Chinese market demand bringing insane prices to French wines

Bordeaux wine bottle and glassI had the opportunity last weekend to attend a wine tasting, and afterward I toyed with the idea of doing as my hosts had, buying new vintages by the case and cellaring them myself. Unfortunately, I prefer French wines from the Bordeaux region, and I discovered that the new Chinese prosperity has driven the price of many of the best wines through the roof.

Wine afficianados are already salivating over the 2009 Bordeaux vintage, although the wines are still in barrels, busily converting grapes to gold. Critics postulate that this could turn out to be one of the greatest years for French wine, thanks to a wet spring and a warm, dry, sunny summer. According to the Wine Spectator, the wines are "so fantastic they [vintners] are enjoying them straight from the vat."

The best of the best also have investment value. Many consumers buy wine futures (the French term for which is sale en primeur) for bottlings from the best vineyards, gambling before harvest on the quality of the wine that will be delivered in a couple of years, after the wine has aged properly.

One of the agents that markets wine, a négotiant, told the Spectator that he expected that the Chinese market would buy more than half of the futures for first-growths, the pinnacle class of Bordeaux wines. According to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) a case of Château Lafite Rothschild 2009 futures went from $18,000 to $23,000 within four days after sales began. An '09 Chateau Petrus for delivery in November of 2012 is selling on Wine.com for $2,599 a bottle with a limit of 12 bottles per order.

Fine wines have become a status symbol in China, even though a 50% tax is added to imported wine. The Journal reports that the wealthy in that country bought 39 times more Bordeaux in 2009 than in 2000. In just on year, 2009, it imported almost twice the amount as in 2008. The International Wine and Spirit Record projects that the country will consume 1.26 billion bottles of wine by 2013. Sales of the top-drawer Champagne, Tattinger, have grown by 40% a year, projected to reach 100,000 this year.

I fear that I'll have to cultivate a taste for wines from other regions that new wealth has not discovered and inflated the prices; perhaps California, Italy, or Chile.

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