A Tale of Two Wines (and Their Values)

THERE'S A LOT OF OLD WINE in the basement. It must be valuable.

Or maybe not. There can be a perception that as fine wines age they become more valuable, but that is actually not always the case. For instance, the 1999 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, a First Growth Bordeaux, cost $140 upon release and currently sells at auction for around $315. By contrast, the 1999 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages, a Bordeaux blend from California, sold for $80 upon release and currently sells at auction for $36. Both have matured well and are drinking better than upon release, yet one has appreciated while the other has decreased in value. Why the difference?

Is it a matter of quality? It doesn't seem so. To the extent that critics’ scores provide a meaningful measure Mouton was rated 90 points by the Wine Spectator and 93 by Robert Parker, the two leading wine reviewers at the time. The Cinq Cepages received 95 from the Spectator and 90 from Parker. How about scarcity? Wrong again. St. Jean produced 13,000 cases of Cinq Cepages compared to 20,000 cases of Mouton. Longevity? Maybe, but maybe not. The reviewers suggested drinking the Cinq Cepages through 2015, while it was thought the Mouton would last until 2030. However, I drank the Cinq Cepages twice in the past few months, and I can report that it is extremely good and has plenty of life left.

So why did one wine more than double in worth and the other lose half its value? Basically, there are a small number of wines in the world that are deemed collectible, and they are the ones most likely to increase in value. Most are classified Bordeaux, but top Burgundies, Champagnes and some select wines from Italy and California can appreciate as well. They are often from wineries with long histories and track records for quality, and they are always of relatively limited production. But mostly they appreciate because they have a history of appreciating. It is somewhat circular, but the past success of these wines at auction breeds future success.

So how does one distinguish a collection of excellent old wines from one that is also valuable?

The best means is through an appraiser who is thoroughly conversant in the fine and rare wine market. More specifically, you are looking for an American Appraisers Association certified appraiser—one compliant with Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice—who also possesses high level wine credentials and experience. Email me at nkaplan@corkcounsel.com for more information.