Andrew Lloyd Webber’s wine collection reportedly sold at a Hong Kong wine auction earlier this year for US$5.6 million (£3.5 million). Lord Lloyd Webber was delighted by the sale, which included a case of 1982 Château Petrus. The Hong Kong wine auction is a fascinating phenomenon for the armchair wine investor, if only to observe the pro-active way in which the Asian people pursue their new hobby. But how has this fascinating phenomenon come about? Why is the Asian market flourishing so visibly while British collectors are left to dust off the bottles they purchased before prices skyrocketed?
Luxury brands are popular in the Far East, but it is naive to think that the Chinese buy wine based on the label alone. Certain wines have gained more of a following than others – Beychevelle and Pontet-Canet are popular, but in an emerging market there will always be favourites and these are both wines of undoubted quality. Wines that are slower to sell in Asia will inevitably pick up the pace as the market grows and wine knowledge becomes more widespread. There is an element of impressing one’s circle of friends, but who wouldn’t want to pop the cork on a large-format first growth in company? Socialising around food is very important in China and circles of friends and family are often very large. Discovering fine wine to accompany food as wealth grew and import tax was dropped was inevitable; in hindsight we should not be so surprised that the market has taken off so rapidly.
Knowledge about wine will increase with domestic production of wine in China. For the first time, we are seeing Chinese wines on the shelves of supermarkets, introduced tentatively to see how the world will react. As the quality of their domestic wine improves, there will be more awareness and press coverage within China about wine, generating curiosity and a desire to learn more, bringing the fine wine market to a new generation of wine enthusiasts. The intriguing cuisine of China just begs to be accompanied by fine wine, and once people have experienced the joy of glorious wine with glorious food, there is simply no going back. This is a market that has firmly arrived and is here to stay.
So we need not be baffled by the Far East market as we hang onto our precious 1982 Petrus and refuse to partake. Yes, Bordeaux is more expensive than ever. But you can still buy savvy and get a good deal. Corks are being popped for pleasure all across Asia and this means there has never been a better time to invest in wine. It is not a time to complain about prices and pass the torch to the Far East, it is a time to get involved. You do not have to be Andrew Lloyd Webber to make a decent profit at auction – just let your wine investment company guide you. Perhaps we should all follow the example of the Chinese, who see no reason why they should wait to pop the cork – why wait?