Hong Kong Phooey?

15.01.18 – Wine Investment –

Well well well. It seems there’s nothing rubs people up the wrong way like a wine critic. The opprobrium heaped on names like Robert Parker and James Suckling is nobody’s business. You’d think they spent all their time voiding their rheum, as it were, through their car window at other critics, judging by the amount of stick they get.

Mind you some of it might well be justified; it must be difficult to keep a balanced view with all the inducements around to show a little favour here, a nod of approval there. And everyone should be alive to these threats to impartiality, but the problem is that it is always only the most influential people that the unscrupulous will try to bribe, and unlike in the bizarre world of reality television, influence tends to result from hard work and deep knowledge.

It also helps if you “put yourself out there”. Parker was hardly a recluse, but Suckling takes some beating on the self-projection front. Already this year he has been awarded honorary citizenship of Montalcino for his efforts in putting that inestimable region on the international wine aficionado map, as well as being made Wine Curator of cruise company Holland America.

Holland America Line has decided it needs a top name to help with its wine offering, given that statistically people drink 2.1 glasses of champagne and 8.7 glasses of wine when they go on a cruise. They obviously haven’t taken measurements from any cruise I’ve been on, but that’s another story. Suckling is also in the process of opening a wine bar in Hong Kong this year, which will help keep his name in the local frame.

This “local frame” is quite important, in Amphora’s view. We have been discussing the post-Parker syndrome in recent weeks, and someone suggested we should keep a close eye on Jeannie Cho Lee, given that she operates in what has become an increasingly important part of the wine consumption firmament, Asia.

Ms Lee is in fact Korean, (so there is much we could talk to her about at present), although she operates out of Hong Kong. The trouble is, her word doesn’t carry the same weight as some of the other leading lights at this point, and the “whether this will change” question may revolve as much around the fact that she is simply not Chinese as anything else.

Hong Kong

James Suckling also operates out of Hong Kong, and it rather feels that he has more of the ear of the local fraternity. It has even been maliciously suggested that the recent plethora of maximums he awarded the 2015 vintage may result from the predilection in that region to focus more on 100 pointers than anything else. Better face, you see. The very fact of his having given quite so many may be more important to that audience than anything else, from the perspective of improving his profile.

Meanwhile the market as expressed by the Liv-ex 50 continues its consolidation within a very tight range. This is by no means a bad thing, having had such a good couple of years, and it is interesting that over the course of the last 4 months encompassing this consolidation, the outperformers have been older vintages particularly from Super Second producers. Interesting too is that amongst the First Growths, Margaux and Mouton occupy 9 out of the top 10 performer spots. Lafite and Haut Brion 7 out of the bottom 10.

As far as other parts of the world are concerned, holders of Penfolds Grange 2005 could be forgiven for wondering what is going on there. In brief, there appears to be a glitch in the Liv-ex “market price” system which has distorted the valuation for some reason. The price they are quoting for a case of 12 (£1,600) bears no relation to the actual market place, which is nearer £4,000. This will no doubt be ironed out in a couple of days.

As we get further into March the market will start its annual obsession with the next en primeur campaign, and there is some sense of foreboding, stemming from the fact that the 2017 crop will have been compromised by frost to some degree whilst the quality may have dropped after 2 very good years. Some commentators are predicting a fall in yields of as much as 40%. What this means, of course, is that producers may try to squeeze up prices to make up for somewhat less of it coming off the production line.

Over the last couple of years some wines have seen quite excellent take up having been priced at attractive levels. Canon from St Emilion springs to mind. Equally, a slightly poorer vintage may lead to more cagey pricing, where the initial offer price is simply a starter for 10, with the producers hanging on to stock until they get a clearer view.

As ever we await with baited breath and will watch with eager eye!