By Robert Parker Investing in wine futures -- and this is the season to do it -- is really just buying a case of wine, except for a few significant details. The wine, now the 2005 vintage, is still aging in the barrel and won't be bottled and delivered for a couple of years. What's more, you don't know for sure what it's going to taste like (although professionals can determine about 90% of the quality of the wine and the style of the vintage).
The weather in Bordeaux last year was excellent, and the vintage is quite good, but prices already reflect that. In fact, 2005 futures are nearly 60% higher than the 2004 vintage was at this point last year. In general, I don't believe the 2005 vintage will appreciate over current prices for years to come. That said, circa 2020, the startlingly high prices of the infant 2005s will look very low.
In short, the best reason to buy futures is because you really want the wine. Here are the questions to consider:
Are you buying a great wine or merely a wine from a great vintage?
Knowing who are the underachievers and overachievers is paramount to making a good buying decision. Futures on the 2005 Ch?teau Lafite-Rothschild, one of Bordeaux's elite first-growth wines, are around $500 per bottle. The wine is rated 93-96. (Ratings on barrel tastings are usually quoted as a range.) But you can buy Bordeaux rated nearly the same for a fraction of the price: Ch?teau Quinault l'Enclos, 92-95 points, $38 to $49 a bottle; Ch?teau Sanctus, 92-95 points, $38 to $48; Ch?teau Joanin B?cot, 92-94 points, $24 to $30; Ch?teau Destieux, 92-94 points, $35 to $44. (Tasting notes can be found at businessweek.com/extras.)
Do you want to be guaranteed a top, hard-to-find wine?
A handful of small estates, particularly in Pomerol and St. Emilion, produce such limited quantities that buying futures is the only way to get a case. Wines from such Pomerol ch?teaux as Le Pin, La Conseillante, L'Evangile, and Lafleur are hard to find in the marketplace. St. Emilion estates such as L'Ang?lus, La Mondotte, Valandraud, and Le Tertre-R?teboeuf produce wines that will be impossible to find in two or three years.
Do you want other than standard 750-ml bottles?
You can request the wines be bottled to your specifications. Sure, there is a surcharge, but if you want half-bottles (just right for daily drinking), the only way to do it is through futures.
Who's selling the futures?
The future is a contract between you and a merchant. If the merchant goes bankrupt before delivery, you'll be just another unsecured creditor. Or the supplier the merchant deals with could go bankrupt or be fraudulent. You may get a refund from the wine merchant, but you won't get your wine. Finally, buy futures only from a merchant who has received confirmed commitments from the supplier, and ask to see the papers.
Wines rated from 96-100 are extraordinary; 90-95, excellent; 80-89, above average to very good.
Visit www.eRobertParker.com for the Internet's most active wine bulletin board, tens of thousands of tasting notes, or to order his recent book, The World's Greatest Wine Estates: A Modern Perspective. You can also subscribe to Parker's newsletter, The Wine Advocate. Request a sample copy at: The Wine Advocate, P.O. Box 311, Monkton, MD 21111