Will China's "Bordeaux Bubble" Buoy Burgundy?

    China may still be in the grips of Bordeaux fever, but the stratospheric prices for the oft-mentioned Chateau Lafite and seeming overexposure of this region may be a godsend for Burgundy wines.
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Finance

    Experts Worry "Crazy" China Demand Will Continue To Drive Up Bordeaux Prices#

    Sotheby's advice to Burgundy lovers in 2011? "Start hoarding."

    China may still be in the grips of Bordeaux fever, but the stratospheric prices for the oft-mentioned Chateau Lafite and seeming overexposure of this region may be a godsend for Burgundy wines. As the country's upwardly mobile increasingly purchase the occasional bottle of wine (owing to the vast population, mainland Chinese consume an average of less than 1.5 bottles a year), the mystery and occasional relative affordability of Burgundy could work in its favor this year. If Burgundy does find more fans this year in China, however, it will likely be the result of economic imperative rather than a shift in tastes. Over the past year, prices for already-popular Bordeaux heavyweights like Lafite and Petrus have shot up, with a case of the as-yet-to-be-released 2009 Lafite selling in Hong Kong late last year for $70,000 -- over three times its typical price tag. From TIME:

    Nobody is quite sure why China's megarich crave Bordeaux and Lafite in particular. One fanciful theory is that the King of Thailand credits Lafite with aiding his recovery from a bout of ill health; another is that Lafite sounds like the Chinese word for prosper. The truth is probably more mundane. "Lafite is easy for the Chinese to pronounce," says Sleigh. The Lafite branch of the Rothschilds has one of the few château websites in Chinese. Credit, too, the marketing skills of the folks at Lafite. Last October, they let it be known that bottles of their 2008 vintage would be embossed with the Chinese symbol for the number 8, which is considered lucky. Prices for the presold vintage jumped 17% overnight.

    Whether this "Bordeaux Bubble" can continue to grow at such a rapid rate is the million-dollar question. But what we're seeing is the gradual "branching out" of many Chinese wine drinkers into different areas, such as New World wines and Burgundy. From Sohu (translation by Jing Daily team):

    Wine is the new star of the Asian auction market. In 2010, prices for Bordeaux at auction in Hong Kong skyrocketed. This year, the same might happen to Burgundy. In the last 18 months, Burgundy has done well, posting its best results ever in 2009. According to the Wall Street Journal, Berry Bros. Hong Kong sold nearly 1,500 cases of Burgundy wine in 2009, with sales tripling in 2010. The company is even sold out of future inventory.

    Wine industry insiders feel that Chinese wine buyers will move on to Burgundy after they've taken over the Bordeaux market. Bordeaux producers put out anywhere from 5,000-40,000 cases per year, while most Burgundy producers only ship around 450 cases per year. (Domaine de la Romanee Conti produces 450 cases a year, and Richebourg produces only 1,000.) Many wine commentators think that Domaine de la Romanee Conti prices will will skyrocket this year.

    According to London and Hong Kong-based wine merchants the Bordeaux Index, Burgundy is expected to make a strong comeback this year, following a slump that kicked off around the time of the Lehman Brothers collapse in late 2008. Like the aforementioned Sohu article, the Bordeaux Index has singled out Domaine de la Romanee Conti as a producer to watch this year, particularly in Asia. "Consumption of DRC (Domaine de la Romanee Conti) has always been linked to the good times," the company recently said, "and almost half the DRC wines Bordeaux Index have sold in the last three or four months have been to Singapore casinos and to private clients in Asia."

    Despite recent rumblings that indicate an uptick in Burgundy fortunes in China, if Burgundy producers are going to make significant inroads in the China market, they'll have to go through not only increasingly popular New World producers but also their well-capitalized French countrymen from Bordeaux. As Decanter noted late last year, the battle lines have already been drawn in this French-vs.-French battle for the Chinese wine glass:

    "I believe Bordeaux has made a mistake by exporting such huge volumes of cheap wine to China, [said Pierre-Henry Gagey, co-president of the BIVB and head of negociant giant Louis Jadot.] "We need to emphasise our quality, our terroir – and you can’t do that for €3."

    [W]e don’t want to follow the Bordeaux model, People in Burgundy are loyal. They are more in contact with their clients than in Bordeaux – we have long-term relationships. In Bordeaux, producers sell to the negociants and then the wines goes everywhere and anywhere.

    "So we won’t be putting all our eggs in the Chinese market. The prices of the top Bordeaux have gone too high – it’s artificial. And when that happens, you can get a hard landing."

    Burgundy producers might not be putting all their eggs in the Chinese market, but as Jamie Ritchie, North American head of wine at Sotheby’s, recently told the Wall Street Journal, wine collectors should start "hoarding" Burgundy before the Chinese do:

    “In my opinion, if Asia acquires a thirst for [Domaine de la Romanée-Conti], then over the long term prices can only increase. The question is, with such great quality and such small production, how high do prices go? It could become prohibitively high,” [Ritchie] wrote.

    His advice? Hoard. Now. ”I think that if you want to drink great Burgundy, now or in the future, it might be a good idea to start laying it down in the cellar,” he said. “My view is that [Domaine de la Romanée-Conti] will be first to take off, and this is what I would choose to drink on Chinese New Year.”

    So, for the Chinese wine-lover who's gotten his or her hands on a nice bottle of Burgundy, what to pair with your new prize? Sina Style (Chinese) recommends Cantonese cuisine, specifically braised Shark's Fin, as "Burgundy is softer and more delicate than Bordeaux, and pairs well with seafood."

    Discover more
    Daily BriefAnalysis, news, and insights delivered to your inbox.