What’s the significance of a two-dollar wine winning an open tasting competition to find California’s best Chardonnay?
Not a lot, according to many critics. As they point out (in places like the lively comments section of the Napa Valley Register,) several of California’s finest whites weren’t entered into the competition, while subsequent tastings by other experts have failed to replicate the endorsement, and have even brought the accusation that the tasted batch was of a rather different standard to the bottles of “Two Buck Chuck” usually sold to consumers. The controversy, however, has resonances well beyond the world of West Coast whites.
There may be no accounting for tastes, but protecting the value of “blue chip” wine brands is becoming an increasingly important (i.e. increasingly profitable) activity. Château Pétrus, for example, has seen cases of its recent vintages changing hands for over £20,000—or around £1600 a bottle. Such is the desire of the massively wealthy for diversification that you can now put your capital into a Fine Wine Fund directly regulated by the Financial Services Authority—so long as you can afford the £50,000 minimum investment. And readers of Mahesh Kumar’s 2005 Wine Investment for Portfolio Diversification will doubtless have been thrilled to learn that, between 1982 and 2002, his Fine Wine Index produced an annual return of 12.3% against 9.2% for the FTSE 100.
Although renowned wines are largely excellent, it’s their status as exclusive and increasingly re-saleable brands that’s driving the top end of the market. But status is also a trickle-down phenomenon and, despite the increasing global availability of decent wines at low prices, it seems that more and more of us are claiming to possess discerning palates in order to impress our peers (men are the biggest bluffers).
After a monumentally wet 2007 in Europe—with a shortfall of up to 1.5 billion wine bottles currently forecast—it’ll be interesting to see how the wine world reacts. Two-dollar Californian whites may soon be changing hands for an awful lot more.