Page last updated at 15:48 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 16:48 UK

Got a nose for a good investment?

Sandra Kanthal
Producer, Alvin Hall's World of Money

Bottles of wine covered in dust
Not only for drinking - wine can also be a valuable asset class

Recently, each day in the markets brings new and somewhat depressing headlines.

So those looking for a safe place to put their money might want to sit down and have a drink.

Fine wine is becoming a hot market in which to invest.

It is a sexy commodity with lots of panache and very enthusiastic collectors.

But, as with all ways to try to turn a sure-fire profit, acquiring the knowledge required to dabble in the world of wine is harder than it looks.

Expert advice

Scott Zenko runs a New York company called the Auction Consultants.

Nothing says 'I'm rich' like pulling a $10,000 cork out of a bottle
Scott Zenko, Auction Consultants

His clients want to create their own great collections but do not necessarily have the time or the expertise to do it themselves.

Scott is a charming, easy-going man who clearly enjoys his job.

"One of my favourite clients has got a nice little home in Palm Beach, a castle in England, a rather stately home outside of Chicago, he's got a world class English furniture collection but he knows nothing about wine.

"So, he'll say 'Scotty can you go get me about two thirds white and one third red and here's a six figure allotment to go do that.'"

Though Scott would love to have that assignment every year it usually works out to be about once every two years or so.

However, Scott is noticing that in the world of the wealthy, very expensive alcohol is taking on greater significance.

"Wine is the new must have thing of the ultra-rich.

"Nothing says 'I'm rich' like pulling a $10,000 (£5,000) cork out of a bottle and in cultures like Asia and Russia that sort of behaviour is really a part of new wealth."

Unexpected interest

In America, buying wine through auctions is becoming increasingly popular.

A rare bottle of wine being displayed by a Christie's employee at an auction preview
We've auctions making $5m, $6m, $7m
Jeff Zacharia, Zachys

Jeff Zacharia runs Zachys.

It used to run its auctions in conjunction with the more well-known Christies, however Zachys now does it on its own.

He is the third generation in his family to work in the wine trade.

In his shop in the New York suburb of Scarsdale, Jeff Zacharia explained exactly how big these auctions can be.

"I never imagined that the wine auction business would be this strong.

"When we first started-off we had a business plan and within a few months we had to rip it up... we were just so exceeding our numbers - because of the huge interest there is in wine.

"Before the first auction we were hoping we could make $500,000 or $1m at an auction.

"Now we've auctions making $5m, $6m, $7m and we're doing about 10 or 12 auctions a year."

In fact, Zacharia went on to tally up last year's revenue at about $50m.

By his own admission an "unbelievable number".

An avid collector

Douglas Barzelay collects Burgundy with a real passion, so much so that has bought extra space in his apartment block to build his own temperature-controlled wine cellar.

Alvin Hall with Douglas Barzelay in his temperature-controlled wine cellar
Alvin Hall with Douglas Barzelay in his temperature-controlled wine cellar

When he first discovered the pleasures of fine red wine, the market was in a slump.

"It was in the mid 1970s which was the last time the wine market actually crashed and I think for a lot of people who are very interested in the subject of investing in wine, they have never seen that phenomenon.

"There's been a long, long bull market, if you will, in wine since that time, that's only accelerated in recent years."

But, Doug did highlight one of the main flaws in trying to make a profit from this very pleasurable beverage.

"With art you can collect it and enjoy it at the same time.

"Unless you are into the pleasures of simply looking at bottles the only way to enjoy a wine collection is to open the bottles and consume what's inside, so you have just destroyed the value, if you will, of that particular piece of your collection."

Past value

But it was not always the case that the astronomical value placed on wine was in the bottle.

It used to be the bottle explained Simon Berry, chairman of Berry Brothers & Rudd in St James' Park, a very exclusive part of London.

Queen Elizabeth II drinking wine in Australia
Simon Berry has recently been appointed clerk of the Royal Cellars

"Wine really was very, very cheap to start with.

"The expensive thing when you bought wine was not the liquid, it was the bottle.

"And up to 1840 or 1850 no matter how expensive the wine was, the bottle was always worth more."

Berry Brothers & Rudd has been a leading member of the British wine trade for three centuries and Simon knows his stuff.

He has recently been appointed clerk to the Queen's cellars.

In his years in the trade he has seen the value of what were small, little known producers go to astronomical levels.

"Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, one of the best red burgundies, if you can find a case for 2005 now, apparently it will cost you £70,000 for that case."

But, he also believes that buying wine should be open to everyone not just speculators that want to corner the market on certain vintages just to control the price.

"We believe wine is there to be drunk.

"We will try and make sure that the market is a bit more fair than simply one person having complete control and using it as a commodity really, as opposed to various bottles of slightly intoxicating fermented grape juice, which is really what we are talking about in the end."

BBC Radio 4's Alvin Hall's World of Money was broadcast on Saturday, 26 July 2008 at 1204 BST, and was repeated in a longer version on Monday, 28 July 2008 at 1504.

Print Sponsor

Money Box



Download or subscribe to this programme's podcast

Podcast Help

Alvin Hall's World of Money
17 Jul 08 |  Moneybox
Alvin Hall's World of Money: Wine
25 Jul 08 |  Moneybox
External internet links
25 Jul 08 |  Moneybox
Vintage future seen for Chinese wine
13 Jul 08 |  Business
Quaffing the future
12 Jun 08 |  Magazine
Five signs of the storm ahead
21 May 08 |  Magazine
France to expand Champagne region
13 Mar 08 |  Europe
Raising a glass to pricey wine
14 Jan 08 |  Americas

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific