Your guide to knowing when to sell fine wine

Knowing when to sell fine wine is tricky. As with any kind of investment, choosing the right moment to realise your assets is a delicate balancing act. Market conditions, the popularity or rarity of a particular vintage and your own long-term plan all play a part.

Three factors that impact your decision on when to sell fine wine

Deciding on the right wines to invest in takes research and an eye for detail. And when it comes to ultimately selling that wine, the same applies. So, take your time and don’t rush into selling your assets too quickly. Fine wine investment is a long-term commitment, so be patient.

Here are three key factors to bear in mind as you weigh up whether to hold or sell your prized assets.

1. The sale fits with your overall investment strategy

Why are you investing in fine wine? Any investor, regardless of the asset class they’re putting their money into, must have a long-term investment strategy. This brings together factors like your own appetite for risk as well as the period of time you are willing to wait before seeing a return on your investment.

Are you hoping create a nest egg for retirement? Or has life thrown up something unexpected that means you need to generate a quick profit over the next year or two? Whatever your financial goals, use them as a frame of reference for every decision you make around a sale or purchase. If selling now takes you a step further towards realising your goals and is in line with your strategy, then it is the right time to do it.

2. The wine is reaching its peak of maturity

Wine is unlike most other asset types in that it has a specific and fairly predictable window when it’s at its most valuable. If you’ve done your research and read the tasting notes on your chosen vintage you should have a good idea of when it will be at its most attractive to buyers.

Our advice is that for the maximum return on your investment you’ll need to sell your wine around a year before it reaches peak maturity. Buyers will be far more willing to invest in wine whose best is still to come. Conversely, the value of a fine wine will drop off quite severely once it is past its peak, so be careful in your timing.

3. You are running out of room in your cellar

As basic as it sounds, this is actually a very common driver behind deciding on a wine sale. The right kind of wine storage is fundamentally important in wine investment.

But few of us have unlimited space and so selling off portions of your cellar is often the only option. As well as realising some of your valuable assets, freeing up space in your cellar also allows you to branch out into new areas. Wine investment should always be enjoyable. Discovering new regions, producers and vintages is all a part of it.

How to sell your wine

Finally, a quick word about how to actually sell your assets. Even when you’ve made the decision to sell, choosing the wrong selling option could cost you valuable profits. If you’re using a broker to manage your portfolio, you may not need to worry too much about the logistics of actually selling your wine yourself. If not, here are a couple of options.

  • Sell at auction

Unless you’re selling a uniquely rare or a very high value bottle, auction houses are unlikely to look at sales of single bottles of wine. But specialist wine auctions are a good option if you’re selling a few cases, or even a section of your whole cellar. Selling at auction is perfect if you have a popular vintage to sell. The best auction houses have a readymade following among wine enthusiasts, so you should get plenty of interest. The biggest issue however is high selling fees.

  • Use an online marketplace

The better option if the high fees of specialist auctions put you off. Online marketplaces are easily searchable and attract lots of potential buyers, meaning it can be easier to get a sale. The best ones also offer more safeguards for both buyers and sellers, meaning peace of mind for all parties. 

Why Bordeaux wines are among the best in the world

Bordeaux wines dominate fine wine investment. Along with wines from another French region, Burgundy, wine collectors love Bordeaux. Wines from the region make up around 70 per cent of global wine investments.

So, what is it about wines from this particular area that makes them so attractive to investors? As wine production is now a global industry with winemakers everywhere from Chile to China, why do we still love these traditional French wines?

Bordeaux wines come from a region with an ideal climate

First and foremost, Bordeaux is simply the perfect place to make wine. The weather is warm enough to grow plump, fruity grapes. But cool breezes from the Atlantic also mean that it doesn’t get too hot and ensures a long ripening season.

The soil is also ideal. On the highly regarded Left Bank of the Gironde river, there is a mix of gravel, sandy-clay and limestone deposits. This area produces some of the very best wines, but even the Right Bank with its more clay rich soil produces some great vintages. Broadly speaking, wines from the Right Bank tend to use more Merlot than the Left Bank, especially in those areas with limestone deposits.

Bordeaux wines have a long tradition

Bordeaux is arguably the birthplace of fine wines. Like most of the finer things in life, wine production here began with the Romans. They grew grapes for winemaking and the city of Bordeaux along with the surrounding region quickly developed its excellent reputation. The industry boomed in the medieval period but the draining of the Medoc marshes in the 1600s freed up land and really kicked things off.

Many of the wine makers who began in the 1800s are still going today. And it is this long tradition that gives investors confidence in the quality of Bordeaux wines. One thing to note: since the 1800s Bordeaux chateaux are ranked from the most important wine producers known as First Growth down to Fifth Growth at the bottom.

The ageing potential of Bordeaux wines is attractive to investors

One of the most important aspects of any wine for an investor is how well it will age. Take a look at our recent post on how to identify whether a wine will age well for more information. Bordeaux wines age particularly well, and so offer good value for investors looking to see a good return when it is time to sell.

A big reason for this is that Bordeaux wines use Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which age beautifully. According to French law, for a wine to be called a Bordeaux it must be made from both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. This, combined with the ability of world-class wine makers to produce perfectly balanced wines, means that many Bordeaux wines will get better with time.

Our pick of Bordeaux wines to invest in today

1.Château Margaux, 2017

Rich and elegant, this is a brilliantly well-balanced Bordeaux red from one of our favourite chateaux. A great one to set aside for a few years. We recommend enjoying it at its best, which will be in 2024.

2. Château l’Evangile, 2013

With its hints of raspberry and cherry, we love this particular vintage. Made at Château l’Evangile by the experts from Chateau Lafite it’s well worth seeking out.

3. Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan, 2016

Another one to put away for a few years, this dense and smoky wine will age wonderfully. Beautifully balanced and well worth waiting for.

The Asian wineries making their mark on the industry

Wine production and consumption is now a global industry and Asian wineries are leading this charge. While the investment market is still dominated by the Old World wine makers in Burgundy and Bordeaux, there are increasing opportunities in some of the lesser known regions.

And for wine investors seeking value in a crowded market, the latter category offers a chance to get ahead.

Five Asian wineries to watch for fine wine investors

Asia is an enormous and incredibly diverse region. Climates vary from the harsh high-altitude conditions of the Himalayas to the more tropical climes of India. Yet this diversity of growing conditions means there are some interesting regional variations to investigate.

Asia has a lot to offer fine wine investors if you know where to look. Here are some of our favourites.

1. Chateau Sun God Great Wall, China

Most discussions of winemaking in Asia begin with China. Chinese wine production is booming, and interest is growing in the country’s leading wineries. Chateau Sun God on the spectacular Sanggan River is certainly one of them. Each year they produce a limited number of fine wines of the very highest quality.  

One to try:

Chateau Sun God Reserve Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005

A top-quality Cabernet Sauvignon from arguably the best winemakers in China.

2. Grace Vineyards, Japan

They’ve been making high quality wines at the Grace Vineyards site since 1923, and the current owners are the third generation of makers from the founding family. Over the years the winery has established an excellent reputation for creating high-quality wines. The 12-hectare site is in foothills of the Kayagatake mountain range and offers ideal growing conditions.

One to try:

Cuvée Misawa Rouge 2013

An excellent red with hints of cedar and liquorice..

3. Sula Vineyards, India

These vineyards close to Nashik in central India are located in a region that produces around 80 per cent of the country’s wine. The vineyard’s owners spent time honing their skills with the wine growers of California before starting the winery here. Today they’re producing some excellent vintages, with a focus on sustainability and community support.

One to try:

Sula Rasa

Our pick is a classic Shiraz, lovingly aged in oak barrels.

4. Château Mercian, Japan

It’s back to Japan for our next pick. The Château Mercian winery was one of the very first Japanese wine producers and was named Winery of the Year by the Asian Wine Review in 2019. It was well deserved – over the years they’ve used the cooler climate here to create some excellent reds as well as some crisp whites. A leading Asian winery with a long history and a promising future ahead.

One to try:

Iwade Koshu Kiiroka Cuvée Ueno

A typically citrus-packed white that shows off the skills of the team at Château Mercian.

5. Silver Heights, China

Silver Heights share the same latitude with wine making regions such as Napa, and Bordeaux. It’s in the perfect location to grow great wine grapes and they’ve produced some very high-quality wines that stand up well on the global market.

One to try:
Emma’s Reserve

Emma’s Reserve is a classy Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend that more than holds its own against a Bordeaux red.

Your guide to finding a fine wine that will improve with age

We know there are many different factors that go into defining the value of a fine wine investment. Everything from the experience of the producer through to the reputation of the terroir is important.

And of course, as fine wine is a long term investment, storage is also important. But these factors aside, it’s handy to know why some fine wines are worth keeping over others.

How to know whether a fine wine will age well

Fine wine investment is complex. But at its most basic level, you’re simply looking for wines that you can afford now and that will increase in value over time. It’s all about choosing vintages that will deliver on the investment goals you’ve set yourself.

Only you can decide what level of investment you can afford, and how much risk you can take on. Here’s how to spot a wine that should age well and potentially increase in value. There are four key factors to consider:

  • Tannins.
  • Acidity.
  • Alcohol.
  • Sugar.

Look for a wine high in tannins

Tannins form in grapes as they grow, protecting the grapes from the sun. During winemaking the pips, skin and juice of the grapes are crushed together. It’s this process that releases tannins into the wine itself. Tannins can also come from oak barrels as well.

They’re behind the slightly dry mouthfeel of some wines, and also provide the ‘body’ in a glass of wine.

While high levels of tannins can help a particular wine age well, it’s no guarantee. It’s important that the wine is well balanced in the first place. And much of that comes down to the maker’s expertise in balancing the other factors too.

Choose wines with high acidity

In a similar way, the quantity of acid in a wine roughly correlates with how well it ages. Acidity varies from vintage to vintage and offers no fixed guarantee that a wine will age well. But higher acidity generally helps to combat some of the damage done by oxidisation over time.

As wines age, they lose acidity. If you want to keep a bottle for a few years, make sure it has high acid levels to start with. Both acidity and tannins provide structure to the wine and extend its lifespan.

Look for lower alcohol content

Wines with higher alcohol levels are more likely to break down over time. Of course, fortified wines have much higher alcohol levels and still age well. But for non-fortified wines, always look for lower alcohol levels if you want them to improve in storage.

Don’t forget sugar content

The final factor in assessing whether a fine wine will age well is its sugar levels. Sugar is a preservative and wines with higher sugar levels should last longer. A white wine such as Tokakji is the perfect example of a sweet wine that will age beautifully. 

When it comes to ageing wines, balance is everything. Higher tannins, acidity, sugar or lower alcohol levels won’t be enough on their own. Each of these elements need to support each other without one single aspect dominating another.

Finally, it’s also worth remembering that most wines won’t age well. Generally speaking, non-investment wines are made for drinking within a couple of years. Producers only create a relatively tiny number (approximately 1%) of investment quality wines each year. If you’re looking at increasing the value of your investment over time, only focus on these very special wines. And enjoy drinking the rest right now.

What makes one year’s wine vintage better than another?

If you’re serious about collecting wine for investment, it’s critical to understand what goes into making a great wine vintage. The Ideal Wine Company Collector’s Guide is the perfect place to get an overview of where to start in wine investment. 

But how do collectors and investors choose one vintage over another from the same vineyard? What sets one year apart from another? Why is one year’s production highly sought after, while another is much lower in value? Here are some answers.

What is a wine vintage?

We’ll start with the basics first. What exactly is a wine vintage? Simply put, it is the year that winemakers picked the grapes for a particular bottle. It may sound straightforward, but there are a number of important factors that go into making a particular year’s crop of grapes better than another.

The quality of the process and the ability of the winemakers themselves is crucial, of course. The timing of the harvest, when the vines are pruned and how well they manage pests are all significant. One poor decision can easily lead to wine of a lower quality.

But the winemaker’s broader vision for their wines also contributes to a great vintage. A winemaker who thinks longer term is more likely to make the right growing, harvesting and making decisions year-on-year. It’s why it pays to get to know the winemakers you respect, and to follow their careers closely.

We talked about an example of this recently in terms of champagne production. The top champagne makers only release premier cuvées when the conditions are exactly right. They maintain their good name with investors as a result.

How does the climate affect the making a great wine vintage?

Most of the growing and harvesting decisions that the winemaker takes are usually in response to the weather. An experienced grower will know how to respond to everything from hard spring frosts to wet summers and damp harvests. All of these factors and the quality of a maker’s response to them impact the investment value of a particular vintage. The wrong weather can even badly impact an entire year’s production.

To create a vintage wine harvest, the most critical factor is the amount of sunshine during that growing season. This directly impacts the rate and amount that the grapes ripen on the vine. Too much sunshine and the grapes raisinate. Too little sun (or too much wet, cloudy weather), and the grapes are less likely to ripen and more likely to rot.

Crucially, it’s worth remembering that not all grape varieties respond in the same way. So, if you have a favourite producer, understand how the weather in that region impacts the wine variety they use. And before choosing a particular vintage, research the specific weather that year. Finally, in regions where the weather is more consistent, vintage is less important. Unpredictable weather is unlikely to impact growers in Australia, California or even South Africa. It’s why they produce wines of a similar quality year on year.