eighteen do not count Burgundy as their place of origin. Due to the variable nature of Burgundy, we recommend selecting wines for investment first by producer - of whom the most reliable for investment-grade wines are Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Domaine Comte de Vogue, Domaine Leroy, Armand Rousseau and Henri Jayer - and then by appellation and vintage.
The scarcity of top-Burgundy and the low allocations that come with it have seen owners reluctant to part with their holdings- though when they do auction records tumble. Today burgeoning interest from China, now Burgundy’s fourth-biggest export market and rising, has seen Domaine de la Romanee-Conti following a soaring trajectory with the brand’s prestige appealing to the Far Eastern super-wealthy for purposes of gifting and collecting. Factoring in growing interest from the other BRIC economies suggests supply is to be stretched even further and several years at least of accelerating growth are predicted- even more so with the monumental quality and low volumes of recent vintages such as 2012 and now 2015.