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Last Updated: Monday, 28 July, 2003, 05:28 GMT 06:28 UK
Grape expectations
Julian Knight
BBC News Online personal finance reporter

A bottle of wine dating from 1797
Wine investing: It's all in the label
In the first part of a new series on fun investing, this BBC News Online guide shows you how to turn wine into wealth. Who knows, you could end-up sipping on a fortune.

It does not have to be French and red, but it helps.

Wine experts recommend that those keen to turn wine into wealth buy Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone from the 30 most famous brands.

There is also a thriving market for vintage port and some Spanish red wines.

Play the BBC News Online wine quiz?

Some new world wines are proving sturdy investments, but beware of following drinking fads.

Back in the 1960s, German Liebfraumilch was considered a shrewd investment by some.

But mass production and falling quality soon killed off the market.

Getting started

1982 was a vintage year for French wine. If you had bought a case of one of the top Bordeaux that year, you would have struck gold
John Downes, Master of wine
You can buy wine before it has been bottled, when it first comes on the market, or even after many years of storage.

Buying 'En Primeur' means investing in a wine before the bottling stage. En Primeur can be risky as you can not be certain whether the year will prove to be a classic vintage or a dead loss.

But if you buy what turns out to be a classic vintage, the rewards can be stunning.

"1982 was a vintage year for French wine. If you had bought a case of one of the top Bordeaux that year you would have struck gold," John Downes, holder the coveted Master of Wine qualification, told BBC News Online.

Over time, the supply of good vintage wine dries up as bottles are drunk, and this pushes prices higher.

"The majority of the people we deal with are enthusiasts who buy an extra case to cover the costs of the wine that they intend to drink," says Paul Milroy of Berry Brothers & Rudd, a London wine merchants established in 1698.

Collecting costs

Buying a case of 12 bottles of wine from a collectable vineyard En Primeur can cost from 200 to more than 1,000.

You should be able to trace where and under what conditions a wine has been kept from bottling onwards.
Berry Brothers & Rudd wine merchants
The year after bottling the wine starts to be regularly traded. The 'opening price' achieved is the first clear indication of how the market perceives the vintage.

More cautious investors wait until the market for a wine becomes mature, usually a decade or so.

According to Mr Milroy, if an investor picks a good vintage from a popular vineyard they can expect a return of 15% a year on average.

However, such returns, which put the moribund stock market to shame, come with plenty of health warnings.

How a wine is kept is key to its future value. It is pointless buying a vintage wine only to store it in a cupboard under the stairs.

In order to retain its value, wine should be kept in a temperature controlled warehouse.

Berry Brothers & Rudd charges a storage fee of 7.99 per year per case, including insurance.

Wine investors should also make sure they ask for documentary proof of a wine's history.

"You should be able to trace where and under what conditions a wine has been kept from bottling onwards - if you can't, it could drastically impact its value," Mr Milroy said.

Spotting a winner

Many investors buy on the back of a recommendation from leading world wine experts such as American Robert Parker.

If a famous 'nose' declares a wine to be a classic in the making, prices can rocket.

Recently, experts have also started focusing on discovering hidden gems. These so-called "garage wines," produced in limited quantities by small vineyards, are quickly snapped up by investors.

For example, a case of the 1982 vintage from the small French Le Pin vineyard cost only 185 at opening, but is now worth a staggering 26,000.

An auction at Christies
Liquidate your assets at auction

Even the most enthusiastic wine buff would think twice before drinking those profits.

However, wine investment comes with a stark health warning.

A succession of investment scandals hit the fine wine trade throughout the 1990's, most involving extortionate prices charged for unpopular vintages.

Fortunately, many of the rogues are now out of business, thanks to tough action from the Department of Trade and Industry, however if offered a particular wine by an investment firm check its price with at least two different brokers - that way you will avoid over-charging.

Turning wine into wealth

There is a thriving international market for wine, and fine wine brokers will be happy to sell on your liquid assets, for a fee of course.

As a rule of thumb, brokers will charge a 10% commission for selling on your wine.

Auction houses, such as Christies, hold regular wine sales - they will charge about the same as a broker, but sellers can benefit as the price fetched is open ended.

In fact, some individual bottles of classic wine have sold for tens of thousand of pounds at auction.

If you want to avoid paying commission, then selling direct to a wine merchant is an option.

However, bear in mind that even wine from a classic year has a finite shelf life - leave it too long, and it could be past its best.

Turning nags to riches... Investing in a racehorse, the second part of our fun investing series, will be published on 4 August.

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