by Wine Owners
Posted on 2020-01-16
This article is a follow up to our 2019 year end round-up by Miles Davis, published on the 10th January 2020.
The outlook for 2020
The geopolitical climate will continue to dominate the fine wine market in 2020. Uncertainty continues to hamper confidence amongst wine traders and although our view that the robust long-term fundamentals of wine will play out, there are some short-term issues (more on these below) that need to settle. If these issues, some of which are very specific to the wine market, can settle, we will look back on 2020 as the year of opportunity. Physical assets are doing well, gold is at a seven-year high, and we live in a climate of negative real interest rates. Stock markets are trading at all time highs and there is liquidity in the system, it’s just not finding its way into wine right now. Wine has been underperforming these other assets recently (one-year performances), see here:
The fine wine market continues to develop and change, and is becoming more interesting, with different fundamentals developing for individual markets, making them more autonomous all the time.
A whole new and significant factor is the U.S. and its trade tariffs, not only treating wines from different countries differently, but Champagne differently to still French wines, and wines above or below 14.1% alcohol from the countries on their hit list. Tariffs will influence the underlying markets, so until we have further clarification it is difficult to predict what may happen next.
As a result, I expect the wider market to start the year a little unsure of itself. There are and will always be opportunities within the wine market, however, but perhaps portfolio allocation has never been more important, producer too. And maybe more important than both of those considerations, are prices and relative value. Buying on the bid side of the market will be the key and good buying will be richly rewarded.
A reminder of performance over a five-year period:
I continue to favour Italy, particularly Piedmont and some of the super Tuscans and vintage Champagne. 2016 was an amazing vintage for Piedmont and new releases of Barolo should be considered. Of the major markets, I am generally lukewarm on Burgundy, but keener on Bordeaux where some fantastic older vintages, particularly ’89, ’90 and ‘96, are more available on the market than for some time. I think there will be some amazing opportunities this year in this area. I maintain my view that younger Bordeaux is fully priced, especially block buster vintages of ‘05, ‘09 and ’10 where supply is still plentiful and prices are high. I would be highly selective and very price sensitive in California and other ‘lesser’ investment markets, and always on the look out for lower levels of alcohol.
If I had to name one brand to buy this year it would be Sassicaia.
The issues in 2020
The election result in the UK cleared the UK air after a period of uncertainty and it appears that producers and importers are relaxed, for now, about any Brexit impact.
The possibility of further U.S. tariffs has taken the place of the Brexit uncertainty but the situation there will become much clearer in mid-February, but I cannot believe anyone is going to be brave before then. If the tariffs remain as they are, I think the market will react in a positive way, negatively if they are any more punitive. The fact that the tariffs are only levied on wines under 14.1% alcohol, and thus wines stronger than that are exempt, is largely ignored by the market as an overriding sentiment takes over and the damage is done. Only wines from England, France, Germany and Spain are currently subject to these measures, making the rest of the world, particularly Italy in my view, look more interesting in the short term. France has particularly annoyed the U.S. with its digital tax aimed at the big tech companies and Champagne, given exemption last time round, may be in the firing line. But who knows what is going to happen next on this issue – the uncertainty is somewhat paralysing.
The situation in Hong Kong is also creating uncertainty. The people are scared about the future and feel strongly enough to risk life and limb in protest, and China is not happy. The protests have calmed down from their most violent but there were heavily populated demonstrations at the turn of the year. Last week Beijing replaced their H.K. liaison officer with a senior and trusted aid of President Xi, hardliner Luo Huining, who ominously says that “everyone eagerly hopes Hong Kong can return to the right path." He comes with a reputation for fixing tough problems for Beijing!
The situation is complex, and it is likely the impasse will run and run. China can afford to be patient; it is sitting with the stronger hand and can probably slowly strangle the territory into submission without using undue force. Hong Kong has a long history of migration (especially post Tiananmen Square) and the numbers from now on will make interesting reading. Mainlanders are currently arriving at the rate of 50 a day but how many are leaving? Ultimately, I expect a huge number of democracy loving, wealthy locals will be leaving before 2047 but that this is the dawning of a new era for Hong Kong.
As well as being a lively wine hub itself, Hong Kong has been and is the gateway to China for fine wine and houses a lot of the experience and expertise in the region. More than ever, personnel and the location of businesses are transferable, and Hong Kong may lose market share in the longer term. This does not affect the long-term demand for wine, just where and how it is traded. If China was to open Shenzhen as a free port, for example, the impact would be immediate, and Hong Kong would be shunted sideways.
Other themes and points of interest
The overall share of trade in the wines of Bordeaux has continued to decrease and the 2018 en primeur campaign was another damp squib. 2019 is another good, possibly great, vintage but the Bordelais need to respond accordingly if they want to stop the rot (how many times have we heard that!??). Young Bordeaux wine is still in a state of over supply with warehouses packed; a new lease of life is urgently required and if the Bordelais, by lowering prices, can take advantage of the huge media machine of en primeur to capitalise, they have a chance to turn the worm. I believe they have severely undervalued the power of the en primeur message over the years – we live in hope!
Apart from the devastating fires we have seen in the U.S. in recent years, and Australia very recently, what does climate change mean for fine wine? Although winemakers are learning new techniques to deal with warmer weather the obvious and irrefutable consequence will be higher alcohol levels. Bordeaux 2018 demonstrated this in spades, with most wines well above 14%, and some around 15%. Although a lot of these wines can be well balanced, where the riper, more generous fruit copes with the higher alcohol levels, it does not take away from the fact there is a higher level of alcohol, and that’s not good. Most people, but especially connoisseurs, would prefer their wine to be around 13%. Other than the obvious benefits of scarcity, this is another good reason to favour older wines, they tend to be less alcoholic. I remember 2010 recording higher alcohol levels than we were accustomed to and causing quite a stir at the time - they seem perfectly natural now.
General (more for drinking)
South Africa has been receiving some very good press in recent times and quality is improving. It maybe not yet offering wines for investment, but it is certainly worth dipping a toe. I recently bought Meerlust’s Rubicon 2015 following some massive reviews, for not much money, for example.
Piedmont has had a string of good vintages, and there’s a lot of great quality Langhe Nebbiolo and Barbaresci on the market. Produttori del Barbaresco 2016s are both excellent and good value. Prices for these types of wines are the equivalent of generic Bourgogne.
Climate change is good for Beaujolais. The Gamay grape is a tough little number that needs plenty of sun and warmth. There has been plenty of investment in the region and quality and the number of wines providing pleasure is on the up. Do not overlook the versatile Chardonnay from the area either, a leaner style in general compared to the Maconnais and further north.
2018 Burgundy will provide plenty of easy pleasure but don’t believe all the hype from the merchants. Check alcohol levels, there are some that are too warm but in the main they, especially the reds, are generous.
Try and understand the critics and their scoring. At the Judgement of Paris in 1976, the range of scores, out of twenty, came in between two and seventeen. Some of today’s critics don’t really start at anything below ninety three (out of one hundred) and famous producers in half decent vintages are all north of ninety five. Big scores sell wines and are commercially attractive for nearly all involved – they just don’t necessarily reflect the truth! It has all gone way too far and this observer, for one, has had enough of it.
Wishing you well for 2020!
As ever, if you have any questions or would like to discuss anything wine related, do let me know.
Posted in: on 2020-01-16.
Tags: fine wine 2020, fine wine analysis, Fine Wine Investment, fine wine market, wine investment, wine market,