I'm fortunate to be spending the Thanksgiving holiday touring through Mendoza, Argentina, home of fantastic Malbecs, periodic nauseating inflation, and economic collapse. Mendoza is Argentina's most famous wine region and sits at the foot of the Andes, which rise 16,000 feet above the valley floor. This provides desert-like conditions ideal for growing grapes. Since I'll be unable to contribute anything on the trip I’m writing a series of posts on the subject of wine collecting beforehand. I will speak directly to the small-fry wine collector, not the mega-rich sleazy oligarch collector (I'm sure some of them are nice). If hot robber-baron on Sotheby's auction action is your forte, I have nothing to offer you. I buy collectible wine by the bottle or case, not the gross. My “cellar” holds 500 bottles, not 10,000-20,000+.
I possess a few qualifications that might enable me to speak as an amateur wine collector:
- I've been collecting wine for five years, and witnessed the stunning euphoria through 2007 and the precipitous decline that bottomed out recently.
- I'm taking the certificate series of wine-making courses from UC Davis, the finest wine making school in the United States.
- I've been making wine from kits or grapes for 10+ years.
- And most importantly, I'm a wino, and so is my father, wife, siblings, and friends.
What is a collectible wine? Is it possible to lay down a case of 2009 Ernest and Julio Gallo wine (we will sell no wine before it’s made) and realize some serious capital gains 15 years later? No. A collectible wine must possess certain structural qualities to age properly, namely a high score from The Wine Advocate / Robert Parker, and a high score from the Wine Spectator (Wine Speculator). Just kidding (not really). I'll cover what qualifies a wine as collectible in the next posting; I can say that most wines you'll find in the supermarket and small liquor store are meant to be consumed quickly, not stored for years.
Two wine periodicals set the stage for prices based on their ratings. The most influential is The Wine Advocate, authored by Robert Parker. High ratings of 94 or better will automatically inflate a wine's worth, while a sub-90 score will plummet a speculative wine future's value. The Wine Spectator is less influential but still valuable if a high score is given. Two other periodicals, Stephen Tanzer's International and Wine & Spirits aren't as useful for collectors. These seem to be more consumer-driven rating systems.
Some people say negative things about Robert Parker. I've heard him referred to as, "A self-promoting, superfluous windbag", or an "Over-rated, compromised lap dog of the famous French producers", but I can't speak directly to these claims. After all, I'm merely a small-fry collector. Regardless of what "they" think, he's hugely influential on wine prices. A 100-point rating will pound some lucky person's wine futures into the stratosphere, much like a surprise earnings report from Travelzoo. A few wines manage to receive 100 points from both Robert Parker and Wine Spectator, and people thus pay dearly for them.
Next post: What is a Collectible Wine (besides a good score from Robert Parker)?