This ArtRatio Expert Interview with Stuart George, Managing Director of Arden Fine Wines in Mayfair London, recounts trends in the luxury beverage sector and discusses the optimal conditions for the display and conservation of investor-grade wine collections.
“Displaying fine wine collections is a big thing in the USA and Asia, where HNWI collectors often have collections that are easily viewable, for example with glass-fronted cellars.”
— Stuart George
We are joined today by Stuart George, Managing Director of Arden Fine Wines of Mayfair, London. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today, Stuart.
What global trends have you observed in the fine wine market in the last 10 years (especially in regions which do not have a tradition of wine-making)?
In the years preceding 2008, the Chinese market went supernova and the price of top Bordeaux wines – especially Lafite – reached record levels. The credit crunch and exceptionally high en primeur release prices burst the Bordeaux bubble, though demand remains relatively strong for top wines from acclaimed vintages.
Over the last couple of years, Burgundy prices have reached new highs. However, prices have recently flatlined and are starting to soften. The fine wine market had broadened beyond Bordeaux. The Rhône and Champagne have received more interest in the fine wine market, as have Italian wines – particularly Barolo, Barbaresco and “Super Tuscans”.
If you could lobby the UK government on only one issue central to the UK wine industry, which issue would you choose?
Only Ireland has higher levels of VAT and Duty on wines (and other alcoholic beverages) in Europe.
At the fine wine level, when bottles can cost hundreds or thousands of pounds, £2.23 + VAT is not going to impact the price significantly. But at the everyday commercial level of £5-6-7+ taxes can represent half or more of the retail cost of the bottle of wine. It has a negative influence on the quality of the wine and gives consumers a poor deal.
It is also egregious that domestically-produced English wine is taxed at the same level as imported wine. It’s hardly an encouragement for the English wine sector as it confronts the brave new world of post-Brexit Britain.
What horror stories can you share with us in how you have seen fine wines being stored in less-than-optimal conditions?
Some years ago I was asked to appraise for sale a private cellar in East London, owned by a charming widow whose late husband was a keen wine drinker. The inventory included several cases of some great 1963 Vintage Ports and bottles of Mouton Rothschild 1959. Very impressive and potentially lucrative. I was shown the “cellar”, which turned out to be a cupboard adjacent to the kitchen, and not all that far away from the oven. The wines had been exposed to heat over many years and several cases of the Vintage Ports were write-offs. When I opened the wooden cases, the bottles often had seeped so badly that they were – at best – half-full. They were unsellable (and undrinkable). It was heartbreaking to see some splendid wines that had been kept in such unsuitable conditions – but alas this is not uncommon for private UK “cellars”. I also recall some old bottles of Château Haut-Brion from a Chelsea cellar that had been flooded a couple of times and the bottles had been underwater for some periods. The labels were very damaged but as long as the cork is ok no harm is done.
Water is largely anaerobic so being underwater would in theory regress the ageing of a fine wine because of the lack of oxygen.
What factors do you consider important in displaying and storing fine wines that reduces the risk of damage to the collection?
Fine wines need to be kept away from light and heat and temperature fluctuations. Long-term exposure to heat will ruin wines – the heat will cause the corks to seep and the wine will oxidise. Very cold – that is, freezing –temperatures should also be avoided as wine can freeze solid and bottles will crack. However, frozen wine is not necessarily a write-off.
There is a story in one of Hugh Johnson’s books about when he was served Château d’Yquem at the estate itself and the bottle had been over-chilled and had started to freeze.
It was enjoyed as a sorbet (!) and apparently was very good.