Philanthropist’s Cellar vintage wines auction to help charity in China

Philanthropist's Cellar

The Philanthropist’s Cellar, a unique collection of 800 vintages, is going under the hammer at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 31 March. Estimated at approximately HK$60 million, the collection is pitted to be the company’s largest-ever single-owner wine sale in Asia.

Owned by a private collector, the Philanthropist’s Cellar is distinguished by the combination of depth and breadth of the greatest wines ever made in Bordeaux and Bugundy. Some of the highlights include Chateau Lafite (1986), estimated at HK$85,000 to HK$120,000, Chateau Haut-Brion (1989), estimated at HK$120,000 to HK$180,000 and Montrachet Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (1989), estimated at HK$450,000 to HK$600,000.

All proceeds will be donated to improve health and education conditions of children in rural China, thanks to the efforts of the Rural Education Action Program (REAP) of Stanford University, the major beneficiary of the sale. REAP has earlier done similar work in rural parts of China, like setting up education centres and providing basic sanitation facilities.

Burgundy En Primeur: Are wine investments a good idea?

After 2016’s paltry Burgundy harvest, Robin Lynam ponders the merits of investing in valuable wines before release

Few of the grape-growers of Burgundy will look back on 2016 with fond nostalgia. Lulled into a false sense of security by a mild winter, the region was hit hard in the spring – first by unexpectedly severe frost, and then by hailstorms, compounded by unusually heavy rain. The quantity of the eventual harvest was drastically reduced.

That’s bad news for the many wine lovers in Hong Kong and China who in recent years have turned to Burgundy rather than Bordeaux when buying premium priced French wine, but at least the quality has turned out to be much better than had been widely feared thanks to a hot early summer which helped the vines to recover, and fine weather during the harvest itself.  

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In some ways that just makes it all the more painful that there isn’t enough to go ‘round. Just over 163 million bottles are available from 2016, which, against an average calculated over the last 10 years, means production is down by about 20%.

Smaller quantities of course mean higher prices. The Burgundians are traditionally less prone than their Bordeaux counterparts to overcharge for their wines, but they too have to make a living, and if there is less to sell, then they have to ask more for it.

So should Burgundy lovers be looking at buying 2016 wines en primeur – before release – rather than waiting to see what prices are when the vintage has been shipped?

The rules have changed in recent years. Although not the only region to invite customers to invest early in wines at a supposedly lower price than they will later command, it was Bordeaux that made en primeur a major element of its marketing.

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As demand from Chinese buyers for the top Bordeaux wines went through the roof in the early years of this century, so did the en primeur prices. Customers who had bought with the idea of possibly turning a profit on at least some of the bottles found themselves holding cases worth less on the open market than they had paid for in advance.

The market has since adjusted, and provided you are buying high quality well known wines wisely through a reputable wine merchant, Bordeaux en primeur now looks once again like a reasonably attractive idea. But that period of inflation disillusioned some wine lovers, many of whom turned instead to Burgundy.

Burgundy en primeur has generally been less about price than about obtaining an allocation year after year as a preferred regular customer. During these times of strangled supply, if you want to obtain some of the better wines, en primeur is almost the only way.

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Bordeaux and Burgundy are talked of so often as though they were two sides of the same coin that people tend to forget that even in years when Burgundy is not beset with frost and hailstorms, the quantities of wine the region produces still amount to only a tiny fraction of Bordeaux’s output.

Either region can experience bad weather and a reduced harvest, of course, but Bordeaux has more than 120,000 hectares under vine by comparison with Burgundy’s just under 30,000.

In Hong Kong and China much of the interest in both regions is focused on the red rather than white wines, and in this area too Bordeaux’s production dwarfs Burgundy’s. Still, white wines account for around 61% of Burgundy’s total production, and sparkling white Cremant de Bourgogne, which is often a very acceptable alternative to Champagne, represents another 11%. That leaves just 28%, and although that is mostly red, rosé accounts for some of it. Burgundy is 50% planted with Chardonnay to just 41% Pinot Noir.

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“The question of volumes is inescapable,” says Adam Bruntlett, who has succeeded Jasper Morris MW as the Burgundy buyer for Berry Bros & Rudd. “While we have been well looked after by suppliers thanks to our longstanding relationships, there are many instances where volumes are limited.”

With strong pressure on prices and volumes, this, suggests Bruntlett, is a time to start looking beyond the Grand Cru vineyards. He points to lesser known producers and areas of fine but much less famous terroir which produce wines that don’t command the same stratospheric prices, whatever the weather has been like in any given year.

“The 2016 vintage is the time to look beyond the bigger names and consider lesser-known villages such as Marsannay, Santenay, St Romain and Auxey-Duresses,” says Bruntlett. The 2016 Burgundy white wines, he notes, generally have a fresher, more classic feel than their richer 2015 counterparts.

“Some frost-affected vineyards display a more angular profile, but many of these filled out over the course of the autumn barrel tastings and will continue to do so with further élevage [a wine’s adolescence or education]. The very best white wines will come close to matching those of the 2014 vintage.”

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For Chablis lovers, says Bruntlett – and you can’t really enjoy seafood and not love Chablis to go with it – the bad news is that quantities are severely down. As for the 2016 reds, in general Bruntlett finds them more consistent than the whites, and worth considering at all quality levels from Grand Cru down to everyday casual drinking.

“Across the board, the wines display an unmistakably Burgundian Pinot Noir fruit character. They offer a beguiling paradox of initial rich fruit on the front of the palate and succulent acidity on the finish, leaving one delightfully perplexed as to whether this is a warm or cool vintage. The very best wines are the equal of the 2015s – albeit in a style that will appeal more to the traditional Burgundy drinker,” he says.

Berry Bros has a good range of red and white Burgundies available to its Asian-based customers across a range of price points. Other well connected wine merchants able to offer a reliable en primeur service include Altaya, ASC Wines, and Watson’s Wine.

Terroirs et Signatures de Bourgogne / Photo: Anthony Upton

Still shopping for a few cases from the Grand Cru vineyards? “Clos Vougeot and Vosne Romanee experienced a very good vintage,” says José Lau, Private Sales Manager for Berry Bros & Rudd in Hong Kong. He too recommends buying en primeur.

“Supply and demand play a big role in why en primeur makes plenty of sense for Burgundy. There has been a huge increase in Burgundy drinkers in the past 10 to 12 years which has driven prices up again and again. Buying early will save you money down the road – and you might even use it as an investment to gain some.”


This article appears on Gafencu Magazine’s March 2018 print issue entitled “Burgundy En Primeur” by Robin Lynam

Burgundy, more than a colour: French wine board hosts tastings across Hong Kong

BIVB Event (3)

Bordeaux may very well be the largest wine-producing region in France and, consequently, the most widely recognised wine among international imbibers – but that doesn’t mean it should steal all the credit.

Indeed, the central eastern region of Bourgogne (known as Burgundy in English) has just as much to offer. In an effort to drive home this point and expose more Hong Kongers to Burgundy’s unique offerings, ‘Bourgogne Week’ has returned to the island. Organised by the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB), the event features wine tastings, events and special promotions until 3 March, with some promotions extending until the end of March.

On Wednesday, 1 March, a Chablis White Party for wine traders and partners will be held at the The Conservatory at Crown Wine Cellars. Party-goers will have the chance to sample a variety of wines from Chablis, the northernmost wine district of Burgundy. For those who can’t attend the party and don’t want to miss out on the wine tasting, nearly 50 wines will be part of an ongoing Chablis promotion throughout the month at a number of wine specialist shops, including Rare & Fine Wines, Grand Wine Cellar, Red Wine Village, The Wine Guild and more.

Bourgogne Week has been popular in the UK for over a decade, but it only made its debut in Hong Kong last year. Anne Moreau, of BIVB, says: “Hong Kong is a dynamic, mature wine market with highly sophisticated wine lovers. It was obvious that a Bourgogne Week elsewhere than in the UK had to be in Hong Kong.”

Click here for the full schedule of tastings, events and promotions.