Year of the Lafite: Asia boosts wine markets to best-ever figures

As we reach the end of another year, auction houses across the world are reporting their final figures. In the case of many wine dealers, they're still catching their breath after an extraordinary year of sales.

The reason behind the superb figures is the Asian market, which has totally dominated sales in 2010. Sotheby's recently announced their best wine auction figures in 40 years, with an overall total of $88.3m. But a massive 60% of that total, $52.6m, came from wine auctions in Hong Kong.

Prices have skyrocketed for certain bottles, with top flight Bordeaux proving the most popular. A report from Liv-Ex states that the value of Lafite Rothschild 1982 has risen by 60% in the last 12 months, and 1,000% over the last ten years.

A bottle is now worth eight-times its weight in silver and costs the equivalent of half a ton of copper - and the limited supply is being outstripped by an insatiable demand from Chinese buyers. Many experts agree that there may never have been a better time to invest in wine.

Good luck and clever marketing

There are a number of reasons why the prices have increased so quickly. The popularity for Lafite with China's nouveau riche can be attributed to a combination of luck and clever marketing.

Lafite is the only Bordeaux company to have translated its entire website into Chinese, and they were quick to invest in the lucrative Asian market ahead of many of its competitors.  They have also begun carving the figure '8' into their bottles, which in Chinese means 'prosper' and is considered incredibly lucky.

Along with this popularity is the limited supply: the 1885 appellation laws mean that the production of any Bordeaux wine is strictly controlled. No vines from other growing regions can be grafted, and the quality controls put in place mean that the current production levels cannot be increased.

When a limited supply such as this meets a sudden demand backed-up by a great deal of money, there can only be one outcome: a huge rise in prices.

Buyers are popping corks in Asia

Another reason is the fact that, although there are a large number of Asian speculators investing in wine, there are equally large numbers who are buying it to drink. And with such a high number of rare vintages being uncorked and enjoyed, the value of the remaining bottles is only going to increase.

And then there's the tax issue: two years ago Hong Kong removed all duty on wine and beer, and importers have been taking advantage ever since.

All major auction houses are now beginning to focus their wine sales towards the Asian market, and as the Chinese economy grows and the number of millionaires in the country (currently around 800,000) rises ever higher, the wine market can expect to keep booming for some time to come.

Whether Lafite continues to be the popular choice for Asian buyers remains to be seen. The brand is currently viewed as a fashionable status symbol, but this could quickly change. For anyone looking to invest in wine, however, one thing seems certain. The Chinese love affair with fine wines is only just beginning...


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